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The Obama principle is a key to promoting a cause


Today I delivered a workshop presentation in Auckland for the Fundraising Institute (FINZ). They run periodic regional day-long forums for not-for-profit and community people, called "360", and I've been involved on at least six occasions.

My subject was "How to promote your cause".

As you might imagine, the room was full of people who were already active and knowledgeable in the promotion of causes. It provided a situation which was more akin to a discussion forum than just a lecture from me. It certainly reinforced my theme for the session – the best communications and promotions increasingly involve plenty of listening and open conversation.

It also gave me the chance to talk about what I've come to call the Obama principle. In a nutshell, the notion is that we can't easily sell someone a 'cause'; rather we should identify those people who also care about a cause and work with them to create impetus.

Barak Obama started his public career as an advocate and organiser for causes in the streets of south Chicago. He didn't invent the causes – they were already there. Nor did he set out to 'sell' his solutions or policies, rather he identified with the causes that people already cared about, then set about demonstrating that he could be part of helping that cause, and the people with him.

Obama went on to adopt social media and mobile networking to help win a presidential campaign. In other words, he used technology to build networks to build support, organise and raise funds. Of real interest is his very small average donation (around $US33), against his opponents who's average donations ran to thousands of dollars. Despite this, Obama's fundraising outstripped his opponents by a long margin.

While your 'cause' might be something you wish to sell, it is preferable to think of it as something you wish people to buy, most likely because they already care about the cause. In this sense your cause is also their cause – something you both share.

The key to promoting a cause is therefore about understanding why other people care about the cause so that you can then build relationships with those people. These will be the 'right people' because they also care. Once you have this, you can build on the early successes in a snowball fashion.

As the modern world orientates itself increasingly towards new and social media, this relationship building characteristic becomes even more apparent and useful.

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The Obama principle is a key to promoting a cause

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