2016 Presidential Election: Donor Fatigue Setting In?

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Just like everything else in the world, whether we like it or not in the Great American Blood Sport known as politics, money runs the show.  The stash of cash candidates use to get their names out in front of the voting public is known as a “War Chest,” and in these months leading up to primaries, candidates – real or thinking about it – are building theirs.  (Hello?  Hillary?)

There is one potential problem with that: the strategies employed might be REALLY ticking off their donors and voting bases.  This issue surfaced in a Politico report on Hillary Clinton supporters.

“I’ll be ready for Hillary when Hillary’s ready for Hillary,” said Bill Verge, a Democratic activist who played a key role in John Kerry’s 2004 New Hampshire campaign… Verge, who said he has been “inundated with emails daily,” counts himself a likely Clinton supporter — but one turned off by the aggressive fundraising on behalf of a candidate who appears intent on postponing an official entry into the race possibly until July….

“People are tired of people asking for money every time they look at their email,” said Pat Sass, chairwoman of the Blackhawk County Democrats in Iowa. “They feel the election is far away.”

And these aren’t the actual campaigns making the requests, but the Political Action Committees engaged to help get the candidate both nominated and elected.  To be honest, in the world of Republican candidate possibilities, the same phenomenon is happening, but Politico isn’t reporting it.  (Seriously, Newt Gingrich’s PAC calls this house at least five times a day, and I’ve unsubscribed from a number of automated email systems.  It’s just too much.)

Why this is happening is no great mystery.  The PACs need cash to start the advertising pushes and keep their operations running.  That is not cheap.  In addition, there is meaning in having supporters invested in a cause, i.e., Hillary for the Oval Office.  That is not exactly the problem.  People are going to gravitate toward and invest in the candidate that most closely aligns with their ideals.  The real issue here is tactics.

In the current world of fundraising, the professional beggars have a multitude of tools at their disposal to “get the message out” and personalize the pitch, as it were, to past, present, and potential donors.  One such tool is the automated email messaging systems that are part of the fundraising packages that most national non-profits use as the basis of their money-raising strategies.  Think crowd-funding, but on a much wider and more sophisticated scale.  The databases with donor information are actually software packages produced by a small number of companies and customized to fit the client’s needs.  In this case, get a message to the largest number of people possible cheaply, and make a fundraising pitch at the same time.  The email capability is built into the software complete with personalized auto-responders, and an unsubscribe feature.  (Anyone who has participated in a walk, run, ride, Team in Training, etc., event in the last 10-15 years has used this same software to raise money for whatever the cause was.)

Where the problem lies is the frequency of sending out that message.  It sounds like the Hillary Clinton crowd is getting tired of being hit up for cash when they are’t even sure that she is going to choose “run” rather than “run away.”

“I’m not going to be ready for Hillary until she announces she’s running for president,” said [Mary] Tetreau, a three-decade veteran of New Hampshire primary politics, who called Ready for Hillary’s early-and-often email approach “annoying.”

Unfortunately, it’s not going to get any better.  Since the PACs have to keep going longer than originally planned, they have to raise more cash.  In addition, there are so many organizations backing Hillary Clinton that the deep pocketed donors have already given to groups other than Ready for Hillary, the PAC featured in the Politico piece.  That means they need a lot more of the little donations to meet fundraising goals.  And to make matters more annoying, the fundraising gurus now are preaching that two emails a day, as opposed to one a week, with an ask is perfectly acceptable.

“The best practice used to be that you would only send a couple per day at max,” said Michael Whitney, an email campaigning specialist at the progressive communications firm Revolution Messaging. But in recent years, he said, email campaigners have become more aggressive without registering any meaningful backlash.

The new consensus is that constant emailing “might annoy a lot of people, but it doesn’t mean they’re going to unsubscribe and it doesn’t mean they’re not going to donate in the future.”

“Three years ago, the idea of sending more than two emails a day was considered abusive,” he added. “That’s gone out the window.”

Too bad.  If that tactic is adopted more broadly than just with the Ready for Hillary PAC, then a lot more people will end up being turned off of politics precisely when we need more Americans paying attention.  The reason is really simple: donor fatigue.  It’s an old fashioned concept, but still applies in the real world and it doesn’t matter what side of the political divide is doing the asking.  Tick the people off, and they will be far less likely to donate, and more importantly – at least for Republicans – vote for the candidate doing the asking.

About the Author

Cultural Limits
A resident of Flyover Country, Cultural Limits is a rare creature in American Conservatism - committed to not just small government, Christianity and traditional social roles, but non-profits and high arts and culture. Watching politics, observing human behavior and writing are all long-time interests. In her other life, CL writes romance novels under her nom de plume, Patricia Holden (@PatriciaHoldenAuthor on Facebook), and crochets like a mad woman (designs can be found on Facebook @BohemianFlairCrochet and on Pinterest on the Bohemian Flair Crochet board). In religion, CL is Catholic; in work, the jill of all trades when it comes to fundraising software manipulation and event planning; in play, a classically trained soprano and proud citizen of Cardinal Nation, although, during hockey season, Bleeds Blue. She lives in the Mid-Mississippi River Valley with family and two cute and charming tyrants...make that toy dogs.