Persuasion – On The Use of Lies and Half Truths For Persuasive Fundraising

Persuasion – On The Use of Lies and Half Truths For Persuasive Fundraising

stackofmoneyThe use of half truths, misleading statements and outright lies for the purpose of fundraising and attention getting is not a new phenomenon. We’ve witnessed it in politics for years, from the campaign against Goldwater (nuclear bomb exploding as child picks a daisy) when I was a teenager to Bush & Cheney leading us to war in Iraq on false pretense in the previous Presidential administration.  

Two examples that demonstrate that this negative persuasion tactic is not only  alive and well but plumbing new depths came to my attention when I returned home from traveling this week.   One involves Planned Parenthood, and the other a fundraising letter to the ‘Kirschner Household’ from Michael Steele and the Republican Party.  

The question I want to pose is this:  Are these propaganda campaigns really that persuasive and effective?

I don’t think so.  I just think they are a reflexive habit that keeps coming back around.   For lack of a better idea, this worn method becomes the only idea. 

Although there was a time.  Most of history in fact.  The use of lies and deception to provoke fear, cause injury, and thus build support for your own interests is a tried and true persuasion tactic that likely dates back to the dawn of human history.  Someone figured out that you can say anything, and if it sounds true because you say it with conviction,  many people will accept what you say as fact.  

This is one of the main goals of propaganda, which often uses repetition to do it’s dirty deed.  Adolph Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda, Dr. Joseph Goebbels, famously said “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” 

The political parties have their talking points.  The Republicans pretty much wore out the tolerance of our nation with their talking points.  And they’re still at it.  In the letter and survey I received from the Republican Party, I am presented with a survey that asks me if I approve, disapprove or have no opinion on a range of issues.  The issues, however, are bogus, they are misrepresentations cast as talking points disguised as closed ended questions (questions requiring a yes or a no).  They are not accurate representations of Obama’s agenda or the Democratic proposals brought before Congress.  Instead, they are stated in extreme, they exaggerate the positions to the point of absurdity, and have as their design the intent to provoke in the reader of the question a strong reaction against.  

7.  Do you believe that Barack Obama’s nominees for federal courts should be immediately and unquestionably approved for their lifetime appointments by the U.S. Senate?  Yes? No?  No opinion

8.  Do you believe that the best way to increase the quality and effectiveness of public education in the U.S. is to rapidly expand federal funding while eliminating performance standards and accountability?   Yes? No?  No opinion?

13.  Are you in favor of reconstituting the military draft, as Democrats in Congress have proposed?  Yes?  No?  No opinion?

Wow.  You can’t make this stuff up!  Oh wait, yes, apparently you can.  Reducing these issues to hyberbolic statements and then asking people to agree, disagree or admit ignorance is the plan. And  all of this leads to the end of the survey and the request for money to fight this ‘evil’ agenda.  

The other example comes from Planned Parenthood, which sent out a Mother’s Day solicitation using a letter from acclaimed author Judy Blume to 200,000 people who had signed up to receive e-mails from them.   

She wrote:

“If you know a mother who is struggling to raise strong, independent, and confident children in the face of unbelievable odds… Say thanks. Say thanks this Mother’s Day with a gift that honors her courage by making a donation to Planned Parenthood in her name. I guarantee you that she’ll be pleased. I know I would be.

It’s not easy to be a mother these days. And right now – with more and more women seeking care from Planned Parenthood health centers – we need to do all we can to support them. By honoring a mother in your life, you’ll be making a gift to millions of mothers and families who seek care from Planned Parenthood. That’s a gift any mother will appreciate.”

This provoked an angry backlash from the ProLife group,, which turned this into the following: 

“Blume notes how more woman are seeking abortions form Planned Parenthood because of the difficult economy and she urges readers of the email to use that as a reason to support the abortion business.”  

You can read it here.

The angry backlash consisted of angry emails and letters sent to Judy Blume (no idea how many, only Planned Parenthood knows.  Maybe it was 10, or 20, or 100.  Big surprise, this is a hot button issue for many people.  While our President calls for a little reason and responsibility when talking about this highly charged issue, the pro-choice and pro-life sparring partners find it hard to break old habits.  So the ‘angry backlash’ was just what the doctor ordered!  It gave Planned Parenthood more ammunition to raise funds, this time in defense of Judy Blume in a “Stand Up For Judy” campaign.   

The end result is that this bit of back and forth was good business for all, since everyone raised funds and attention. 

But it had the opposite effect on me, and I suspect I’m not alone in the fact that I just have zero tolerance for  the use of lies and half truths, deception and distortion when it comes to fundraising.  I don’t donate money because I feel afraid.  I donate money when I am moved to care because I believe in something worthwhile, when I see that I can make a difference, when I’m convinced that the people I give it to will represent my interests.   All the people that donated money after Katrina did it to do a good thing, after the Tsunami, after 9-11, or to Idol Gives Back, did it to do a good thing, not because they were afraid of something.  And my guess is that in a troubled economy, if you want to raise more money, you should be more effective in telling people about how effective you are.  

The false dichotomies offered by sparring partners in these wars of words fall far short of what is needed to convey to me that any money they raise will be put to good use.  

I’m interested in hearing what the Republican party stands for, what they have to offer that’s different than their failed and polarizing notions of the past.  Yes, the GOP has launched a new campaign to freshen up their image, called the National Council for a New America.  It consists of the same old faces, the same hackneyed phrases and ideas, and continues to ignore science along with demographic and economic changes in our society.  It strikes me as yet another lie, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s a damned shame. 

Read more about their rebranding attempt here

I’d like to hear more about the work that Planned Parenthood does that makes mothers proud.  I don’t doubt that these cases could be made.  I have a vague memory that Planned Parenthood does something besides abortions, that they are  a reproductive health organization that offers contraceptive (birth control) services; emergency contraception; screening for breast, cervical and testicular cancers; pregnancy testing and pregnancy options counseling; testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases; sexuality education, menopause treatments; vasectomies and tubal ligations.  

If they can make the case, then I’m saying that is the case they should make,  if persuasion and fund raising is the intent.  Unless you simply want to pitch to your insiders and leave everyone else outside.   There’s already enough fear to go around.  What people want in times like these are empowerment, direction and hope.  If what they offer isn’t enough to garner  the positive support, then no amount of fear promotion is going to get them the funds they seek. Make your case, don’t make me afraid.  That’s the way to raise money when people are already afraid enough without your help. 

I’d love to hear your comments!

Be well,