My partner and I have been bombarded in the last few weeks by the Obama fundraising team with countless solicitations. There have been phone calls, emails and even snail-mail appeals. There is even one interesting email enticing us to donate in order to get entered into a raffle for a chance to have dinner with the President. Ohhh, let the fundraising fun begin!

After closing the “Dinner with Barack” email, I randomly decided to look at the Wikipedia page for “fundraising“. Interestingly enough, the only picture on that page was of U.S. President Barack Obama.

These two unrelated things in my life got me thinking. “Is Barack Obama not just the Commander-in-Chief but also the nation’s Fundraiser-in-Chief?”  Here are some of the thoughts floating around in my head as I contemplate this question:

  • Team Obama raised approximately three-quarters of a billion dollars in 2007-08 and experts are predicting they will top the $1 billion mark in 2011-12. I don’t know of anyone who has done that in any sector.
  • Team Obama raised their money from approximately 4 million donors, many of which were individuals.
  • Many fundraising experts who looked closely at the numbers said the Obama people did very well with getting small donors to contribute to their first political campaign and then did an even better with getting small multiple gifts from those same donor.

While I’ve come to learn the hard way that political fundraising is very different from doing so for a non-profit organization, I still believe the upcoming Presidential campaign fundraising efforts (all of them and not just Team Obama) are worth watching because there will likely be some interesting take-away lessons for social service non-profit organizations.

Team Obama did much to move the needle with regards to making political fundraising more “donor-centered” and less “transactional” compared to previous campaigns, and they seemed to do so using a blended approach of traditional fundraising (e.g. events, mail, phone, face-to-face) and e-philanthropy (e.g. email, website, social media, text, etc).  I personally came to these conclusion because of the countless “update emails with videos” I received in 2008. It was obviously an attempt at stewardship and a way of demonstrating ROI to individual donors. It must have also been successfully because of the number of small donors who made multiple contributions.

In addition to non-profit resource development professionals getting an opportunity to observe up-close-and-personal donor-centered techniques being applied, I think it will also be interesting to watch how 2008 Obama donors behave in 2012. There were lots of promises made in 2008. As non-profit organizations have learned (mostly the hard way), when we over-promise and under-deliver, donors tend to be a little more reluctant to renew their contribution.

Finally, I’m also interested in watching how “transparency” in political fundraising continues to evolve in 2012. Have you ever checked out The Huffington Post’s “Fundrace” resource? Unfortunately, I have done so and found myself sucked into countless hours of looking up friends, family and donors to see who was donating what and to whom. Interestingly, I found my personal contributions to be under-reported. I wonder if that was a problem that resulted from having to reconcile contributions made via so many different avenues (e.g. website vs. snail-mail vs phone).

So, I think the jury is out on whether Barack Obama is our country’s Fundraising-in-Chief and the proof will be in the 2012 numbers. What do you think?

Were there any best practices or lessons learned that your non-profit used after the 2008 campaign? Are you watching anything in particular from a fundraising standpoint as we head into 2012?

Here is to your health!

Erik Anderson
Owner, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847!/profile.php?id=1021153653


  1. Erik,

    I found this post interesting indeed! Most donors don’t want to be bombarded with information from an organization, at least that is what we have found. Did the many ‘touches’ encourage you, or cause you to think about the effort, expense, time spent in contacting you? Is this the best use of those who support the cause? When folks are excited and want to help, sure, one tries to find a job for them to do but it should not be at the expense of the poor donor who receives the overwhelming fruit of the labors.

    Maybe it is regional – ? Or more related to the organization? I just believe that too much information is often seen as just that, too much. At least that is what my board and donors are telling us.

    The proof is in the pudding: because of the bombardment, will you be increasing, decreasing or remaining the same with your support of that campaign? You don’t have to answer really – that is your business. It just would tell whether or not this style of fund raising works.

    Vikki Johnson

    1. Vickki … Jeff Brooks is an awesome blogger who publishes the “Future Fundraising Now” blog. A few days ago, he posed an interesting hypothesis to your exact question (within a direct mail context). You can read his post and hypothesis at

      In a nutshell, the answer in my opinion is this: RD professionals need to get “more donor-centered” and build REAL relationships with donors. The golden rule in fundraising is “know thy donor”. Some donors want that info and outcomes data. Other donors are not that “in love” with you. However, when we get closer to our donors and discover which donors are just minorly connected to mission. Once we learn who is “only lightly involved, we should use that info to assess whether it is possible to better connect them to our mission. In doing so, they will likely (in time) climb higher in your organizational range of gifts chart, view their contribution as an investment, and then start looking for the ROI data and report.

      When I hear donors and board members tell me that I’m sending them too much, it triggers the following thoughts: 1) maybe I am sending them the wrong kind of information, 2) maybe my donors & board members are saying they aren’t as “interested in me” as I thought they were, and/or 3) maybe I am being inefficient in how I send them information and I need to engage a few focus groups to investigate how we can be transparent, engaging and ROI-focused without being overwhelming.

      As for me, I absolutely LOVED the emails and video updates from TEAM OBAMA. I gave far more to the 2008 campaign than I would’ve otherwise. Of course, that is just me — a “data geek” who loves to see the effect of my contributions. As for 2012, we are still on the fence about our political contributions. We’ve been disappointed in the ROI. One thing we’ve talked about is contributing to a special interests ‘political action committee” by the name of Human Rights Campaign (HRC). If candidates want our money, then they will need to convince that PAC that they are the right person for the job. Hmmmmmm … in social service non-profit terms, this sounds remarkably like we’re shifting to a “United Way strategy”.

      Now there is an interesting observation that has ramifications in non-profit circles. Enjoy your daily dose of “food for thought”.

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