How NARAL Blew an Opportunity to Generate a Groundswell

Fund-raising e-mail from NARAL Pro-Choice America
This morning, I received an e-mail from NARAL Pro-Choice America. It began:

“I was stunned when I saw the recent exchange between Ann Coulter and Bill O’Reilly [link added]. The one where she said, ‘I don’t really like to think of it as a murder. It was terminating Tiller in the 203rd trimester.’

“This is the kind of rhetoric we ask you to stand against today.

“To honor the legacy of Dr. George Tiller, and as a symbol of your commitment to furthering his pro-choice values, NARAL Pro-Choice America recently launched the ‘Trust Women’ wristband campaign. Donate today and get your ‘Trust Women’ wristbands.

Since you’re reading this blog, this sort of missive likely is familiar: An advocacy group uses a current cause celebre to gin up donations. Such ad hoc initiatives tend to be especially effective (even if their ability to counteract the given evil is questionable).

Yet as critical as they are, fund-raising e-mails today are all-too common. By contrast, the opportunity to engage your members as activists rather than donors is all-too uncommon. Indeed, the ability to see its supporters as more than ATMs was one of several tactics that distinguished the Obama e-campaign from its peers. As Tim Dickinson observed in Rolling Stone,

“Before long, the campaign had transformed hundreds of thousands of online donors into street-level activists. ‘Obama didn’t just take their money,’ says Donna Brazile, Al Gore’s campaign manager in 2000. ‘He gave them seats at the table and allowed them to become players.’”

Accordingly, NARAL’s e-mail would have more been more powerful as an action alert. Instead of hitting people up for money in this still-dismal economy, the organization could have asked us to contact Fox News and/or our local affiliates, and demand that Coulter’s contract be cancelled or that O’Reilly issue a clarification.

The resulting buzz might even have spurred some donations.

A version of this blog post appeared on K Street Cafe on June 26, 2009.

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