Defining the Relationship: Applying Nonprofit Principles to PAC Outreach Practices

March 27, 2018
Emily Cerling, Associate Vice President, Strategic Communications

In a former life, I worked in the development and fundraising arm of a large nonprofit. While attending the National PAC Conference earlier this month, one session examined how nonprofits solicit their donors. The topic intrigued me enough to prompt me to dive into the inner motivations of why people choose to open their wallets and give money to a particular organization.

We as humans have been using our offline social networks for hundreds of millions of years. Even before Facebook and Twitter came into our everyday existence, we’ve been using our relationships–with friends, family, and acquaintances—to get the things that we need. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that our political models—and those that influence them—are based on similar principles. In another year of important elections, corporate and association PACs should be thinking about how they cultivate strong, trusting relationships, and in turn, yield better participation and more dollars into the PAC.

The truth is: in the world of PACs (or any type of fundraising), strong relationships are key. And the type of relationship the PAC has with its eligible audience is going to determine how successful it can be at building reliable support and increasing donations.

What’s the trick? Consider a few lessons from the nonprofit sector.

Relationship status matters.

Social exchanges are lifelines to building a strong donor base. Simply, these social engagements (e.g., an email with the subject line “Make an Impact in Someone’s Life”) reinforce the intrinsic value of participating with an organization.

On the other hand, market exchanges, where the relationship with a donor is much more transactional (e.g., an email with the subject line “Get $10 off if you join by April 1.”), the motivation for joining or donating becomes extrinsically-focused. Once a market value or monetary incentive is placed on the relationship, it will be harder to demonstrate the intangible benefits of participating in your organization, and as a result, be much more difficult to motivate them to take action in the long run.

Communicating with your PAC audience is like building a relationship. You want eligibles to like you for you, not because you buy them expensive dinners.

Peer pressure works.

If I were to email my friends and ask them to give to a charity I was particularly passionate about, some of them would cough up a few dollars. Why? Probably because a few of them (hopefully!) liked me, a few were interested in learning a little more, and others just thought it would be a good thing to do.

Whether or not they actually believe in the organization or what it stands for is irrelevant. By tapping into these social exchanges, and motivating individuals to act because something was important to their friend or peer, the narrative of what the organization means to each individual and why he or she chooses to give begins to be rewritten.

If you can get those friends or peers of your PAC membership to donate, regardless of their initial motivation, you can get them to begin believing in your organization or PAC.

Recognition reigns.

There’s no denying it. Recognition is one of the most powerful tools out there. How so? Thanking and showing appreciation for those who chose, for whatever reason, to participate in your organization reinforces the intrinsic value of being involved.

But when recognizing your PAC contributors with gifts, be weary of those market exchanges we talked about earlier. In fact, less is always more. A good rule of thumb is to reward your donors with a gift that is branded with your PAC logo, unavailable to them unless they participate in the PAC, and relatively inexpensive.

By offering simple tokens to express gratitude and appreciation, recognition of your contributors goes a long way to keep them committed to your PAC.

So get out there and start a conversation with your PAC-eligible audience. After all, the ability to be social and have relationships is what allowed the human species to evolve.


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