I’m certainly celebrating Obama’s election and inauguration, as are most everyone I know in the fundraising community. Well, the progressive wing anyway. Which brings to mind a few traps that some fell into during the last eight years.
During Bush’s first term, progressive causes had a great tool for fundraising: a demon who’s actions and policies inspired great anger among donors. This was great for a couple of years.
But by early 2003, some saw a drop-off in donations that I attribute to despair. With the solidification of the Republican majority in Congress, many donors had lost hope that their causes… or their donations… could possibly make a difference. The Bush administration was certainly instransigent. And Congress deaf to their appeals.
When Congress tipped a bit toward to Democrats in 2004, a few organizations’ appeals reflected some confidence. “Now we can finally, once again, achieve something.” For many, this did not resonate with donors, who didn’t see potential traction in the modest gains. Gifts did not pick up. And those donors were right! Things did not improve because the Dems didn’t gain enough to make a difference.
In 2006, the Senate and House of Representatives had a more significant shift to Dems. Some groups again got excited. “Now we can get something done!” Dubious donors still held on to their pessimism. Rightly so. And those groups who promised progress were now twice shamed by their excessive expressed optimism.
The mistake these groups made, in my eyes, was redirecting their appeals away from the demons toward the potential angels.
Nope. People are much more willing to give money to harm those they hate than to help those they love. Never ask more money to do good. At least in political action arenas, donors act out of anger and frustration. Not out of hope.
Right now, progressive organizations face a real problem: donors who may think that things have actually changed. Uh uh. While I wasn’t as inspired as I’d hoped by President Obama’s inauguration address, he made it clear that we’re digging ourselves out of a deep hole. We’re not going to get to any positive stuff until we overcome immense problems.
I’d resist any “Yes we did!” and even “Yes we can!” in appeals. We need donors support more than ever. Obama made it clear it’s largely up to us. And “us” in MANY cases will be effective non-profit organizations supported by committed and generous donors.