Politicians think of the voting public in terms of “base,” “swing,” and “opposition.” Their base is the segment of the population who are dyed-in-the-wool true believers. They will vote for the party or the candidate no matter what. The swing is the segment that may be persuaded to vote for the party depending on how the issues are framed and how persuasive the candidate’s message. And the opposition will almost certainly not vote for the party no matter how attractive the candidate or the issue.
Michele Whitney, Director of Research and Analytics at the Robin Hood Foundation, introduced these concepts today as a way to think about donors in an APRA session called “Using Data to Maximize Fundraising Opportunities.” She co-presented with Ilana Lester Moreno, Director of Research and Analysis at the Environmental Defense Fund. Michele made the statement that the most important group to know about is the opposition. Why? Because you probably can’t change or persuade them. Don’t waste your time.
Michele and Ilana covered a wide range of topics, but this base, swing, opposition typology captured my imagination because it conforms very closely to a concept that I use all the time in my consulting: if you can estimate the likelihood that someone will make a gift, you can appropriately adjust the amount of energy and resources you put into engaging that person. If you have good reason to believe that a person is in your opposition, even if that person could hypothetically give your organization many millions of dollars, all your efforts to ingratiate yourself and your cause to that person will count for nothing. The one who could give less, but has more affection for your organization is a better subject for your relationship-building attentions. In practical terms, this means that it does no good to add Bill Gates to your donor list if he has no interest in or connection to your organization. Most fundraisers recognize that this absurd case is true, but many still hold unrealistic expectations that other wealthy people in their community or constituency will make large gifts, even though they have never expressed any interest nor made a donation to the organization.
Now, there are many ways to estimate whether someone is in your base, swing, or opposition. One approach is building models to statistically profile your best donors. Those who match the model well are in your base. Those who do not are in your opposition. The swing group shares some characteristics of your donors, but not all.
Michele suggested an even simpler way to analyze this propensity based on past giving. Your base has given consistently and frequently. Your swing has given occasionally, and your opposition, though on your database for some reason, are those who have not given at all in the last several years. Then you can cross-match this simple guage of propensity against gift size. This gives you a matrix of donors with propensity to give on one dimension (frequency of giving) and capacity on the other (gift size). Those who give frequently and make large gifts are your best prospects and deserve further cultivation and relationship development. Those who have not given recently and who made small gifts on the rare and distant occasions when they did give made small gifts should be left out of your solicitation plans.