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“Any negative polls are fake news…” Trump tweeted

Fake news is big news these days. The president routinely accuses his detractors of spreading fake news. The media calls FAKE NEWS on Trump himself for unsupported claims about his inauguration crowd size, illegal voters, wire-tapping, etc.

Your social media feed is full of it. Your Crazy Uncle Joe is constantly posting it. The Russian propaganda machine is constantly creating it. You try to be savvy about spotting it—but you just can’t escape it.

Scholars and journalists write long, thoughtful treatises on why it is so pervasive and what market forces compel it and how we can fight back against it. But what about its impact on fundraising? I believe it could be earthshaking…

I’ve been a fundraiser for a long time. I have accomplished, experienced, veteran fundraisers working for me here at the agency who are younger than my first fundraising campaign. It’s a sobering thought. I’ve lived through the technological revolution of the last quarter century that has transformed the way we do business. But with the advent of the fake news problem, I suspect we are on the cusp of an even more earth-shaking upheaval. What I like to call the The Authenticity Revolt.

The Authenticity Revolt is blowback from the spread of fake news and viral lies. Consumers and donors are bombarded with sketchy, poorly-sourced messaging that is more and more sophisticated and harder and harder to tell from legitimate news. This increases cynicism and skepticism. One thing I’ve learned from my long years of labor in the fundraising fields is that cynicism and skepticism are my mortal enemies. Put another way—no one gives you a check without first giving you their trust. And the harder it is to earn trust, the harder it is to get that check (or get them to hit that Donate Button).

So when fake news proliferates, eroding trust and growing cynicism, what’s a fundraiser to do?

Earn trust by being honest. Build trust by showing outcomes. Reward trust by sharing inside (warts and all) information.

One New River client has developed an Ethics Committee to review all fundraising materials. They make sure that direct response copywriters don’t go too far in embellishing stories or that public relations materials don’t overstate accomplishments. That funds raised are spent exactly how the fundraising pitch portrayed they would be. They guard against fake-news fundraising and zealously safe-guard authenticity. Why aren’t more organizations doing this?

Tomorrow’s best fundraisers will find their own innovative ways to stand out from the crowd and give cynical consumers what they crave: authenticity. Imagine the satisfaction your donors will have when you close the loop on a fundraising campaign by reporting back (with photos, stories and stats) that you did exactly what you said you were going to do with their money! Imagine your donor retention numbers climbing ever higher when you consistently tell the authentic truth instead of some idealized version of alternative truth. Don’t you think they can tell the difference?

Savvy fundraisers know that they have to stand out from a marketplace crowed by more than 1.5 million nonprofits in the United States. Find your authentic voice, banish fake news from your fundraising appeals and you will win the hearts of donors starved for genuine truthfulness.