By Dr. Marybeth Gasman
Liberals and conservatives alike have raved about Barack Obama’s innovative approach to fundraising. In recent months, I have seen article after article lauding Obama’s campaign for using technology in new ways and paying attention to the small donor. After careful review of the Obama campaign’s strategies, I’m convinced that Black colleges and universities should follow his lead.
Obama’s fundraising success comes from a multi-part strategy. His campaign uses a combination of Google ads, email list generation techniques, a presence on various social networking sites and tailored email messages to garner funds. Knowing Obama’s captive audience, his campaign strategically places ads on websites that are akin to his kind of politics. In addition, his campaign targets websites that speak to audiences with which Obama can potentially make headway (e.g., the Latino population). Perhaps HBCUs should be placing ads on viable websites both for marketing and fundraising purposes. Research shows that the internet is an excellent way to connect with people under 40 years of age (and this is changing to include those over 40).
Perhaps one of the Obama campaign’s most successful and innovative approaches to fundraising is the collection of email addresses. At small and large campaign rallies across the country, they collected the emails of virtually all attendees, creating a massive database of supporters with whom Obama can be in constant contact. What if HBCUs began collecting email addresses systematically at homecoming, football and basketball games, and special events? And, what if HBCUs began to court these constituents – keeping them abreast of their successes, telling them of their needs, and eventually asking them to support HBCUs financially? The Obama campaign sends regular email messages that inform, inspire, and request support. HBCUs could certainly do the same.
The Obama campaign also makes use of electronic social networks, including Facebook, Myspace, and LinkedIn. Individuals who friendObama can download videos and send them to their friends, post Obama quotes on their personal sites, and invite friends to participate in campaign events. What if HBCUs tapped into these social networks extensively, using them to communicate with alumni and drum up enthusiasm for campus events?
And, of course, the Obama campaign doesn’t ignore the small donor. Even donors who give a mere $5 are courted on a regular basis. Obama realized that paying attention to the small donor would pay off in the end as small donors give time and time again. They are loyal. Often times, HBCUs place their fundraising emphasis on foundations, corporations, and large donors, neglecting to focus attention on their alumni (i.e., the small donor). Cultivating alumni in the way that Obama’s campaign has done is essential to the growth and longevity of HBCUs. And the trick, at least for Obama, is a lot of thank you’s, a lot of information on how the donations are used, and targeted and meaningful solicitations.
Check out these articles for more insight on Obama’s fundraising strategies:
An associate professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Gasman is the author of Envisioning Black Colleges: A History of the United Negro College Fund (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007) and lead editor of Understanding Minority Serving Institutions (SUNY Press, 2008).