By Chris Carter
It’s Super Tuesday today, and if you’re not obsessively following American politics like I am, here’s a quick primer: the US political parties nominate their candidates by getting the most delegates in elections called primaries. States each have a certain number of delegates, based roughly on population. The interesting part is that on Super Tuesday, there are more than a dozen states holding primaries, and many are states with a large number of delegates as well, including California and Texas. So who eventually wins the Democratic Party nomination could in large part be determined today.
Bernie Sanders has been doing very well in the lead-up to Super Tuesday, building momentum and leading in the polls—in fact, he’s the favourite to win the nomination. But you may have noticed—in recent years, politics in the USA have been trending conservative. In 2016, any pundit would have outright dismissed the idea of social Democrat doing this well. Add to that, a social Democrat who is 78 years old, unabashed in his beliefs, held up by Millennials and Gen Z, including a diverse coalition of supporters. It’s basically a modern day miracle.
Some people say Bernie’s success is because he and his team are digitally savvy (more on that below). He is, but that’s not the real story. It’s because Bernie is authentic.
It’s today’s marketing 101: younger people like authenticity. Bernie is authentically and unabashedly himself: there’s footage of him being dragged from a civil rights protest in the 60s. Bernie is now saying the same things he’s been saying for a long time—meaning no one has dug up quotes of him opposing social programs or advocating fewer rights for women, the LBGTQ+ community and people of colour (as has happened all too often of late). Who Bernie is rings true for supporters, and it shows in his numbers.
By now you may be thinking—yes, this is interesting, but what does it have to do with fundraising? There are ways nonprofits and charities can use some of the same principles behind this unexpected success to boost engagement and in turn funds raised.
Your supporters are your ambassadors
When you’re authentic and your supporters are passionate about your mission and values, they will go out of their way to advocate for you. If your messaging is muddled, your values, hard to pin down from day to day, or your values appear inauthentic, no one is going to be passionate about your cause.
The takeaway: clarify your mission and values, refine them but keep them authentic, and make them something your supporters can be passionate about—then they’ll spread the word.
Bernie never changed: he always showed his true, deeply held values. He didn’t change his position so he could better appeal to one demo or another; he staked his position and what he stood for, and his supporters came to him.
From an organizational perspective, the lesson is consistency. Be true to your mission and values, your history, your accomplishments, and what you’ve been saying. Carve out a clear place for your org to stand and stay there, consistent messaging your supporters can trust.
Bernie wasn’t trying to appeal to an underserved demographic; he stood his ground and explained what he believed in and because of their values, younger people flocked to him. Companies are trying hard to appeal to younger consumers, but Bernie doesn’t have to try, because his brand is unapologetically who he is.
Your org doesn’t have to appeal to everyone; it’s absolutely fine. Understand who you are as an org (and your roots, and your spokesperson) but be it honestly and consistently and don’t be afraid to celebrate it. Be quirky, be niche, but be who you are.
Bonus: Blue ocean strategy
Bernie certainly didn’t do this intentionally: as I said, any advisor worth their salt would have told Bernie being a centrist is the only way to even have a chance. However, Bernie worked diligently and people responded, supporting him and joining his network. By happenstance, his authentic social democrat identity and beliefs attracted a demographic that no one else was working on. This is a blue ocean strategy, of targeting underserved markets where your product can dominate. It works well for niches and new ideas, and it could work for you too—if it’s authentic, consistent, and unapologetic.
However, it is in this unintentional strategy that social mediaplayed a role too. (I promised you I’d bring it back to his digital savvy!) The deflation of traditional media means there are more—and more prominent—independent sources of news and more opportunities for niche, non-mainstream voices to be heard. Because Bernie’s supporters were on various social platform, he didn’t need to rely on centrist, mainstream media to get his message out: the democratization of media meant his supporters were doing it for him, on multiple platform, where other candidates were absent because they don’t have supporters there.