First to Arrive, Last to Leave

Our last event of the 2004 cycle was a Republican Jewish Coalition event featuring Ed Koch. Marvin Pomerantz wanted to turn out a huge crowd to fill Hoyt Sherman Auditorium and after all the strife of 2003, it was the first (but not last) time Gentry Collins would recommend me.

While the event was free, it was ticketed. And filling an entire auditorium in Des Moines, Iowa, to hear a Jewish New York Democrat talk about his support for George W. Bush was a tall order. After the event, Craig Robinson and I were packing up our event totes getting ready to go home when my phone rang.

It was Marvin.

“We’re at 801 Grand, where are you?”

When I saw Marvin, Rose Lee, Bud Hockenberg, and Mayor Koch out to their cars earlier, it never crossed my mind that I was invited to join them.

First to arrive, last to leave. That’s the life of an event planner and fundraiser. (Tim Albrecht once said that’s why I missed all the juicy gossip and drama that often happened after events.)

For the rest of his life, Marvin was one of my biggest advocates. But it didn’t start that way.

It was a fitting end to the cycle that almost brought an end to CampaignHQ.

2005 – “Can I Keep This?”

As we prepared to say goodbye to 700 East Pleasant Street, the CHQ team cleared the first round of boxes out of the building, including boxes in my handwriting that said random things, such as, “2005 receipts, some contracts.” Not a filing system David Allen would be proud of. Looking at these boxes, it occurred to me that some years are full of pivotal moments, and others are not.

2003 was a momentous year. A year defined by one Hail Mary after another, where every play felt like fourth and long.

Chuck Larson was re-elected as State Party chairman. Marlys De Witt Popma left as Executive Director. Gentry Collins was appointed as the new Executive Director.

At this point, I had two employees, a few State Rep clients, and a piddly state party contract. Yes, it was piddly even after Mark Havlicek renegotiated for me.

At 700 East Pleasant, we kept most of the offices closed and the heating vents shut. I wore the same sweatshirt most days that winter. Around this time, I drafted the talking points for what I would say to those two remaining employees on our final day of operation.

Back in 2003, Iowa had five Congressmen, not four. King and Latham quickly signed up with the other firm.

The fifth seat was held by Democrat Leonard Boswell. The 2002 nominee, Stan Thompson, had been a Capitol Resources client in 2002, and raised just over $900K. I would remind you that Pre-McCain Feingold, the limit was $1,000 per person, per election. I assumed Thompson for Congress 2004 would sign up with Capitol Resources again.

He did not.

That left Jim Nussle and Jim Leach.

It was clear I would need to land at least one, if not both, of the two remaining Congressmen to survive. So the battle was on.

As a fundraiser, I believe the donor is your boss, not the candidate. Campaigns, campaign managers, and even candidates come and go. And let’s face it, sometimes they do stupid things. But the donor and the fundraiser endure together.

And when my back was up against a wall, it was a donor who came through for me.

Jim Nepola called Congressman Jim Leach and told him that he needed a fundraiser, and not only that, he needed ME. The Nipper negotiated the entire deal, and called me back. He said the start date would be April 1. I just needed to hang on until then.

jim leach nicole schlinger
Photo courtesy of

In March, rumors started that Jim Nussle was going to run for Governor in 2006. So he wanted to run a super aggressive statewide fundraising campaign in 2004 to be ready. That meant he was looking for a fundraiser now.

Unlike some of the backroom deals that seemed to hit me out of nowhere, Jim wanted to meet with both my competitors and me before making a decision.

Friends – the way I saw it – this meeting was the last play of the game. If Nussle picked me, I would survive. If he didn’t, you wouldn’t be reading this now.

I wrote a 20+ page finance plan detailing every aspect of every letter, phone call, meeting, and event it would take to reach his fundraising goals. I worked on nothing else for two days, and then drove four copies of the finished product to Des Moines to be spiral bound at Kinko’s.

jim nussle nicole schlinger
Photo courtesy of

Jim, his wife Karen , his campaign manager, and I sat around a table. I passed out the copies, and summarily went through and read every detail on every page, head down the entire time. I was not then, and am not now, a good extemporaneous speaker. I believe in the script.

Jim thanked me for the “extremely detailed” presentation and asked if he could keep his copy of the finance plan.

Well – THAT question wasn’t in my script! And I said, “YES.”

I know what you’re thinking. How dumb can you be? Why would you give someone a copy of your entire plan when they are about to get in their car and drive to a meeting with your competitor?

It turns out, Jim thought anyone who would leave a copy of their finance plan must so confident in their ability to deliver, that it wouldn’t matter if you gave it to a competitor.

The message he heard was “I’m sure you won’t be able to achieve this plan without me.” A few weeks later, we were planning a house party in Monticello, Iowa.

The verdict was in. Capitol Resources would not die in 2003.

You might think that was the most important thing that happened in 2003.But it was not. The most meaningful decision of 2003 was yet to come.

Changing the Course of CHQ History

Opening day of the Iowa Legislature, 2003.

At the same time my new competitors were systematically picking off my clients, I’d come to the conclusion that part of my problem was too many one-off clients distracting focus from the ones that mattered.

Nicole Schlinger Iowa Legislature

So I made a list of clients who were “not enough juice for the squeeze” … too much work for not enough pay. One of those clients was Bill Dix. On the opening day of the 2003 legislative session, he asked to meet with me in his office. My intention was to cut him loose at that meeting.

Instead, Bill told me he had met with my competitors, heard their pitch, and decided to stay with me. He then told me all of the things I needed to do better to keep HIM as a client. That meeting changed the course of #CHQ history. It was a tiny little win after a string of painful, crushing losses. But it was enough to keep going.

Bill went on to become a record-setting fundraiser and an anchor client. Like Bill would say, Let’s Make it Happen.

More about Bill when we get to 2006 …

Surviving The Worst

I’m doing another throwback post in honor of the original CampaignHQ headquarters being sold, this one takes place in 2002.

If you worked in Iowa Republican Politics in 2002, and didn’t quit, congratulations. You survived the worst cycle ever. Our candidates for Senate and Governor went down in flames. The infighting was fierce. And there was more than enough blame to go around.

The 2002 cycle was the first time I saw a real Kate Spade New York bag in person. I thought a bag like that might cheer me up that miserable year. Then I saw the pricetag. It would be more than a decade until I’d own one.

The high point of 2002 was meeting Mark Havlicek. He had just sold his business, and I saw in him everything I wanted to be one day. He renegotiated a contract for me where the client had been taking advantage and I was too inexperienced to call him out. If Mark gives you advice … take it.

Nicole Schlinger business card

In December 2002, I answered a newspaper help wanted ad looking for “event organizers.” I figured my big-time political experience would impress them. Turns out they wanted people to do supermarket demonstrations for Listerine Pocket Packs. But it paid $100 a day … and the lights at 700 E. Pleasant don’t just keep themselves on. So I did it.

And then, when it seemed like it couldn’t get worse, it did. A new fundraising firm started picking off my current and prospective clients one by one.

So needless to say, 2002 was not a very good year. But it’s a good thing 2002 happened.

Stay tuned…

Nicole Schlinger

A Walk Down Memory Lane

If you’re not my friend on Facebook, you might not know that we recently sold the original HQ for Campaign Headquarters.  This was our one and only office from December 1999 – July 2011. 

As we got ready to say goodbye, I thought it would be fun to share some of the highs and lows of how we got here.

The first visitor to 700 E Pleasant was none other than Jeffrey Robert Boeyink. It was early December 1999. We hadn’t officially moved in yet, but he heard I’d moved out of the extra bedroom and wanted to check out the new place.

Nicole Schlinger BrooklynWhen he arrived, the phones weren’t working. We had four (yes FOUR) landline phones and instead of ringing through the central phone system, they would randomly ring in different offices. So I had to run from room to room picking up the phone, taking RSVPs for upcoming house parties.

The #CHQ bank account was opened on 2/1/1999 with a small check from our first paying client, Iowans for Tax Relief, because folks like Jeff, Steve Grubbs, and Ed Failor Jr were willing to take a chance on 24-year old me.

On the day of Jeff’s visit, I was still more than three years away from taking my first paycheck.

I’ll be posting these flashbacks the next several posts – I hope you’ll tune back in. Drop a comment if you have a fun memory of our old place.

Thanks for reading,

Nicole Schlinger GOP Fundraiser

Nicole Schlinger

Fun With Phones – Tele-Townhalls

Have you been catching up on our latest series, Fun With Phones? 


Nicole Schlinger big bang theory

The CampaignHQ team is putting together some fun scenarios, reminding you that your next outreach campaign can be a lot of fun with phones.

Take for instance the fact that your donors want insider information on how your organization/candidate is doing. Can you blame them? They want to know how their hard earned money turned donation is helping! By holding a Telephone Townhall you can reach all of your donors in one phone call and give them the satisfaction of knowing that they put their money to a good cause! #CHQCampaign Headquarters

Give us a call today to get started. 1- (888) 722-4704.

Nicole Schlinger, President of Campaign Headquarters

Nicole Schlinger