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It’s the DEMOGRAPHICS, Stupid!

Obama and plouffe

So the results are in, and Barack Obama will continue as our President for the next four years. No matter how you personally feel about the outcome, this victory, and the strategy behind it, has many lessons for us in the advancement world. The pundits can explain President Obama’s victory over Mitt Romney in more ways than we can count. But, after all is said and done, it is clear that our nation’s engaged citizenry and diversifying demographics ruled the day. And the same is true in fundraising as well.

Understanding your audiences and potential supporters is key to success in campaigns of all types. Obama’s strategists have recognized for years that the numbers of Hispanics, Blacks, Asians, gays, young adults, and those who don’t cleanly fit description are rising, and that these citizens are becoming more engaged in the political process – and demanding more from their leaders. The Republican Party has traditionally counted on its base of aging whites to carry their water. The results of this election – and the breakdown of who voted and how – certainly questions the future viability of that strategy.

So just how did Obama capture the majority of the US voting population on November 6th? David Plouffe, Obama’s campaign manager, executed four success strategies with discipline, transparency, and efficiency. These included:


  • Generating unprecedented fundraising support from huge numbers of constituents from every part of the country.
  • Representing leadership as inclusive and empathetic, as well as authentic and worthy of trust.
  • Communicating unambiguously about plans, priorities, and accountability.
  • Interacting personally with constituents in a “retail” not “wholesale” framework.
The President’s team used dozens of outreach strategies to connect with the broader population as well as harder to reach communities. And, by implementing and executing multi-channel marketing and appeals, the Obama campaign was able to raise more money than Romney, who’s funding came from fewer but larger contributions.

See any parallels with your world here? Of course, there are very few national nonprofits in the US that could, or need to, use Presidential race scale strategies. However, to stay healthy and vibrant, nonprofits of every size need to diversify their funding sources, hire and support strong leadership, be honest about their activities and results, and connect in meaningful ways with its supporters. NPOs exist and work in their own universes, universes that are – like the general population – increasingly diverse, multi-cultural and philanthropic.

The President’s winning strategies also included the essential factors of rapport, messaging, and leadership – all with a nod to the needs and interests of the campaign’s full spectrum of supporters. So what are the lessons here?

First, people have a way of gravitating to and feeling rapport with people like themselves. So look around at your staff, organization coworkers and board, and make sure the face your NPO presents to your stakeholder communities looks like your stakeholders; sounds like them; and understands them. It is no coincidence that President Barack Obama, our first African American president, appeals to non-mainstream citizens…policies aside.

Second, messaging is critical. Is your organization telling your donors and stakeholders what you do, why you do it, and how well it is done? Is your messaging culturally aware, provided in digestible portions, and seasoned with spice and sweetness?

And third, humans respond to leaders. Leadership seems to be a more important variable than the direction in which we are being led. My 30 years in advancement have forged my conviction that “leadership trumps case” with regard to successful campaigns. Does your organization lead? Are you seen by your stakeholders as a leader? Strong leadership enables you to withstand the inevitable stumbles along the way.

Your takes:
  1. Paying attention to presidential campaigns can teach us much about human nature and cultural subgroups.
  2. Know your constituencies and stakeholders and find the best ways to get and keep their attention and respect.
  3. Distinguish your organization from both similar organizations and other nonprofits by demonstrating leadership, integrity, and clarity of thought.

For more information about Copley Raff and its spectrum of not for profit consulting services, please see

Have a development, executive recruitment, or campaign strategy or management challenge? Let’s talk! Click here to connect with Rebekah Kaufman, Director of Consulting Services at CRI.