You’ve got to hand it to Matt Dunne. If my email inbox is anything to judge by, he’s got the most active, persistent fundraising operation of any gubernatorial candidate.
And he’s borrowed an old trick from the public radio playbook: ginning up a false sense of urgency.
Public radio fundraising isn’t aimed at the vast majority of listeners. More than 80 percent of the audience will never give a dime. Roughly ten percent are loyal donors who don’t need convincing.
A pledge drive is aimed at the five to ten percent who listen frequently, who know that public radio depends on listener support, and who are predisposed to make a contribution — but never quite get around to it.
This is where the sense of urgency comes into play. Call Now! Because Right Now is a crucial time! We’ve got a matching gift or a challenge pledge or a prize drawing or we’re about to hit a milestone.
(Story time, kids! Many years ago I worked for a university-owned public radio station in another state. This station broadcast the school’s football games. The audience was sizable, but was a very different crowd than the station’s normal listenership. During the game, you only had a minute or two to fundraise. There was a longer opportunity at halftime, but we rarely got any calls, one or two at most. It was a bleak time to be begging for calls.
Which I was. By myself. No point in having a two-person pitch team for so little return. It was dreadful.
Except for one day, when we happened to be closing in on a milestone. We were almost to $100,000 or whatever. I went on the air at halftime and pitched the hell out of it — and got a flood of pledges. It was extraordinary.
Mind you, this wasn’t the goal for the drive; it was just a round number. But it got people engaged, and a bunch of ‘em made pledges. That, my friends, was the ideal False Sense of Urgency. That’s what public radio stations are constantly trying to generate.)
Same with Matt Dunne. He’s sent out a bunch of these pitches over the past several days, complete with slowly-climbing thermometer.
This is carefully-crafted bullshit. They know their media strategy. They’ve got enough cash on hand to execute it. Sure, they might bump it up a little if they get a strong response, but the idea that their “final TV ad buy of the primary” depends on today’s response? Yeah, that’s bullshit.
But it’s good bullshit. It’s aimed at turning the good intention of a Matt Dunne supporter into an immediate action. And, technically at least, it’s not an actual lie.
The Dunne campaign did the same thing before the July 15 reporting period. They bombarded their email list with urgent calls for donations before July 12, which was the cutoff date for July 15 reporting. And it worked; they got a flood of contributions that helped buoy Dunne’s relatively weak mid-July figures.
This’ll probably work, too. That thermometer is rising quickly. As they say on VPR, “We’ve got a long way to go, but we can get there — but only with your help.