What Can You Learn from Trump’s Faltering Campaign?

This is not a political post.

Instead, it’s about you, your nonprofit organization, and those who benefit from its services.

As I write this post, Donald Trump’s bid to become President of the USA is faltering. With three weeks left in the campaign, he still could pull out a win. However, he’ll need to run a radically different campaign to do that.

As a former newspaper editor, I’m still a political news junkie. So, I’ve carefully observed the political campaign for months, okay, for years. Not long ago, I even had the opportunity to participate in a focus group facilitated by renowned pollster Frank Luntz for CBS News; it provided great insights into the thinking of undecided voters in Pennsylvania. Along the way, I’ve discovered an important lesson that can be of profound value to you.

Donald Trump holds up magazine cover featuring himself.

At a campaign stop, Donald Trump holds up magazine cover featuring himself.

It’s simple, really. Trump rose in the polls when he talked about what he would do for us, the American people. His numbers fell when his campaign became about him. For example, in recent days, Trump has had to respond to the “locker-room talk” video revealing his misogynist thoughts. He’s also been talking about how the media is against him, and how the election is rigged. Even more strangely, Trump has renewed his attacks on fellow Republicans, which has nothing whatsoever to offer the American people other than more drama.

The media analysis is overly complicated. I get it. The media have to fill column inches and hours of airtime. However, the political situation is really rather simple. Voters want to know what the candidates will do for them. At the very least, voters want to know that the candidates are thinking about them and understand them. The more a candidate focuses on the voter, the more likely he or she will be to gain traction.

Yes, there are other factors — some of them meaningful, some of them merely superficial — that will also help determine who will win or lose. But, the key factor is who is focusing most on the American voters.

The same is true for charities. For example, if you send an appeal that focuses on your organization and how great it is, the fact that the year is coming to a close (especially if it’s your fiscal year rather than the calendar year), artificial giving deadlines, internal crisis, etc., you’ll fail to maximize your results.

Instead, when you put the focus on the donor and those your organization serves, you’ll enjoy far greater fundraising success. Here are four tips:

1.  Make the donor the hero rather than your organization. Your organization is merely the conduit that allows the donor to achieve something wonderful. This is part of what it means to be donor centered.

2.  Reveal what philanthropic support will accomplish. Tell donors where their money will go. Tell them how it will benefit others and, perhaps, even the donors themselves.

3.  When communicating with prospects and donors, use the word “you” more than “I” or the royal “we.”

4.  Give prospects and donors opportunities to make their voices heard and let them know they’ve been heard. Surveys are just one good way you can do this. Another way is to provide your full contact information in every communication and, when contacted, respond appropriately and promptly.

Like voters, donors have choices. If you want them to choose to support your nonprofit organization, tell them how their support will enable them to make the world a better place.

That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?

UPDATE: (Oct. 28, 2016): Pollster Frank Luntz spoke with journalist Katie Couric about the Trump campaign. In addition to underscoring the main point I made in my blog post, Luntz shared additional insights that the nonprofit sector can benefit from. You can find the article by clicking here.

UPDATE: (Dec. 27, 2016): With the Dec. 19 vote of the Electoral College, Donald Trump became the official President-elect of the USA. Despite losing the popular vote, Trump secured more than enough Electors to become the 45th US President. In the closing weeks of the campaign, Trump got back on message, focusing more on voters than himself. Just as importantly, he stopped sending obnoxious tweets for a time. While his campaign had faltered, he was able to correct the situation and ultimately win.

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8 Comments to “What Can You Learn from Trump’s Faltering Campaign?”

  1. Totally agree that the focus should be on the results of the resources and how they are saving/changing lives of real people. The more specific the better ie a story about one family vs numbers about a large group of people. We can visualize one or a few people being helped.

    • Colleen, thank you for commenting. You’ve made a terrific point. Statistics have their place, but nonprofits tend to over-rely on them. Telling stories that allow prospective donors to relate are far more powerful. By the way, that’s why I prefer telling real stories instead of composite stories often developed by third-party service providers. I appreciate your insight.

  2. Hi, Michael! Here your Canadian fan & fundraising colleague 🙂

    Loved your article, and this time I have a question: I’ve encountered with donors that when you let them know “where the $ will go,” they ask about the cost per dollar raised. And like Dan Pallotta greatly says it in a TED Talk, people (donors) cry in anger when the cost it “too high,” even if the results are extraordinary! I feel that they confuse a charitable organization with “free work or cheap labour” because we are helping X, Y or Z cause. What do you say? 🙂

    • Claudia, I appreciate your kind message, and thank you for your question. I wish I had a good answer for you. As a sector, we need to do a better job educating the public about nonprofit overhead, as Dan Pallotta suggests. As individual fundraisers, we have to contribute to that process. One way to do that is to explain how a donor’s money will be used. That will often, though not always, resolve donor concerns. One of my frustrations is when a charity accomplishes great things and is run efficiently, yet a donor still remains unhappy. We can’t win them all. However, the more we can talk about specifics, the more likely we will be to win over supporters; this is particularly true with Millennials. When all else fails, I find a glass of wine or scotch helps. 🙂 It won’t help with fundraising, but it will help me be a bit happier.

  3. Hi Michael – I just found your blog, and I liked this post a lot. I actually used to work as a reporter, and the idea there is the same, too. Stories are almost always better when they start with a person – it draws readers in.

    I’m at a digital marketing agency now, but I’m still subscribing to your blog. Good insight and thanks for writing.

  4. Michael: While it’s always risky to bring politics into the mix, you managed to walk the tightrope masterfully: You used a hot topic to capture readers’ attention and then employed it to raise up an essential, often-forgotten truth of the advancement business. Thanks for another gem.

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