3 Election-Inspired Tips for More Powerful Fundraising

Nonprofit fundraising professionals can learn three powerful tips from the US presidential candidates that will help inspire greater support.

Now that the November 2019 elections in the US are behind us, the media and the public will focus their attention increasingly on the 2020 presidential race. As the campaign for The White House heats up, there are already things you can glean from this election season that will help you and your charity.

Fox News recently interviewed pollster Frank Luntz about how the candidates are communicating their messages. Regardless of how you feel about the network or the researcher, you can pick-up great communication insights from them.

Specifically, Luntz shared what he believes to be the three elements of powerful, persuasive communications:

1. Credible. It’s not enough for a message to be true. It must also be believable. When sharing stories about those your charity helps, you might choose to highlight a less dramatic, but more believable example, rather than one that is extreme but that might invite suspicion. Or, if you do share a story that stretches belief, you might want to cite a third-party source (i.e., a published news report). In a mailing or face-to-face visit, for example, you could even provide a newspaper clipping that supports the story you share. When citing statistics, providing the source can lend credibility.

In one of her presidential campaign ads, Sen. Elizabeth Warren highlights her unexpected victory over incumbent Sen. Scott Brown in 2012 to demonstrate her political skill and her ability to surprise the pundits. In one of his campaign ads, former Vice President Joe Biden cited a number of polls to support his claim that he is the best positioned Democrat to unseat President Donald Trump. In other words, both candidates sought to establish credibility by documenting their claims.

If recipients of your message don’t believe it, they’ll dismiss it. You’ll lose the opportunity to cultivate, engage, or generate support. While your message needs to standout and capture attention, it has to be believable.

2. Memorable. To be effective, messaging must be memorable. By definition, successful education or cultivation requires a lasting impact. If someone receives your direct-mail appeal and sets it aside to deal with later, they’ll only respond if they remember it and remember what moved them. If someone sees an advertisement for your cause, they won’t talk about it with friends unless they remember it.

In one of Trump’s campaign ads, the narrator says, “Mister Nice Guy won’t cut it. It takes a tough guy to change Washington.” Luntz asserts that the “Mister Nice Guy” line combined with the images of Trump looking tough result in a memorable ad. The rhetoric is unusual for a political ad while being in alignment with the candidate’s image. By contrast, the Biden ad that talks about his ability to beat Trump uses footage that, for the most part, doesn’t support the narration and, instead, features bland, standard political glad-handing images. By contrast with the Trump ad, the Biden commercial is less memorable.

The most effective messages are the ones that are memorable. Words and images must support one another to maximize effectiveness.

3. Thought provoking. Effective communications engage recipients. One way to engage is to provoke thought.

The Warren ad demonstrates how a thought-provoking ad can work. The narrator says that the “wealthy and well-connected have rigged the system for themselves.” This is combined with an image of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin holding up a large stack of uncut dollar-bill sheets fresh off the press. The words and image provoke questions such as: How have they rigged the system? What can be done to fix the system? Who can fix the problem? The Warren ad tells us she is the one who can and, given the chance, will address the issue.

Charity donors have choices just like voters do. You need to do more than talk at them. You need to engage them. You need to get them thinking about a problem and how they can address it through support of your organization. The more you can help donors see themselves as part of the solution, the more likely they will be to provide their support.

Whether you are educating, cultivating, or asking people for money, you need to communicate effectively. What makes powerful political campaign advertisements will help you create successful communications for your nonprofit organization. You just need to ask yourself three questions:

  1. Is the communication (e.g., ad, direct-mail appeal, article, e-mail message, webpage, etc.) credible?
  2. Is the communication memorable?
  3. Is the communication thought provoking?

In addition to answering those questions yourself, you should get a few non-insiders to respond as well. So, share your draft communication with your spouse, friends, parent, child, neighbor, etc. Then, pose the questions to them immediately. Carefully listen to their responses, and resist the temptation to debate them. After a couple of days, go back and ask the questions again. The feedback you receive will give you constructive insights that will help you refine your communication. You’ll be more successful as a result.

What have you learned so far this election season that can help nonprofit fundraising efforts?

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

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