Nathaniel Ward

Fundraising short-termism

The nonprofits and political movements that endure are those that build meaningful relationships with their donors.

Yet the temptation remains to make decisions that are effective in the short run but catastrophic over time—to sacrifice long-term success for victory today.

This is particularly true in politics. For political campaigns, what counts is winning the election; considering a future beyond Election Day is just a distraction. This can lead political fundraisers to eschew meaningful relationships with donors in favor of gimmicks, misleading language, and constant shrill appeals for money.

The Washington Post profiles one firm, Mothership Strategies, that takes this approach:

The company’s profits are built on exaggerating fears, some fellow Democrats say, and could erode trust among small donors needed to help 2020 presidential contenders compete with Trump’s loyal base of contributors — and beyond…

The company’s three millennial founders are unapologetic about their tactics — so much so that one employee’s bio on the company’s website touts she has “mastered the ALL CAPS SUBJECT LINE.”

These shortsighted tactics, a bipartisan affliction, are justified as being effective. Indeed, this approach may work quite well in the short run, drawing eye-popping returns that exceed anything from a more durable approach.

Over the long haul, though, treating your donors poorly erodes trust. Donors will catch on eventually that the sky isn’t always falling. They will tire of the one-way relationship, disengage, and stop giving.