Obama’s Website Made Me Cry

by cv harquail on September 23, 2008

crying_girl2 It moved me from intent to action. It snuck past my shield of cynicism. It struck me at the core of what I care about. And it made me remember that what really connects people and organizations is the chance for them both to be authentic.

What hooked me wasn’t the way the Campaign organization asked for money. Instead, what hooked me was the way the Campaign responded to my contribution. Through a deft web-based innovation and a few minutes of ‘user interface’, the Obama Campaign forged a connection with me that was simultaneously personal and political.

By shifting my contribution from something monetary and generic to something personal and value-specific, the act of contributing to the campaign became a mutual confirmation of values and identity .

For the few minutes I was on the website, and then each time since as I’ve reflected on my experience of contributing to the Campaign, I have felt a connection with this organization that is based on who I am and what I care about.

How it worked

I wasn’t all that interested in making a connection to the Campaign organization . For the last few months, I’ve been hounded by the DNC to make a contribution to the presidential campaign. Because I’ve been disappointed with the DNC as an organization, because I had already contributed to another candidate’s primary campaign, and because I’d already contributed to some social initiatives I care about, I’d been reluctant to go ahead and give the Obama Campaign more money. Still, since I’m on their mailing list, I’ve been getting regular campaign updates and solicitations, and I realized it was probably time that our family made another contribution directly to the Obama Campaign.

This particular email solicitation was different enough that it caught my attention. They were using my favorite fundraising tactic: dollar for dollar matching of my contribution. I’m a sucker for this tactic because it makes me feel like my contribution is more powerful. So I clicked through to their website, where I was promised:

Contribute to the Campaign today and your contribution will be matched dollar for dollar by another campaign supporter.

No totebag offered, but otherwise just like what they do on PBS, right?

The Innovation

At first the whole thing seemed like any online financial transaction. I clicked the amount we wanted to contribute, entered my Visa number, etc., and pressed the “make a contribution” button. But instead of the next page being ‘a confirmation of the transaction that you can print out for your convenience’ blah blah, the next web page was a personalized reply. A reply to me. From another other person. (I paraphrase from memory):

‘CVH, your contribution has been matched by Rosa M. Rosa M. writes “I am matching your contribution in honor of Luis P., Pfc. US Army, who died in Basra in July 2006. Luis was on his second tour of duty under a “stop loss” order. He asked me to do whatever I could to Stop The War. I’m doing what I can by contributing to the Obama for President campaign. Thank you for joining me.”‘

The Effect of the Innovation

I “knew” intellectually that this message was generated automatically by the website function. Despite what I “knew”, what I felt was an emotional connection established through that personal message from a real person. Rosa was not only matching my contribution and sharing my support of Obama; she was also matching my motivation and my values.

peace dove obama Although I absolutely support Obama, I’m not so much a fan of Obama per se as I am a fan of what Obama stands for . I am against the Iraq war . I am for making the world a better place, starting here at home with economic and social justice .

When I received Rosa’s message, the financial transaction disappeared beneath a connection between who I am and who Rosa is, about what I believe in and what Rosa believes in. The two of us were connected (however abstractly) by a commitment to a shared goal (ending the war), a shared tactic (electing Obama), and a shared set of values.

And there was more

The coup de grace was that the website offered me the opportunity to take another step. I could connect again, in a different way, by sending a response to Rosa herself.

What do you say to a woman you don’t know, who has just donated money in honor of a friend who died in an illegitimate war that neither of you support?

First I had to decide whether to send a message at all. It took me more than a minute to figure this out. Then I had to figure out what to say. That took another minute or two.

In those minutes, feelings rose up that surprised me. Sorrow, despair, impotence, marginality, the fear that my values didn’t matter . Pain at the thought of Luis’s sacrifice for a war he didn’t support. Empathy for Rosa in her effort to find a way to protest, a way to respond. I thought that all I was going to do was give a bit of money. Instead, I was being invited to give a little of myself, as a person. I took a deep breath, and I plunged in with a real, personal, heartfelt response.

I thanked Rosa for matching my contribution. I thanked her for doing her best to fulfill her promise to Luis. I told her that I would hold her, Luis, and their families “in the light “. I told a woman I have never met that I would pray for her and her family. Because we both believe in ending the war.

The genius behind this campaign? Matching who we are and what we care about to create a connection between us and the organization.

obama_shep_print_final2 It all started with a set of values at the Obama Campaign about grassroots participation . Some one or many people at the campaign kept the focus on the organization’s values. Drawing on these values, someone had the idea to match person to person. Someone else turned this idea into a function on their website, making it a feature of the campaign. They took who they are as an organization, what they believe in, and put it into action. Even better, they created a system, so that this matching process worked over and over, not just for me but for other people who contributed that day. That was all it that it took for the Obama Campaign to become real, to become authentic, and to forge an emotional connection with me.

The innovation was that the Obama Campaign shifted the terms on which I was making a connection as a campaign “supporter”. My contribution wasn’t just about who I, a generic American voter, support for President. It became about who I am and what I believe in, about who Rosa is and what she believes in, and about who Obama is and what he believes in . The organization transformed my financial contribution into a contribution of who I am and what I believe in, by matching and engaging my values.

It was that authentic connection that made me cry.

=> The Take-away for Authentic Organizations

To create authentic relationships between the organization and your stakeholders:

— Create an opportunity for your stakeholders’ identities to connect with your organization’s identity

— Create a way for stakeholders to see themselves and to be themselves in their relationship with your organization

— Create a way for people to see and share your organization’s values, its ideology if you will

— Create a way for stakeholders to connect around the values and issues that matter most to them.

(If you enjoyed this post, please consider Digging it. I’d love for more people to read it. Thanks. )


-Corinne September 23, 2008 at 1:18 pm

I was moved to tears to read about Rosa’s heartfelt gift and your moving and deeply felt response. The Obama organization has found a clever way to connect its supporters and to deepen and strengthen their feelings in the context of Obama’s campaign.

Yet, I imagine that this technique can only be used a few times. Soon, it will feel like receiving an envelope of address labels. Seen too often, the item no longer valued, the technique analyzed and well-known. How can an organization who wishes to express its Authenticity in the way the Obama campaign has, keep its techniques sufficiently fresh to move us?

CV Harquail September 23, 2008 at 2:32 pm

Corinne, I have the same concern… I even wondered if other campaigns had already done this and if it felt fresh to me only because I just didn’t know about it.

I think/hope that when strategies for connecting begin to feel more rote and less real, a self-reflective organization can ‘up the ante’ by innovating and finding another way to display its values and invite connection. But that requires a self-reflective organization…and members who actively care.

What I thought was odd & interesting about the Obama Website was that (1) I knew it was a computer routine and yet (2) it still moved me. I think that was because I knew that (3) it was an innovation that (4) the organization itself had created (5) that really did demonstrate its values. So the link between the tool and the organization was clear.

When these techniques become widespread, then they are prompted by imitation rather than expression, I suspect that you’re right and the feeling will be gone. Here’s an odd tidbit though: In one of my Exec Ed Leadership classes I had a student who was an exec at a company that makes all those address labels for fundraisers to send out. She told me that her company stays in business because even though people know exactly what the labels are for, they still feel like they should reciprocate and send money! So I wonder how short the half-life is of a technique like contributor&value matching?… Thanks so much for your comment. cvh

Matt Fischer September 23, 2008 at 12:35 pm

I believe the mechanism matters not. That’s the miracle of “web 2.0” or “new media” or “social media” or whatever you want to call it: the gears have vanished. Developers may now build soul in to applications as easily as not. Just because soul is asynchronous, and a query response, and, ultimately, data, doesn’t make it soulless. Soulfulness may turn out to be the ultimate competitive differentiator…

Sandy October 2, 2008 at 1:03 pm

That is a wonderful fundraising practice. What I especially appreciate about it is that the human connection was made at the “thank you” stage — not as an attempt to get you to give, but to help you feel *even better* about having made a donation.

I just received an email request to call voters in swing states — another example of how to promote human-to-human connection in the political context, that also gives me hope about how Obama’s political work will engage individuals in small steps to take ownership of the political process back from “the media”.

kaufen October 5, 2008 at 2:38 am

I just received an email request to call voters in swing states — another example of how to promote human-to-human connection in the political context, that also gives me hope about how Obama’s political work will engage individuals in small steps to take ownership of the political process back from “the media”.
I fully agree with author

Tracy October 10, 2008 at 4:51 pm

Great post –

Your take-aways are dead-on for my business needs – thanks


gbenga olorunsogbon November 2, 2008 at 11:31 pm

the strategy of now is to reshape the future with politics/policies of human face with human face for everyone not for out-of-touch ones, fighting for the interest of the few.I think Obama is many things to this generation.Vote for him!

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