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Obama Fundraising Uses Pledge Drive Tactics

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Obama Fundraising Uses Pledge Drive Tactics

Chicago Public Radio pledge producer Andrew Arganbright directs an on-air pledge drive break. (Photo by John Booz)

This week we got the latest fundraising numbers in the race for president. During June, Arizona Senator John McCain brought in 22 million, Illinois Senator Barack Obama: 52 million. Fundraising has been a big part of the Obama phenomenon from the start, especially the chunk he’s raise through the internet and e-mail. It’s a new bag of tricks in political circles, but for some of us, well, it’s as old as a giveaway totebag.

The similarities emerged early.

Last June, the Obama campaign sent an email “If you make a donation in any amount between now and 11:59pm Wednesday June 13, you could join Barack and three other supporters for an intimate dinner.”

For public radio listeners, that might sound familiar.

DRIVE TAPE: Everyone who pledges this hour will be entered in a competition to win a Duhan Mariner folding bike.

But the similarities between the Obama e-mails and public radio pledge drives go further.

June 28, 2008: “If you make your first donation right now, you’ll receive a special gift. Make a donation of $15 or more... and show off your support with an Obama logo car magnet... not available anywhere else.”

Perhaps you’ve heard that before?

MONTAGE: A pack of three reusable Chicago Public Radio nylon shopping bags/All sorts of thank you gifts at different levels/public radio diner mug, 100 bucks—what a deal huh?!

Then there’s the matching...the Obama campaign sent an e-mail February 25 “If you give as part of our matching program, a previous donor will double your impact by matching your gift”

That’s another technique you’ve heard somewhere else...

MONTAGE: Dollar for dollar matches/Your pledge of 50 dollars is 100 dollars/Double your pleasure double your funding.

There’s also tons of language about people giving “whatever they can afford” and how the campaign needs “you”, needs your donation.

Familiar right? Here’s This American Life host, and pledge veteran, Ira Glass.

GLASS: If you’re even hearing me say these words. We mean you. We do mean you.

Public radio fundraising experts say some of these similarities are just basic sales techniques. But that’s not the whole story...

SUTTON: What makes political fundraising more like political fundraising today is the ability to broadcast a message and get an immediate response.

John Sutton may be the leading consultant for public radio pledge drives. He sees two things going on here. For one, the fundraising e-mail is much more like radio or television... reaching huge audiences instantaneously.

SUTTON: The e-blast is the equivalent of having a broadcast signal.

Sutton says Obama’s reported five-million person e-mail list is essentially a giant radio station. He says other thing that makes broadcast fundraising effective in e-mail is that both urge immediate action.

In radio you hear the phone number, in e-mail, there’s the embedded “donate now” button.

SUTTON: It turns every computer into a cash register.

Republican fundraising consultant Dan Morgan agrees with all that. Morgan says he thinks Obama’s strong support among young voters has helped him exploit this new intersection of e-mail and broadcast.

MORGAN: They’re the one’s who buy things over the internet. They’re the ones who spend their time looking at websites. So this is quite an easy thing for them to push that button, put their credit card in there and give that contribution quickly.

But Morgan warns that technology is changing so quickly, next election it could be donations on cell phones or text messages.

MORGAN: Someday we might have chips implanted in our brains where we can just think and something is going to happen. Who knows where this is going to go.

So, if that does happen, you’ll just be able to think your pledge if you want that tote bag.

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