Colbert SuperPac: Not a fundraiser’s alterative universe

On June 30th, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) voted to approve Stephen Colbert’s (a comedian and host of the Comedy Central Colbert Report) application to form what is called a “SuperPac”. According to NPR and other various report, Colbert left the hearing room, went outside to a throng of supporters, and started accepting people’s credit cards. He used a credit card swipe machine attached to an iPad to process contributions from enthusiastic supporters.

In the wake of the ruling, Colbert launched his Colbert SuperPac website, started taking online contributions, and now scrolls the names of his donors along the bottom of the television screen during his shows.

Over the last month, I’ve watched this fundraising drama unfold and found myself wondering: “Is this some kind of bizarro, alternative fundraising universe?

What I thought I was seeing was average people pulling out their wallets and throwing money at an organization that didn’t have a mission, vision, or case for support. Go to the Colbert SuperPac website, click around and try to find any of that information. It doesn’t really exist. What does this organization stand for? What will this organization support? How will it support those things it believes in?

You will find no answers. As a matter of fact, Colbert interviewed political analyst Matthew Dowd on his show about this very subject, and in the end he concluded that he would ask his donors what his SuperPac should symbolize and support. As a non-profit fundraising professional, it took me a long time to wrap my mind around the idea of going to a donor, asking for a contribution, and then asking the donor what they think your mission, vision, case for support, and programming should be.

My Dad has said I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer; however, after many walks and conversations with my dog, I have come to the conclusion that this is NOT a bizarro, alternative universe for fundraising professions.

There is a very witty and satirical case for support that Colbert’s super-smart audience understands. It isn’t written in a case for support document or a glossy solicitation brochure. The SuperPac’s case for support is embodied in a series of “comedy bits” that Colbert has been airing ever since the Supreme Court’s controversial “Citizens United” decision in 2010.

In a nutshell, the Colbert SuperPac’s case goes something like this: “Making a contribution to this undefined political action committee will allow us to demonstrate to the FEC, policymakers, and the Supreme Court that there are dangers and unforeseen consequences of such a decision. Your contribution also helps test a hypothesis that unlimited ‘free speech’ can have adverse consequences on democratic institutions. In the end, your contribution might even save our American democracy.”

Now THAT is an amazing case for support, which must be why so many people are lining up to give Colbert SuperPac their money.

OK … now that I’ve convinced myself that the fundraising universe hasn’t been turned upside down, I see all sorts of fundraising lessons for non-profit organizations and fundraising professions such as:

  • Your organization’s case for support needs to be POWERFUL if you want to be serious about raising money.
  • Your fundraising efforts will benefit greatly if you find the right voice to talk about your case for support.
  • People will contribute only if you ask them. So, stop beating around the bush and dropping hints.
  • Allowing donors to swipe their credit card will help inspire spontaneous giving.
  • Taking contributions online via your website needs to be supported by multi-channel cultivation, solicitation and stewardship activities.

Well, you’ve been watching the same things I’ve been watching . . . what are your observations? What fundraising best practices are you seeing? Is there a moral to the story for fundraising professionals? Please use the comment box to share your thoughts because we can all learn from each other!

Here is to your health!

Erik Anderson
Owner, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Symbols and philanthropy

Yesterday was June 14th and that can only mean one thing — Flag Day — which got me thinking about the importance of “symbols” in philanthropy.

Quite simply, symbols are things that help us quickly and clearly understand for what something stands. For example, the American flag represents the historic formation of our country (e.g. 13 independent colonies) and stands for the values put forth by our Founding Fathers (e.g. freedom, justice, democratic principles, self-determination, etc).

Symbols are powerful communication tools for organizations according to Anat Rafaeli and Momica Worline in their paper titled “Symbols in Organizational Culture“.  The following are a few examples of symbols that I’ve seen non-profits use effectively:

  • Boys & Girls Clubs use a logo of two hands gasping each other. It is commonly known as “The Knuckles”.  It symbolizes hope and opportunity as well as a partnership between kids and those willing to extend a helping hand in partnership.  Donors see the logo and immediately understand in what they are investing.
  • The Boy Scouts integrated the fleur-de-lis into its logo. This symbol has had many meanings throughout human history; however, within a scouting context it is supposed to make donors think of a compass, which symbolizes scouting’s power in a person’s life to always keep them pointed in the right direction.
  • Getting back to Boys & Girls Clubs … this organization effectively uses its alumni assets as “symbols” and a way to effortlessly communicate to donors that the Club is 1) an effective after-school program that yields success stories, 2) all about lifting people up, 3) about forging positive kid-adult mentoring relationships, and 4) lots and lots of fun. Check out this Denzel Washington commercial and see if you can see those messages embodied in their spokesperson.

Many non-profit organizations also develop “signature fundraisers” or publicize “signature programs” that become symbols of their organization. I can specifically think of the United Way’s fundraising thermometer, poppies to support veterans causes, and cookie sales to help the Girl Scouts. Think of how powerful it must be for a donor to instantly understand in what they are investing.

In my opinion, the biggest challenge for your organization is integrating a sense of “mission-focus” into the symbols you construct. This is especially true for those non-profit organization’s pursuing cause-related marketing efforts. Who can ever forget when Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure affiliated their “symbol” (aka brand) with KFC’s brand (greasy, unhealthy food)?

Jump in and comment on other non-profit symbols that you’ve seen used very well or poorly by a non-profit organization in their resource development program. And enjoy this final link to the Chinese symbol for “philanthropy”

Here is to your health!

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