Given that the next 13 months in the U.S. are going to be filled, day and night, with election talk, I figured I would jump on that bandwagon, too. No, I am not announcing that I am running for president; I simply can’t accept having to fly around the world for four or more years without earning frequent flyer miles.

Rather, I want to share some political trivia with you—and then tie it back to fundraising. And it relates back to that figure of speech I used in my first sentence—“jump on the bandwagon.” There are some differing opinions about where the phrase originated, which isn’t too surprising since politicians figure in fairly prominently in the versions of its origin.

A major general in the Army or a clown?

Chronologically, the earliest presidential candidate I found associated with this phrase is Zachary Taylor during his 1848 campaign. A famous clown, Dan Rice, is said to have invited the campaigning Taylor to “jump on the bandwagon” during a campaign appearance. I suspect that Mr. Rice was still inviting folks to jump on the bandwagon when he himself unsuccessfully ran for president of the United States in 1868.

An orator or an outdoorsman?

By the time William Jennings Bryan was campaigning for president in 1900, “jumping on the bandwagon” had become a derogatory term. People used it to insult others who they believed were supporting a candidate because of who it was, not because of his positions. A year earlier, Teddy Roosevelt had used a variation of the phrase in Letters, 1899, claiming that “they tumbled over each other to get aboard the band wagon.”

A fundraiser or a trend-follower?

As fundraisers, it’s tempting to “jump on the bandwagon.” We are constantly under pressure to raise money, and we know we need to keep things fresh to keep the momentum going (and the income increasing). For some, trying new things is a lot more fun than slogging along doing the old things that still work but lack sizzle (and these new things probably look a lot better on a resume). We don’t want to be known as someone who is “stuck in a rut” or afraid to embrace change.

Following new trends is not bad. What’s wrong is if we invest our donor’s money (let’s face it — that’s what our fundraising budget really is) in something simply because it’s new and exciting without doing due diligence to make sure it makes sense for our cause and for our constituents.

Which bandwagon is right for you?

Go to any fundraising conference, read any magazine or blog, network with others—and you will almost always pick up a new idea or two. (But you don’t even have to do that—chances are some of your colleagues, volunteers and board members are sharing “can’t miss” ideas with you and wondering why you aren’t immediately running with them.) But before jumping on any “bandwagon,” you need to take a hard look at it and honestly answer these questions:

  • Since your job is fundraising, do you believe this bandwagon will increase your net income, or at least reduce the expense it takes to raise the same amount of income?
  • Will this bandwagon help you accomplish something that you aren’t doing now? For example, will you potentially reach an audience that you aren’t reaching today?
  • Is this bandwagon aligned with how people perceive your organization? If not, could it alienate current donors? Is that a reasonable risk to take?
  • Are your motives for wanting to jump on this bandwagon the right ones?

If a bandwagon isn’t going to take your organization where it wants—or needs—to go, save your energy (and your budget). When it comes to fundraising, your mother was right—just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t mean you should do it, too. Making the right choices about fundraising methods and the best mix to employ is what separates real winners in fundraising from the “also rans.”


Pamela Barden, CFRE, is a Direct Response Fundraising Strategist and Copywriter. With a professional career in strategic fundraising that spans 35 years, Pamela brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to working with nonprofit organizations.  She specializes in writing fundraising copy, P.R. materials and instructional articles, as well as developing and executing fundraising strategy.

As Vice President and Group Director at Russ Reid (2006–2009), she was responsible for the management of the largest single account for this marketing agency specializing in nonprofit fundraising.  Her nonprofit experience includes leading the fundraising work for International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (2001–2006); World Relief Corporation (1988–2001) and Youth for Christ/USA (1979–1988).

Pamela is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE), winner of a Gold Award for Fundraising Excellence and an ECHO Award from the DMA, a Distinguished Instructor for UCLA Extension, adjunct instructor at University of La Verne and a weekly columnist for “Today in Fundraising.”

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