Nonprofits, Your Sole Goal in 2017: Pick a Fight with Trump!

Nonprofits have been raising millions of dollars since Donald Trump was elected. Americans are worried, and they’ve opened their wallets to support their favorite anti-Trump charities. Most recently, the ACLU raised a record $24 million in the days immediately following Trump’s Muslim ban executive order.

“Man,” I thought. “How do I get Trump to attack me? It’s liking hitting the lottery.”

Your nonprofit should be thinking the same thing. But getting attacked might be hard if you are, say, a local nonprofit like The Bostonian Society, which runs the Old State House in my hometown of Boston.

Old State House, Boston. Photo via Wallyg on Flickr

The historic site’s claim to fame is being the site where British soldiers gunned down five colonists on March 5, 1770. The deadly encounter was one of the sparks that ignited the Revolutionary War.

The history surrounding the Old State House is kind of a big deal. But the team there can only look with envy at the Atlanta-based Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives, which recently benefited from Trump implying that Frederick Douglass was still alive. The team at FDFI jumped on the news and published on HuffPo confirming that Douglass’ ideals were still very much alive. The post got 36,000 Facebook likes and 83 comments. Not bad. Maybe the FDFI even saw a bump in donations.

Too bad Trump hasn’t attacked you. But that doesn’t mean you can’t pick a fight with him.

Let’s use the Old State House as an example. Next month, the group will commemorate the 247th anniversary of the Boston Massacre with its annual reenactment. Before a large audience, reenactors playing colonists will pelt the soldiers with snow and yell things like, “Get out of Boston, you lobsterbacks!” Soon, the fed-up British soldiers will fire into the crowd, and the dead and wounded colonists will be carried away with great solemnity.

It’s all great fun. I’ve taken the whole family to commemorate the day that British tyranny soaked Boston’s cobblestone streets with the blood of patriots. The kids loved it.

But it’s time for the Old State House to take the offensive on modern tyranny.

  • Send a formal invitation to Trump inviting him to attend the reenactment so he can see firsthand just how important “taxes” are to Americans and the dangers of tyranny.
  • Instead of hurling 18th-century slurs at the British soldiers during the reenactment, the colonists should shout, “Release your taxes!” “No Dakota Pipeline!” “Let immigrants in!”
  • Distribute a handbill at the reenactment of Paul Revere’s engraving of the Boston Massacre declaring the dangers of “Alternative Facts.” Encourage people to visit your website to learn more about how Revere and others sought to create their own “Alternative Facts” and turn public opinion against King George.

Paul Revere’s engraving of the Boston Massacre, 1770

Of course, all of this should be shared on Twitter with @RealDonaldTrump and the local and national media.

If the Old State House is lucky, Trump will castigate them on Twitter. The flow of money into the nonprofit will far exceed the modest blood spilled on March 5, 1770. According to BuzzFeed, Trump’s tweets drive massive traffic to friends and foes. This should steel your courage.

I guess my advice could backfire, although it’s a hard to think of a better place than liberal Massachusetts to pick a fight with Trump. Even after saying they would avoid controversial venues for future events, Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute is still dealing with protesters who are unhappy with the hospital’s plans to follow through on a fundraising event at a Trump hotel in Florida. “How popular is Trump in my state?” may be the only question you have to ask yourself.

Rejoice! Your next big fundraiser is here. You don’t need to pour ice water on yourself, do pushups, or pose like a mannequin. You just need to bait a contentious, mercurial man who likes to lash out in 140-character tweets.

Go ahead and poke the bees’ nest. The honey will be sweeter than the sting.

  • Lisa Maxey

    I am very sad that you are promoting dissension instead of cooperation. Next comes the violence?

    • Third Sector Radio USA

      Dissent is historically a critical function of the sector. Humor is a perfectly legitimate form of dissent, especially when it helps the cause of social justice. When we our led by a racist, misogynistic, hateful administration, we must tread the waters of cooperation very carefully.

  • Alison Curry

    As non-profit leaders, our goal is first and foremost to protect and advance our mission. Anthony Romero’s fortitude in the face of the many many issues affronting our civil liberties has been outstanding. Reading his letter in The NYTimes on the day of Trump’s election restored my faith in democracy. Advising non-profits to feign illness to gain attention is sophomoric.

    Let’s not pick fights. Let’s defend and advance. Let’s take the high-road. There is little traffic there.

  • Eugene Patron

    Unless this is an early April Fool’s day post, I’m guessing you have never managed a nonprofits social media channels and had to deal with a flood of hostile posts, trolling and even website denial of service attacks. It’s great that the ACLU and other progressive orgs benefitted from reaction to the President’s orders, but I don’t think 99% of nonprofits should base a fundraising strategy on picking a fight with the President. There’s lots of ways nonprofits can creatively newsjack to make themselves topical without directly baiting the Troller in Chief and coming under attack.

    • ruth

      Listen, all comers, this was a little satire. Not to be carried like a burden.

      • Jessica Ripper

        I appreciate the author’s attempt to use satire now that it’s clear that was the intent; however, NPQ has an obligation to make that clear to your readership, especially in the current media environment. Misreading this article could result in real consequences for nonprofits.

    • joewaters

      Ruth’s right. The idea here is for nonprofits to think opportunistically about trending news and how they can ride the wave of current news. Many nonprofits have benefited from this. I have a whole Pinterest board on “causejacking.” It’s a legitimate strategy and nonprofits should use it. https://www.pinterest.com/joewaters/causejacking/

      • Chaille Cohen

        I concur; there is real value in putting current events into context for donors. During the sequestration, the org I work for reached out to donors to alert them about the impact the governmental freeze was having on our programs and the people, real people, who rely on these safety net services. I expect that in the next few years it will be necessary to help donors understand the very profound impact the government’s choices have on its constituents, especially those who are the most vulnerable and desperately need our advocacy.

  • Brian

    I was hoping this article was a joke. You “guess” your advice “could backfire”? Really!? If you are seriously saying that creating more division in the country by attacking the President of the United States is a good fundraising tactic, then, yeah, I think that could backfire. It’s discouraging that this is advice you find worthy of publishing in times like these. Possibly your Boston Massacre example has some merit in that it has solid ties to current political events, but for you to suggest that everyone should “poke the bees’ nest” is irresponsible and juvenile. I guess even NPQ isn’t above partisan attacks. FWIW, I do NOT like Trump for a myriad of reasons, but I dislike these kind of divisive media shenanigans even more. We need to be actively reuniting the country right now, not coming up with new, *clever* ways to divide it.

  • Sharron DiMario

    All I can say is IRRESPONSIBLE ‘journalism’! I subscribe to the email because I serve on four non-profit boards and want to stay informed, but this kind of story is despicable.

  • Beth Garvin

    Provocative and challenging post — thanks, Joe. Finding the right balance between advocacy, opposition, and activism is complicated (and when you add in satire and causejacking suggestions, it gets even more complex as the comments reveal). But I agree everyone needs to keep an eye out for opportunistic strategies to advance their cause. I haven’t seen any data yet that philanthropy is being redirected to support civil rights, social justice, and reproductive rights — areas that are being challenged daily and deserve our wholehearted support. But I do know that some Boston-area nonprofits have seen flat or declining revenue in the past 3 months. We still need to feed the hungry, house the homeless, fight racism and sexism locally, support education and the arts, and all of the other necessary societal functions that our nonprofits provide. We should follow Michelle Obama’s “when they go low, we go high” mantra, but we also need to be creative to advance our missions.