It sounds like a promotion for a summer blockbuster movie, but it’s actually a formula for political fundraising.
Some might think this is cynical. However, if you’ve ever done any serious work in politics, as I have, you’ll know a few truths:
Most people have little interest in politics. Of those who are interested, only a few will ever do anything other than talk. Getting people to take action, such as making a donation, requires that you hit their hot buttons and hit them hard.
Which hot buttons seem to always work best? Anger. Fear. Revenge.
Let me give you an example. Here’s the opening few sentences from a political fundraising letter I received today from the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio:
Dear Mr. Rieck,
Ohio’s next election is being stolen. Right now. As you read this letter.
The crime can be stopped, but only with your help. Join the ACLU of Ohio’s fight to keep Ohio elections free and fair. Contribute to the ACLU of Ohio today.
Efforts are underway by Ohio’s Governor, Secretary of State and General Assembly to slash our voting rights. The result? A return to the bad old days of snarls at the polls and confusion for voters, young and old.
This is going to hurt the most vulnerable among us. People like Dorothy.
Dorothy lived much of her life in Georgia. She’s an Ohioan now. She no longer drives, but she has voted in every election since 1965, when the Voting Rights Act granted her equality at the voting booth. She has every intention of voting again, and again.
But Dorothy won’t be able to vote. Not when Ohio enacts the most restrictive voting laws in the country.
As you can see, the ACLU opted for a combination of anger and fear. As with much political rhetoric, the fundraising copy here describes a coming apocalypse brought on by an evil enemy. And I’m asked to help fight it with a donation.
It also makes the situation personal by describing someone who will be a victim of this heinous crime.
Is this all an exaggeration? Of course. If the letter spoke calmly, honestly, and logically, it wouldn’t trigger any emotion and wouldn’t raise any money.
Consider some of the other language in this letter:
… a new law is being jammed through.
… fight these terrible new laws.
… our free and fair elections are about to change for the worse.
… say to Ohio’s lawmakers, “Keep your hands off my voting rights!”
While this isn’t the most eloquent political fundraising letter I’ve ever read, it follows a typical and effective pattern:
- Sound a warning.
- Name the enemy.
- Describe the fallout.
- Pull the heartstrings.
- Provide a solution.
- Ask for money.
Political fundraising is similar to charitable fundraising in that it must evoke an emotion to trigger a donation. The main difference is that a political fundraising letter generally limits the emotional range to the most basic and unattractive of human responses. Anger. Fear. Revenge.
Sad, but true.