An Open Letter to My Conservative Readers

Butting HeadsIn the last 24 hours, two of my favorite nonprofit marketing bloggers who I admire as colleagues and love as friends had the same experience: a reader admonished them for using examples from pro-choice organizations in their blogs and e-newsletters. The readers threatened to unsubscribe in both cases to protest what they saw as abortion advocacy.

I get similar complaints from time to time, more often during webinars, where some participants seem to believe that because they have paid for training, it should be devoid of politics or controversy.

So, I want to take this opportunity to be clear about my approach to these issues. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

I am a progressive, pro-choice Democrat. When I started consulting and later blogging, I made a conscious decision not to hide my political leanings. I believed then and still do that there are more than enough nonprofits in this world for me to serve, and if someone refuses to read my work or hire me because of my politics, so be it. If they feel that I have nothing to contribute to their professional development because of my personal beliefs and politics, then odds are we wouldn’t enjoying working together anyway, because I see most of the world in shades of gray, rather than black and white. I’ve reached the point in my career where I only work with people I enjoy as people, progressives and conservatives alike. I turn down those I suspect will be PITA clients, regardless of how well our politics may or may not align.

I do not fear losing business, or losing readers, because of who I am. I profess that being genuine is the first rule of good online marketing, for myself included. I can think of more than a few elements of my personality that come through professionally that some of you may find objectionable. For example, I call my weekly link roundup on Friday afternoons “Mixed Links” and post it with a picture of a cocktail. Yeah, I participate in Happy Hour regularly. Though I try very hard, I sometimes let a curse word fly during a webinar. Yeah, I cuss too (but nothing like this marketing blogger).

I do try to avoid outright advocacy for causes because I do not believe that’s what you are here for. However, I do believe that we all learn a great deal about nonprofit marketing from real-world examples. Because I travel in progressive circles, I am much more likely to identify examples from those kinds of organizations and to incorporate them into my writing and training. That may feel like advocacy to some of you. But I make no apologies for sharing examples where I’m illustrating strategies and tactics, and will continue to share examples that I think are helpful, regardless of the political sensitivities involved.

At the same time, I am more than willing to share examples from more conservative points of view, when they are brought to my attention. During some webinars, for example, I ask participants in advance for sample materials to incorporate into the training. During these webinars, I have gladly counseled pro-life pregnancy centers about their website home pages and Catholic pro-life charities about their messaging and calls to action. But, the truth is that I’m more likely to use examples from pro-choice organizations like Lillian’s List, where I serve on the board of directors, simply because I come across them more often.

Some people have suggested that I go out and actively search for more conservative examples to showcase to make it more “equal.” I’ve considered this approach, and honestly, I just don’t have the time. I don’t have the capacity to use all of the examples that are right in front of me on a daily basis, let alone go on fishing expeditions for them. But I do believe very much in the network mindset to our work that Beth Kanter and Allison Fine are helping us all understand better.

So I’m outsourcing this one to you, my network:

Please point out good examples from conservative organizations for me to use in my writing and training.

I only ask that you identify for me what it is you think others can learn from the example . . .  what’s the strategy or tactic employed? What are they doing well, or not well, or what’s so different or interesting about it? Don’t just forward an example to me or throw me on to a bunch of email lists. Help me interpret it for others.

Conservative readers, I want you here. I believe we all have much to learn from each other. I hope you’ll comment. I hope you’ll offer examples. If you have a case study or lesson or story to share, I hope you’ll guest blog for me. Heck, I’m sure it’s a little annoying that most of the top nonprofit marketing bloggers happen to be progressive women (which is a little ironic, since I think the conservatives are generally better at their messaging than the progressives). Start your own blog on conservative nonprofit marketing and I’ll link to it!

Do, however, please save your time and mine by not sending me threats to unsubscribe if I don’t change my evil ways. That won’t change my mind or my approach, and frankly, it will make me think a little less of you (it just seems really petty to threaten someone who is offering you free advice on a blog or in an e-newsletter). So just unsubscribe and we’ll both move on, no worse for wear.

If you find enough value here to stay, which I certainly hope you do, even despite a few examples that irritate you, then I welcome you with open arms and look forward to hearing your perspectives and learning from each other.

© 2007-2017, Nonprofit Marketing Guide. All Rights Reserved.

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  • Katlin

    Absolutely excellent post! Your integrity is inspiring. Keep up the good writing!

  • Marta

    This letter is a testament to what a fantastic communicator you are, Kivi. Your genuineness and great writing make what could have been a contentious piece a sincere, thoughtful invitation for discussion and learning. Can’t wait to read what folks write!

  • June

    You got it just right! There is no need to hide who you are in a consulting business or otherwise. I’m not sure the conservatives would have their same reaction if you were using THEIR examples as that seems to be the only viewpoint they can tolerate. Keep up the good work!

  • Judy

    Kivi- Excellent post with very thoughtful points. It is because of your genuine and humble nature that so many of us trust your instincts and suggest to others that they take your webinars. I appreciate you addressing this directly and offering to find common ground.

  • Tobi

    Super, Kivi! It’s so refreshing to hear from someone who can walk the line between both being strong in their convictions and open to dialog….and so rare these days! If we ever find ourselves in the same place, I’m gonna buy you a drink. Cheers!

  • Emily

    Reading your post made my day. I already knew I respected your work and that I learn a lot from you, now I respect you even more. Variations on this theme are heard all the time and I appreciate it that you took the time to discuss it fully. I enjoy your daily blog. Keep up the good work!

  • Thanks Emily, Tobi, Judy, June, Marta, and Katlin for your support!

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  • LisaD

    Right on, sister!

  • Angela

    Thank you for standing up for what you believe in and creating space for civil discourse in an increasingly petty and hostile environment. It’s nice to see someone who is both proud and polite about who they are and where they’re coming from. I too think we can learn from one another, but only if we agree to actually listen and then respect each others’ passions. One of the best test packages I ever created was inspired by a direct mail piece my boss shared with me from the RNC — something I would never have seen on my own.

  • Bonnie

    Can you come to Washington, DC and show ’em how a real politician (oxymoron?) should think/act? You go, girl!!

  • I’m constantly astounded by how narrow-minded so many people are. If you dislike people — or ignore the talents they bring — because of their political views, you must lead a sad and lonely life.

    Kivi — Your expertise is wonderful! Know that you have plenty of fans — more than enough to make up for those who aren’t.

    • Thanks Susan, and BTW, I love your blog. Since I do so much public speaking and am opinionated, people are always shocked to hear that I am very much an introvert. Off the chart. I love public speaking, but it totally wears me out. My running joke is that I need two glasses of wine and four advils after each speaking gig. Not too far from the truth!

      • I know how you feel. I was taped for a very quick 5-minute PSA last month. I was exhausted afterward!

  • This post is a brilliant testament of humility. I feel we’re all here to work towards the greater good which transcends political black & white paradigms. Had a bit of a chuckle with the link to said marketing blogger. I read some of her work in the past. Very colorful language she uses at times. I’m a dude, and even I don’t cuss as much as she does!

    Not sure if I can give a concrete case study of how conservative nonprofit communicators are doing it, even if I’m a libertarian with with some conservative overlap (on fiscal issues, anyway). If anything, I try my best to scale the depths of a sensitive issue with patience, and to pursue its underlying humanity: Why should this matter to people regardless of their political leaning? Regardless of how sharply one’s message is expressed, how is it still valid? Or something like that.

    • Thanks Bryann. Let me know if you come across any nonprofit-y libertarian stuff you like! Some libertarian approaches are actually a better fit with the left side of American politics, so I find it all very interesting to watch.

  • Great and honest post. I like that you are leading by example by being as honest as you advise others to be in their marketing endeavors.

  • I like that you are leading by example by being as honest as you advise others to be in their marketing endeavors. I try my best to scale the depths of a sensitive issue with patience, and to pursue its underlying humanity:

  • Typewriterlady

    I find this post a little confusing and troubling, though seeing the other comments posted I am perhaps taking a different read. I don’t understand why you feel compelled to seek out “conservative” perspectives. There are enough conservative marketing advisers, I’m unclear on why you’re doing their job for them. I’m also perplexed why someone so staunchly and actively pro-choice would advertise that they jump at the chance to counsel pro-life organizations. As a marketer, I imagine you’re familiar with the idea of “voting with your feet” where your greatest support comes from your actions, not what you claim to believe or not believe (or anywhere inbetween).

    I get the impression that you are conflicted and are not being completely transparent here. With yourself, and your readers.

    • Hello Typewriterlady —

      I’m not conflicted at all.

      First, I love nonprofits and do-gooders. If I believe someone is working from a place of honest commitment to a cause, and they are respectful of others, then I really don’t mind helping them here and there, in a fairly casual, quick way, to be better communicators, even if I disagree them. I’m pro-choice. But I know a lot of very nice human beings who are pro-life and we can talk about the issues without anger or animosity. We agree to disagree. (I’m fine with gay marriage too, btw).

      I don’t mind giving these kinds of people basic communications advice when they have paid to participate in a webinar, for example. It’s all about being respectful. In that kind of open training environment, where others of various persuasions are learning from the example too, I don’t have any trouble with that kind of counseling of “the opposition.” It’s not like I’m huddled in a private conversation sharing trade secrets.

      I would not, however, accept a consulting retainer to work on a pro-life campaign. When it comes to investing my real brain power and experience and many hours of my time, I do that for causes that I believe in, or at least don’t object to.

      Here’s another example. I was asked by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice to do marketing workshops for school choice advocates. At first, I was a little suspicious, as they are libertarians, and many on the left see school choice as a plot to drain public school funding away to private schools. I was very upfront with them about my concerns. They gave me several examples of organizations they work with, and who would be participating, who approach the issue from the social justice side, eg children of color trapped in crappy schools in crappy neighborhoods. Those parents want school choice too.

      I did workshops for them two years in a row and would do so again if asked. The staff were very friendly and fun. Some of the workshop attendees were very ideologically driven, but everyone was respectful, and I think the diversity of opinions in the room led to richer discussions and deeper understanding of how to approach communications issues on potentially divisive issues.

      I hope that clears up any confusion you detected in the post.

  • wendy

    As someone who does communications and fundraising for a small, reproductive rights and sexuality education nonprofit, I feel less alone when you use examples from pro-choice groups. I have always and will continue to appreciate it. Thank you

  • Thank you for this balanced, thoughtful post. As an internet marketer myself this is an issue I’ve struggled with; whether I should avoid expressing my political leanings (like you, pro-choice, progressive) at risk of offending readers. As you noted being genuine and true to self is the first rule of good marketing.

    Do you really NEED to showcase examples of effective conservative marketing when that lobby has, in fact, an entire “news” network promoting it — not to mention more money than you can shake a stick at? I don’t really think so.

    • I guess I’m taking a more academic view of it as a blogger and trainer. I don’t really consider what Fox News does as nonprofit marketing, even though they certainly give certain think tanks plenty of press. I don’t think I NEED to do anything — it’s more about providing the best content possible and I think diversity in examples is a good thing. Again, I just don’t have time to actively go out of my way to find them, but I do welcome readers who want to share.

  • Your clear views are a pleasure to read and when the writer walks the talk it gets even better. I always take something meaningful away from reading your posts.

  • Sing it, sister! Eloquent and inspired. Thank you.

  • Gibson4nj

    I would submit that, when making a fairly politically neutral point or illustrating a generally nonpartisan issue, using examples drawn from large political lighntingrod issues will generally result in one’s point being eclipsed. Unless part of the message is to imply one’s support or disapproval of such a lightingrod issue, they are best avoided in this context when possible. Consider the implication of using anti gay-marriage groups’ fundraising strategies to highlight a point about taxes. The tax issue can easily be obscured by the politics in a public forum of mixed beliefs. It is human nature. So, you can:
    A. Continue to use politically charged issues as examples to elicit and subsequently comment on the responses that you receive
    B. Be more mindful of the examples you use and keep the focus on your content
    C. Continue to use politically charged examples, politely ignore the off topic shenanigans and negative sentiment the elicit
    (tapped out poorly with an iPad)

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