There’s been an important conversation happening in progressive digital circles about whether it is appropriate to continue our regular, scheduled fundraising programs as the devastation in Texas and surrounding areas continues to unfold.
On the one hand, the fundraising emails we send are important. They are the lifeblood of many campaigns. Missing a day or two could affect budget decisions or make it difficult for campaigns to meet payroll.
For that reason alone, it would be wrong to criticize anyone for continuing to send fundraising emails that aren’t related to Harvey relief efforts, especially if campaign staffers are relying on money raised online to make payroll. Of course, campaigns must make sure to suppress the areas that are currently at risk or reeling from the aftermath of the storm, which I believe most organizations are doing.
On the other hand, the situation is dire.
A historic weather event has left at least a dozen people dead, and tens of thousands of people have lost their homes, their businesses, and are currently displaced. The images we’re seeing on television are devastating and our president is a doofus who is more interested in selling hats than meeting with flood victims.
The devastation in Texas, along with Trump’s failure to lead in a time of crisis, has inspired a number of campaigns and organizations to adjust their email schedules. But many others have continued as if this crisis is non-existent using lines and tactics that are outright deceptive or alarmist.
Many have taken a few days off from fundraising or diverted their focus, as our clients like Kamala Harris and MoveOn did, to raise funds directly for flood victims. The great folks at ActBlue have already made this super easy to do with a page that directs potential donors to local nonprofits that are helping victims in affected areas.
I was very glad to see the DNC, for example, send an email around directing members on how best to help. And many followed suit this week like Hillary Clinton, Kirsten Gillibrand, and more.
That’s the right thing to do.
In contrast, I want to talk a little bit about what the DCCC email department has been doing the last few days, and how it impacts progressive organizing as a whole. They’ve come under criticism on Twitter and on progressive listservs for continuing to fundraise through this national disaster.
I don’t blame the DCCC staff for continuing to raise. DCCC digital staffers face tremendous pressure to hit outlandish goals, and as online fundraising is an increasingly important part of the organization’s budget, it could have a real effect on their efforts to take back the House in 2018.
That said, it is disturbing that the DCCC hasn’t taken a second to rethink their subject lines and messaging during the crisis in Texas. See here:
How can anyone possibly think it’s appropriate to send out these messages when Americans are stranded on their roofs, literally desperate and begging to be rescued from a natural disaster? If your group or candidate must continue to fundraise, then fine. But, for once, could you be a little less dramatic and respectful of people who are actually experiencing desperation, fighting for their lives?
I don’t think that’s asking for too much.
We, as progressive digital organizers — and make no mistake, we are organizers first, fundraisers second — need to take a step back to remember that the people who have subscribed to our email lists are real, living people — not ATMs. They are concerned about what’s happening in Texas, and more likely than not they have a friend or family member who might be caught in this disaster.
Surely we’re all concerned that something like this could happen in our communities, leaving us vulnerable to the same kind of displacement and catastrophe. We need to be mindful of that.
To be clear, the DCCC is not alone in this — many other organizations have barreled through email content they surely wrote days in advance, without taking a breath to re-evaluate their tactics. I’m proud to say our digital strategists have avoided being deceptive or, even accidentally, preying on people’s emotions in this moment.
I don’t believe it’s unreasonable that we take a step back in these moments to be people first, organizers and fundraisers second. I would encourage other organizations to think a little bit harder about their tactics, even if just in this moment, to do a bit better by the people who are engaged on our email lists.