Operation: Beto

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By Johnny Merolla


It’s been a few weeks since the midterm elections plastered our televisions, smart phones, and news feeds. A few campaigns stood out for their off-the-wall communication “strategies” like indicted California Congressman Duncan Hunter who falsely accused his opponent of being a terrorist or this video of Corey Stewart – the Republican who challenged Tim Kaine for his senate seat in Virginia – basically calling Senator Kaine a sexual predator.


But one campaign stood out: America’s darling underdog Beto O’Rourke took on incumbent Republican Senator Ted Cruz in Texas. Many argue it’s a simple task to love anyone running against the notoriously unlikeable Cruz, but final poll results tell a different story. Although Beto lost the election in crimson Texas, his campaign was the epitome of how smart communication can be truly transformative.


Nonprofit organizations should take a few tips from the Beto campaign.


Scare tactics don’t drive meaningful change

Research shows that fear resonates with audiences more profoundly than hope in situations like political referendums. Think Trump deploying caravan calamity before midterm elections. But it does not inspire long-term engagement. A study commissioned by The Gates Foundation shows in order to address cynicism, futility, and distance with your organization’s audiences, your message must champion independence, shared values, and partnership. None of that sounds like fear to me.


So why do we allow our political leaders to capitalize off fear? Beto’s campaign spanned across hundreds of Texas counties – both red and blue – spreading grassroots hope for new gun laws, universal health care, and a loosening of laws on marijuana. People listened, and created the closest Texas senate race in 40 years. More love, less hate.


Partner with Beyoncébetonce

Let’s be honest, your organization will never partner with Beyoncé the way Beto’s campaign did (I beg you to prove me wrong), but you almost certainly have partners and supporters who could be great communication resources. Are your partner organizations sharing your work? Has your executive director cowritten that revealing article with a city councilmember? People love to see collaboration. It legitimizes your organization’s work, expands your reach, and connects the dots for your donors, volunteers, and other audiences.


Rethink your social media strategy

We communicate with loved ones, buy and sell, and sway political opinion on our social media networks. The space is crowded so social media efforts need to be focused and strategic.


During the elections, Beto’s goofy grin interrupted my news feed on a daily basis. Not only did his team use ads to target his supporters in Texas but they went beyond the state to every corner of the country. This helped his supporters understand his positions and donate to his campaign on their own terms, and it brought together donors from across the U.S. – making Beto a national phenomenon.


Think like Beto’s team. Even smart, effective social media promotions can be done with a limited budget if you’re clear on your audience and what you want to achieve.  Is your organization plugged into every opportunity that exists on social media? Are you thinking through who your influencers are – or could be? Are you measuring success across all your platforms so that you can determine which tactics are working and which to drop?


Lose the battle but win the war

Although Beto lost the election, he inspired progressives and rattled conservatives across the country. This may lead to more campaigns prioritizing grassroots donations over political action committees – how our democracy should operate.


Your organization may not always make a huge splash with every partnership or social media interaction but it’s all part of a larger communication plan that will allow for you to reach target audiences, garner formidable donors, and spread a transformative narrative about the power of love and taking action, not reacting to hate and fear.

About The Author

Minerva Strategies

Minerva Strategies

The Minerva team has decades of experience working with nonprofits, foundations, and values-driven companies. Minerva also partners with experts—trusted designers, web developers, global communications professionals, and others—who share our excitement for creating positive social change. Through these partnerships, we can build a team that is tailored to your needs. Learn more about who we are or what we do.