Tweaking the RNC's fundraising strategy

By Kevin Huffman
Friday, March 5, 2010

To: Republican National Committee

From: America's Next Great Pundit

Re: Your Fundraising Strategy

Icouldn't help but notice that your 2010 fundraising strategy was posted on the Internet this week. First, let me say, shame on Politico for publishing confidential documents like this -- I hope you punish them by stripping their access to rote talking points. But more important, having spent most of the past decade as a professional fundraiser in the nonprofit world, I thought I might be able to offer some strategic advice.

As a starting point, I like that your strategy has a framework. Frameworks bring clarity to the fundraising process, and your plan has a simple, clear message: We have fun peddling fear to Luddites. At the same time, I worry that this framework has some limitations.

First, your plan divides Republican donors into two main categories: small donors who are "visceral," "reactionary" and motivated by "fear," and large donors who are "calculated," "ego-driven" and motivated by "access." I don't know these guys as well as you do, but my experience in the field suggests a potential need for rebranding. What if, instead of labeling your small donors as "reactionary," you thought of them as "passionate"? And for the large donors, instead of "ego-driven," you could consider them "thought leaders." You see what I did there? It's a slight nuance, but if you give your donors a teeny bit more credit, it sets up a different framework to address some of the message and outreach challenges delineated below. Plus, these days, you never know what will wind up on the Internet -- it's probably best to word things in a way that won't alienate your supporters.

Second, as you lay out your messaging strategy for 2010, you ask an interesting question: "What can you sell when you do not have the White House, the House or the Senate?" Your answer: "Save the country from trending toward Socialism!" Your PowerPoint presentation depicts "The Evil Empire," with President Obama as the Joker, Nancy Pelosi as Cruella de Vil and Harry Reid as Scooby-Doo. I don't exactly get how Scooby-Doo furthers the Socialism message (or the Joker for that matter -- wasn't he an anarchist?). But in the context of donor targets that are visceral, reactionary and motivated by fear, it makes sense to portray your opponents as scary, cartoonish radicals. Nonetheless, my suggestion, based on some grainy footage I saw recently of Ronald Reagan, is to consider a more optimistic frame. This might be off the wall, but hear me out: What if the RNC developed a couple of serious policy initiatives and then messaged them as concrete reasons for people to support you? I'd be happy to look at any ideas, if that'd be helpful.

Third, you lay out a comprehensive set of events, activities and rewards to motivate Republican donors. I have to say, I love your idea that the RNC is "Putting the FUN back in FUNdraising." That's wonderful, and some of your scheduled events clearly further this principle. A reception with Tom Coburn at the Drake? Fun! Hanging with Bill Kristol at the Russian Tea Room? Good times! You mix these in with a bird hunt in Texas, an Ultimate Fighting match in Vegas, even professional bull riding. Heck, your strategic plan calls for "tchotchkes!!!!" (Twice.)

Not to beat a dead horse, but one additional idea would be events based on serious policy initiatives. If you thought of your prospective donors less as small-minded and big-egoed, and more as serious people interested in substantive policy discussions, you could create events designed to propose solutions to complex global and domestic challenges. I'm not saying that Ultimate Fighting or Tom Coburn can't be substantive, but it's not really their sweet spot.

So, to summarize: If you tweak the Luddite part of your strategic framework, then you could reconsider the fear. And if you go beyond fear, you could propose some policies. And if you pushed some interesting policies, you could maybe reach more people. Best of all, you could do all this while still embracing tchotchkes!

Kevin Huffman was the winner of The Post's America's Next Great Pundit competition.

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