He needed to raise money. We need to raise money. Where's the big diff?
Cindy Miro-Quesada at Mesaworks sent me an email that began, "I received this from a board member yesterday and I am curious as to what your response to this is." Followed by an item clipped from the Chronicle of Philanthropy
Obama Strategist Urges Charities to Eschew E-Newsletters
A leader of President Obama's groundbreaking online campaign is advising charities to ditch e-mail newsletters, calling them "a waste of time," reports the Web site Third Sector Online.
Speaking at a presentation in London, Thomas Gensemer, managing partner of Blue State Digital, said short, personalized e-mail messages to supporters that offer clean instructions for participation are a more effective online strategy. "E-mail is still a killer application but only when used properly," he said.
Blue State ran Mr. Obama's electronic campaign, which raised more than $500-million in Internet contributions and spawned tens of thousands of online support groups.
Wow. E-mail newsletters are worthless. Well, you heard it from the mountain, so it must be true: Charities, stop your email newsletters.
Yes, I am being facetious. Mr. Gensemer's categorical dismissal of a key donor cultivation tool is a half-truth at best.
This was the third time recently, though, I'd run across someone from a smaller-than-national nonprofit pondering whether the Obama campaign's world-record-beating, Olympic-scale fundraising success was a model worth emulating.
My response: beware seemingly easy answers taken out of context. For they will lead you from the true and righteous path: personal solicitation and donor cultivation. That silver bullet you're coveting? It's made for an artillery piece you'll probably never own.
Thomas Gensemer is of course dead right, in his own world. He has the proof, in the hundreds of millions of contributed dollars that Barack Obama's campaign attracted. The vast majority of these gifts, we're told, were below $100. Hence, a triumph of the grassroots masses over well-heeled special interests and corporations, electing a once-in-a-generation liberal leader to the world's most powerful job.
But Gensemer's world is not your world.
You do not have the planet's most sophisticated digital back office, with super-skilled data miners laboring 24 hours a day. Obama did. You do not have the world's press corps dogging your heels, repeating your every utterance to millions. Obama did. You are not promoting a cause that is a must-win-at-all-costs issue for every one of your donors. Obama's was. His supporters sorely wanted a different kind of government in their lives and for their country's future.
Obama-envy is on the rise among nonprofits. His methods seem tantalizingly transferable. Maybe.
What's now called "Online Giving 3.0," the kind of fundraising that applies lessons learned during Obama's campaign, certainly offers every nonprofit food for thought.
But summary, one-size-fits-all opinions like "e-mail newsletters are a waste of time" apply to almost no one.
Takeaway: Stay informed (we do by subscribing to The Agitator Premium Service), but stick to your knitting. Non-professionals (board members, for instance) who arrive flush with bright ideas and instant answers are an evil distraction. Know your business, know your limitations, and build for the long haul.
And keep in mind this dictum from Kris Hermanns, director of development at the passionately supported National Center for Lesbian Rights: If you're not already raising money with traditional methods, don't expect to do better if you switch to new methods. Execution is everything. Online Giving 3.0 will not make a silk purse out of an intrinsically weak communications program.