I’ve written about the issue of online fundraising pleas before, but a few days ago I received a message that included the wording, “How much we raise before midnight tonight will determine how strong [our political party] will finish in just 37 days”.
Really? Have the fundraisers become so openly cynical that they tell potential voters (and donors) that the election is just a big auction, with the merchandise going to the highest bidder? Why the scare tactics? Who is really benefitting from all of those “at least $5 donations” that increase to at least $15 if one clicks on the “donate” link?
As a scientist who studies the basis of behavior, or even as a naïve but aware and thinking individual, I really resent blatant manipulation tactics like these.
The first strategy seems to be to scare your potential supporters into thinking that if they do not donate money, the party will lose the election. The implied reasoning is that they would “finish weak” because they could not afford to buy votes. If money does, indeed buy votes, we might as well all give up any shred of hope or belief that candidates are elected based on their ideas, their platforms, and their ability to do their job competently. Why not just let there be a real auction, with various public offices on the block, sold to the highest bidder? Maybe we could take this system to its extreme and institute a parliamentary system in which the 10 (or some other number) highest bidders reveal themselves, the people vote for them directly, and they then appoint their favorite politician wannabes to the various offices in the ratio in which they received the popular vote? This would formalize a system that’s been operating more or less effectively behind the scenes since the beginning of recorded political history.
The second strategy commonly used by those soliciting donations is to shame people into giving more than was initially asked for. The e-mails always ask for, “at least $5”, presumably luring people into thinking that even though they have very few resources, they can afford to give a little bit to the cause, reasoning correctly that all of those $5 donations add up. However, when one clicks the link to donate, there appears a menu in which the choices start at $15, quickly escalating into the hundreds of dollars. How many people who intended to contribute $5 end up checking one of the existing boxes and giving more just because they didn’t want to appear stingy by writing in $5? How many just shake their head in disgust and don’t donate at all? If a solicitation asks for $5, the designer of the request should provide $5 as a clear option on the donation form. If you want a minimum of $15, then ask for $15. What’s so hard about that?
These tactics are not limited to one political faction or another, nor are they even limited to politics. The “bait-and-switch donation amount” tactic is commonly used by all organizations that solicit contributions. The “generate fear” tactic is also commonly used in many situations besides politics. Aren’t people onto these strategies by now the same way they’re onto the long-lost relative in Nigeria who wants to transfer millions of dollars into your bank account if you’ll only give him the information about how to access it? I’m always fascinated by attempts to manipulate behavior, but I wish the manipulators would show at least a little more imagination and originality.
[Slave auction painting by Jean-Léon Gérome (ca 1884); Fear painting by John H Mortimer, date unknown, money-changer painting by Marinus van Reymerswale (ca 1541)]