Sunday, November 16, 2008

November 16, 2008

LEARNING FROM THE OBAMA CAMPAIGN MODEL

Hello everybody

“And the beat goes on…………………….............”

Post election, there is considerable talk about the success of the Obama campaign in using Web 2 to revolutionize communication, organization, volunteer recruitment and management and, of course, fundraising.

What can we learn from that experiment? How can we tap into that success model to build new audiences, recruit new volunteers, tap into new funding sources, expand our communications links with supporters – current and potential?

I think the Obama campaign political model is only the beginning of a new approach to electioneering. Next election every campaign is likely to have as a key senior staff member a generational expert to oversee the crafting of different messages to different generations for different purposes. Gone will be the single message to everybody, gone will be using one means of communication across the board to everyone. Call it niche communication of whatever else you want, the reality will be increased sophistication in targeting specific groups for specific purposes. At the core will be the attempt to make a bigger world, smaller. We need to do that too.

What is Web 2? Simply put, it is the use of the internet via all of the evolving technological applications (Face Book, My Space, LinkedIn, podcasting, I Phones and the like) in new approaches to reaching diverse communities effectively and efficiently. Perhaps it's nothing more than a new way of networking, of casting the proverbial "wider net". At the heart of the Obama effort was the theoretical application of the economy of scale – i.e., it is easier to reach tens of thousands of people to raise small amounts of money, to ask for moderate commitment than it is to focus on only large donors and people willing to make major commitments. It is egalitarian in its approach.

It probably doesn’t make sense to try to sell X Box games by placing ads in the AARP magazine, but that is precisely the kind of thing we continue to do on many levels – not just our marketing efforts to audiences, but in our efforts to re-think our funding streams, the way we recruit new employees, our approaches to gaining public support.

Our sector (as well as countless other sectors) is already beginning to understand and employ new approaches based on the Web 2 approach. There are workshops, webinars, even books on how to integrate a variety of approaches to address single challenges. But we need to ramp up those efforts, we need a sector wide kind of commitment, to first learn how to use the new approaches, then aggregate our efforts collaboratively, and experiment in pilot projects how we might become more adept at employing the new technologies to develop new and expand existing audiences, garner financial support from brand new sources, and aggregate public support from heretofore untapped communities. We need to become experts in generational differences, and communicate variations of our messages to different target markets, and we need to do that on a large platform, now.

Though the economy is in trouble and predictions are that philanthropy and giving will drop, people still gave record amounts of money to Obama because they thought it was critically important. While the individual contributions were, in large part, small (and thus affordable to the donors), in the aggregate they were record setting. And the Obama model asked them for money over and over again, and it worked. Of course this election was unique. But why can't the arts replace some of the lost income from falling public and even foundation support, by taking the exact same approach? Perhaps we need to do it on a big scale instead of by individual organizations? I don't know. But I know we have an incredibly valuable product - art & culture - and I know we have enormous untapped support. Why can't we raise huge amounts of money from small individual donations? I don't know, but I personally think we could.

There needs to be a clarion call, on a national basis, for all arts organizations to acquire expertise at a vanguard level. This needs to be a kind of Kennedyesque “Land a Man on the Moon” in ten years commitment that reaches down to every organization, irrespective of its size, in every state in the country. But we need to do it in two years. Funders should take note of the challenge and needs and work together to enlist the senior leadership of our sector in making this a national priority. And all of those leaders who complain there simply isn’t the time or money to move much faster than they already are, need to re-assess and re-evaluate the consequences of not making the time, finding the resources to join this bandwagon.

The promise of the Obama Campaign success is to change the paradigm of how we market arts & culture to our audiences, how we fund our efforts and change the process of philanthropy, and how we recruit and manage a whole new level of public support for, interest and involvement in, and attitude towards our value and contributions to society.

Sometimes I think we over analyze our challenges; sometimes I think we make the potential solutions more complex than they need to be. The beauty of the Obama fundraising model was it's simplicity. Doubtless improvements on the model will get ever more sophisticated. But they aren't likely to change the premise: tap into the small donor. We need to clarify some of our thinking. The way to deal with an ever bigger world, may just be to deal again with the smallest parts.

Something to think more about. My two cents anyway.

Have a good week.

Don’t Quit.

Barry

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