Goals are good. They help us visualize success and they motivate us to work harder and strive to do a little better with each project. But goals can have a nasty side-effect, especially when they are widely unrealistic.
Wells Fargo learned this the hard way. Executives created rigid, unachievable sales quotas that were virtually unheard of in the banking industry. So, naturally, when faced with a decision to either meet these quotas or lose their jobs, employees forged customer accounts.
Eventually, Wells Fargo got caught and was forced to pay a huge settlement to the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau and the CEO has become Senator Elizabeth Warren’s personal punching bag over the last month.
This is not an uncommon problem on Wall Street or in sales. I personally faced impossible sales quotas when I worked in retail during college. But the exact same issue is fueling a very serious problem in Democratic politics today. Just as Wells Fargo put tremendous expectations on its employees, so do Democratic candidates and committee organizations.
In the age of big-money politics, many digital staffers on Congressional races or at committees are expected to raise unrealistic amounts of money, no matter the ethical cost.
That’s exactly why the DCCC sends monthly emails that look like FINAL NOTICE bills, which have the express intent of scamming and scaring seniors out of their money:
(Every. Single. Month.)
When you see subject lines like “ALL HOPE IS LOST,” “WE. WILL. FAIL,” or shady methods like de-branding or impersonating issued-based organizations, you’re seeing manipulative, desperate tactics. That’s what happens when you’re laser-focused on an insane goal with no consideration for the people on the other end of the email.
And it gets worse: the biggest Democratic committees and candidates are the ones that other campaigns and digital consultants copy the most. So it’s no surprise that their shoddy tactics are adopted by a lot of campaigns — including Republican party committees like the NRCC and NRSC who have co-opted much of the DCCC’s playbook in the previous few years. The end result? An immediate bump for your campaign that burns out your list in the long-term. Your campaign may get the lift it’s looking for before the quarterly deadline, but in the long run, you alienate your supporters, burn your list, suppress turnout, and raise less money.
Here at Revolution, we’re proving there’s a different way. Rather than manipulating supporters via scare tactics or outright lies, we do our best to treat them with respect, appealing to their passion and addressing them as intelligent people. I admit, we don’t always get it 100% right — but trying is half the battle. Of course we still set fundraising goals, but we balance them with authentic storytelling, a commitment to testing and timeliness, and we’re always brutally honest with our clients. That’s why we’ve had such incredible success in the past two years. You’ve heard about Bernie Sanders, Tim Canova, and Zephyr Teachout — who have blazed a new trail in how to fund campaigns through small-dollar organizing. But we’ve also had incredible success raising money for candidates like Tulsi Gabbard, Kamala Harris, Dick Durbin and Chris Murphy — and we’ve done it without racing to the bottom.
So here’s the question we all have to ask ourselves as digital fundraisers: are we treating our supporters with respect and running an honest program focused on the issues that people are passionate about? If you aren’t, then you’re probably hoping to dupe 20,000 people into opening their wallets with scare tactics instead of finding a way to inspire them to give to a cause they care about.
My advice: Do your best to set realistic goals based on fluid projections, temper your strategy with ethics, and whatever you do, be honest.