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Men far outnumber women in Congress. But once women decide to run, evidence shows they can raise as much money as men. It wasn't always like that. Women have been catching up, in terms of fundraising, over the last 30 years.

And as part of our series She Votes, NPR's Ailsa Chang reports on one organization that has helped them to do it.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: Women are way less likely than men to run for Congress. But here's the curious thing: When it comes to the hardest, most miserable part of campaigning - fundraising - women do just as well as men now. Study after study shows this. But still, a lot of women, including Sara Eskrich, say asking for money is what they dread most about running for office.

SARA ESKRICH: I mean, I think about when I was a Girl Scout - right? - and I did not want to sell those cookies because it was so hard to ask people to buy and...

CHANG: Eskrich, who's 27 and has curly red hair, says her first campaign will be for city council in Madison, Wis. That's where we are now. Eskrich is spending the afternoon role-playing, to practice how to call a donor for money.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Ring, ring. Ring, ring. Hello?

ESKRICH: Hi. Hi, it's - sorry, I forgot your name.

(LAUGHTER)

CHANG: This is one of many training sessions across the country organized by EMILY'S List, the political action committee that fundraises for pro-choice, Democratic women.

ESKRICH: I was also wondering if you might be able to help join me in this effort to really bring development into Madison, and if you might be willing to donate $500 to my campaign so that...

CHANG: The thinking is, if women get more confident at fundraising, they'll run more often. And that means more women in seats of power. All they need is a little bit of nudging.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED AUDIO)

GERALDINE FERRARO: I proudly accept your nomination for vice president of the United States.

(CHEERS, APPLAUSE)

CHANG: When Geraldine Ferraro made her historic run for vice president in 1984, neither party had ever systematically recruited or fundraised for female candidates. Pat Schroeder, the former Democratic congresswoman from Colorado, remembers a very humble beginning.

PAT SCHROEDER: My first campaign in 1972 - are you seated? (Laughter) My average campaign donation was $7.50.

CHANG: Even today, the money women raise tends to come in small amounts, so women have to gather more individual donors. For a long time, that meant attending lots and lots of small events. I asked Schroeder and her close friend, Connie Morella, the former Republican congresswoman from Maryland, what that hustle was like.

SCHROEDER: I mean, you had the little coffees. But you wanted them to give something at those coffees and very often, it was $25.

CONNIE MORELLA: We decided at the wine and cheese things, we had to go to white wine or my teeth were going to be permanently stained.

SCHROEDER: I did golf tournaments. I don't even play golf. But I did golf tournaments. (Laughter)

MORELLA: When I left, my wonderful brother said: You mean, I can finally come to your birthday party and not pay money? (Laughter)

CHANG: In 2012, the average cost of winning a House seat was $1.6 million. In the Senate, it was more than 10 million. You can't run for Congress on wine and cheese nights anymore.

(SOUNDBITE OF FUNDRAISING DINNER)

(APPLAUSE)

CHANG: This year, EMILY'S List is on track to play a bigger role than ever. At the group's annual dinner in D.C., president Stephanie Schriock reminded the audience at least five Democratic women are running in extremely tight Senate races this year.

STEPHANIE SCHRIOCK: The control of the Senate depends on EMILY'S List.

(APPLAUSE)

CHANG: Since its inception in 1985, EMILY'S List has become one of the most successful PACs in the country, with a network of 3 million donors - the vast majority of whom are females donating less than $200 each. There's no question, EMILY'S List has become the model for how women can raise money for women. And the female candidates endorsed by the group have used what they learned from EMILY to help other women raise money. Here's Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND: I was embarrassed to ask people for money. And at one point, something very simple occurred to me: It wasn't about me. It's not about whether I win or lose. It's whether the issues that I'm fighting for, whether we achieve them. And so when you begin to realize the money's not for you, it is so freeing.

CHANG: In 2011, Gillibrand started a leadership PAC, called Off the Sidelines, to help other women. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, her leadership PAC is No. 1 among Democrats. It's raised the most money for 2014.

GILLIBRAND: Well, it starts with a very core principle that women's voices matter, and that if they're not being heard in Washington, then the agenda we're setting on the national level is not reflective of all Americans.

CHANG: On the Republican side, fundraising by women for women hasn't gotten as far, even though the party is trying to make it a real priority now. No Republican group has yet emerged as an equivalent counterweight to EMILY'S List. Former congresswoman Connie Morella says it's always been a heavy lift getting women in her party to open their wallets.

MORELLA: If you have male and female in a household, you probably would prefer to have the male on the phone to write the check. The woman would give the support, she'd encourage him to do it, but her check would be just a little less.

CHANG: Cycle after cycle, Republican women have always donated less than Democratic women. But Sandy Mortham, who heads the Republican PAC Maggie's List, says that is going to change.

SANDY MORTHAM: A lot of that is because they have not learned to do it. I do believe it's a function of learning. I think it's a function of getting people used to giving.

CHANG: Actually, election analysts say women in both parties could use some more learning. Since 1990, roughly three-quarters of all campaign contributions overall have come from men. Even after you break down those contributions by party, the gender disparity among donors is still pretty similar. And since female candidates rely heavily on female donors, getting women to sign those bigger checks may be the ticket to electing more women.

Ailsa Chang, NPR News.

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