Based on my experience in delivering actual PAC fundraising appeals, as well as interviewing corporate employees and association members, here is my list of the top 9 most uninfluential and uninspiring ways to make your PAC pitch. These apply to oral, written, and web content communications.
Keep it nearby when you are preparing your remarks for your next PAC membership drive, because you can, safely and without the supervision of a trained professional, try these techniques on your own.
1. “You need to give to the PAC because campaigns are expensive.”
In years of conducting PAC questionnaires and interviews, I honestly have never heard a PAC prospect mention this as a motivation to contribute. Yet, it’s as popular as ever among political involvement insiders. Why? Because as fundraisers, we are confronted daily with the reality of having to raise ever greater funds.
Last summer I became engaged in a lively debate on this topic with an audience member. She was a health care lobbyist, and was convinced that the “high cost of campaigns” was a winning theme for her PAC fundraising campaign. (A winning theme, but she was mysteriously attending my workshop on how to grow a PAC!) Nevertheless, while listening to her, I was reminded of the Turkish proverb that “If you speak the truth, have one foot in the stirrup.” I was ready to take off.
I probed to find out the evidence for her assertion. After confessing that she didn’t have real evidence, she did admit that, “My husband ran for city council and it cost $80,000.00 in a losing effort.” Voila! I knew why she was so partial to that line of rationale. She was burned, and likely missed out on some retirement funds, exotic vacations, and other personal benefits that $80K could bring. It’s a good example of how our personal bias can cloud our judgment.
2. “The cost of fundraisers has increased.”
This is a self-serving, biased approach. Do our PAC prospects care about the going rate for our lobbyists’ entry fees? The big brute fact is that the more bias our audience detects, the less credibility and trust we engender, and hence, the less influence we exude.
3. “Your PAC contribution gives us access.”
This common refrain is touted by some like they just invented cold fusion. It’s trite and overused. Plus, it breeds cynicism. While it may indeed be true that you have to deal with legislators who unscrupulously require a “pay to play” dynamic, certainly all of them don’t.
In the current lobbying scandal era, we must be attuned to the context of our political situation (see #1). The cynics in your audience are on cynic steroids because now they have “proof” that the system is corrupt. So, if we want to reinforce their cynicism, tout the “access” word more often, and we can eliminate them from our contributor lists for good.
Further, this contradicts our unending admonitions to our stakeholders that our grassroots involvement gives us access to legislators. A savvy audience member will be thinking, “They just told me that legislators listen to constituents and that is why we need to get involved in our organization’s grassroots efforts. If that is the case, wouldn’t our grassroots presence give us access?”
4. “We can’t quantify what your PAC contribution accomplishes. It’s just too hard to measure.”
Organizations measure what matters and what they value. Do we really want to communicate this attitude to the executives who are contributing at the maximum allowable levels?
5. “I hate to have to ask you for money, but. . . .”
I’ve heard this uttered at the beginning of a presentation, and have read it as a fundraising letter introduction. An apologetic opening gives your listener or reader an excuse not to participate. If we aren’t TB’s (True Believers), why should they be?
6. “The CEO wants everyone to join the PAC.”
Look down, because at this point, you are skating on thin ice. Besides bordering on coercion, this can backfire. The latest influence research shows that people are more likely to comply and take ownership of a decision when they don’t feel outside pressure to act. We will increase the rate of compliance if we present options absent of outside pressure. It’s fine to state that your CEO or board chairman is a PAC member. That subtly communicates a PAC endorsement without skating toward a mandate.
7. “Everybody hates politics, but we want you to join the PAC.”
My colleague, Dr. Kelton Rhoads and I were hired to perform an Influence Audit of a client’s PAC materials. We saw not this exact language, but similar text in a PAC membership brochure. It’s what we call “misuse of normative information.” It communicates the norm of cynicism, and has actually been shown to depress involvement. It may be true, but avoid it, as we are gift-wrapping a rationale for not contributing when we use this language.
8. “What is the definition of politics? “poly” meaning many, and “tics” meaning blood sucking leaches.” (usually received with puzzled looks but followed by uproarious laughter from the one who delivered the line)
I am positively bamboozled that erudite, experienced government relations professionals still use this joke to open PAC (and lots of other) presentations. It’s an influence attempt run ayuck. I don’t have the space to write about all of the reasons it’s such a typical way to talk about politics, but how about for starters, it breeds cynicism, it’s trite, everyone says it, and as a result, it’s not funny anymore, and, don’t take my word for it, the science demonstrates that it engages the misuse of normative information. (see #7) Other than that, I don’t feel strongly about it.
One of my speech coaches always reminds me to project from the platform what I want from my audience. If we want our audience to be proud of our political system, be proud. If we want them to be positive about it, be positive. If we want them to be cynical, be cynical.
9. “A PAC is the price we pay to play the game.”
Again, the skeptics become gleeful when they hear this. Rather than “the price,” how about “the privilege” of helping keep good legislators in office?
What Do They Want To Hear?
Well, you may now be thinking, “Fine, Showalter, what are we supposed to say?” It depends. It depends on your organizational context and culture, as well as the local, state and national political context. The immutable truth is that anyone who tells you they have a fail safe answer to this is, to be polite, “fibbing,” and you should run as fast as you can in the other direction.
Test, test, test, your PAC messages with the customer, not other government relations professionals, campaign professionals, legislative staffers, or God forbid, legislators. It’s like leaving the landing lights on for Amelia Earhart. It doesn’t matter what they think, because they are not the ultimate audience.
And just when you thought it was safe, next time I’ll have a list of the top things your grassroots volunteers don’t want to hear.