Earlier this month on OpenSecrets.org, the Center for Responsive Politics took a look at the email fundraising gimmick of telling supporters there are matching funds available if they give within a certain period. It’s a technique borrowed from philanthropic fundraising, but as the article points out, under campaign finance laws, major donors face a legal maximum.
I suppose a campaign could make the argument that “matching funds” would come from other donors via traditional channels, but that’s not really telling the truth. There are lots of other fundraising gimmicks that campaigns employ that aren’t true either, like
- Promising to show candidates a list of names before they go on the debate stage,
- Made up fundraising deadlines,
- A certain number of donors needed in a ZIP code,
- Fake fundraising progress numbers, and
- Pretending emails are sent from a candidate’s iPhone.
But the fact is they work – at least in the near term – and I’m guilty of using them myself. But if you’re really trying to build a grassroots fundraising program for the long-term with a community of supporters, it’s not how you’ll earn their trust.
But should these gimmicks be completely off-limits for campaigns? Certainly saying “yes” is at least a consistent, defensible position, but I don’t think that reflects the reality of the business.
As I’ve written here, when campaigns don’t ask supporters aggressively enough for donations, scam PACs swoop in to take advantage, an entirely undesirable outcome. These kind of gimmicks may just be what motivates some donors and so it could make sense to include them as part of your efforts to a non-donor segment.
But it’s no way to treat supporters who want a real relationship with your campaign, which is an asset more important than money. It’s up to you to decide which supporters won’t respond to gimmicks and they may tolerate them from time to time.
Think of dishonest gimmicks as a sugary treat. You shouldn’t use them every day and it’s not how you build a well-balanced online fundraising program.