Friday, January 30, 2009

The secrets to Obama’s fundraising efforts: from the horse’s mouth..

As I spoke about earlier in the week, I’m currently at the DMA Nonprofit conference in Washington DC.

As you can imagine there was a lot of excitement about the presence of Meaghan Burdick, Director of Marketing, Obama for America who was delivering the first morning’s keynote presentation. I had to say I was a little skeptical prior as to how much detail would be shared about the campaign that raised $600m (USD). Yes, you read that right, $600m (USD).

Well, I have to say 'fair play' to Meaghan, she gave us the real lowdown.

In summary Meaghan credited the success of their amazing fundraising accomplishments to the following ingredients:

Investment and risk
Messaging and branding

Let’s face it, these were probably the things, broadly speaking, that we expected to hear. Yet hearing it articulated, from the horses mouth, so to speak - really brought it home for me.

In particular what I loved is the first one: investment and risk. Bingo!

Meaghan was quick to point out that their success didn’t happen overnight, donors and donations didn’t grow on trees. They invested, seriously. In technology, in good people, in office space, in testing. They took some gambles. Some which worked, others which didn’t. But of course more did than didn’t.

The point being that the Obama campaign realized that the 90,000 emails and 30,000 donors they started with at the beginning of 2007 wasn’t going to topple the democratic machine of the Clinton party, which already had significant capital to throw around.

Fast forward less than two years, more than 5,000 staff, a lot of blood, sweat and tears and a multitude of fundraising efforts (including mailing constituents every 2 weeks!) and they had managed to build a list of 13 million email addresses, 3.9m donors, and an extraordinary $600m.

Oh, and their candidate become the President of the United States...

Meaghan talked in detail about messaging and brand and the imperative to keep it consistent, which I blogged about last year. She insisted that it wasn’t about the man himself: it was about the movement and the necessity for change. The key here was to be incredibly disciplined and on message at every touch point with the American people. Be it on the telephone, through the mail, at public addresses and rallies, through to their online efforts.

I think it’s fair to say they did a bloody good job on this one!

We discovered more about the intricacies of what the Obama team did and the thinking behind their coordinated efforts. But for me the first two resonated really strongly in terms of lessons to be applied for nonprofits.

Growth doesn’t (there is always the odd exception) happen without a serious commitment to invest and take informed risks.

Clear and coherent (and usually successful) charities require a certain commitment to ‘sing from the same hymn sheet’ and present a consistent message at all times. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t tell different stories, but always with an overarching theme about what it is that we are there to do.

A great session, thanks Meaghan. I’m looking forward to your next session at the conference..



Kimberley MacKenzie said...

Jonathon - best blog ever! Thank you so much for sharing that. You know I have blogged about the Integration in the campaign and wondered about the costs and the people involved. I'm really grateful for the answer on that. Is she writing a book?

Thanks again. I'll write something about it tomorrow. Forgot you were when you get back about the training thing. Cheers Kimberley

Jonathon Grapsas said...

Thanks Kimberley!

Her second session was good too, and they had some of their suppliers part of it as well.

It was more of a Q&A, really informal.

Someone asked Meaghan if she was going to write a book and she joked that she would in her 'spare time'. So not sure it will happen anytime soon!

Apparently she is joining the Obama administraion in some capacity.

Kimberley MacKenzie said...

Well you know I can't wait for the book! Of course she will be on the speaking circuit in no time...

Just read recession watch blog. Congratulations on your obvious Canadian success....looks like you are smokin' to get used to the snow!