Why We Love Taylor Swift (and Why Fundraisers Should Too!)
It’s a fact: Other industries have received far worse hits than fundraising ever will and yet they’ve learned how to grow, change and adapt. In the face of rising challenges in fundraising, what steps can the smart fundraiser take to rise above it all and succeed despite the odds?
Take a moment to consider the music industry and the blows it has endured, especially at the turn of the century. Despite the advent of the world wide web and the subsequent piracy, music has picked itself up, dusted itself off and continued to remain a thriving industry in ways that are both innovative and profitable.
Still, piracy remains a valid concern, an existing blight on the musicscape that most likely won’t be disappearing any time soon. Piracy still takes a toll on record sales. Album numbers just aren’t what they used to be, with the exception of a select handful of those who, in spite of the odds, have risen to the top—especially for one young lady who was born in Reading, Pa, in 1989.
Taylor Swift, from a distance, appears as though she could have been engineered in a lab with the goal of first taking the music industry by storm, followed by taking over the world. It’s fairly obvious that she has tightly secured her target demographic of tweens, teens and 20-somethings, though her fans come from all walks of life. Some assert that her music appeals to the masses because it’s catchy, innocuous country-pop. But take a look at the span of her career, from when she began as a teenage country-pop star to gradually transforming into a chart-conquering, full-on pop icon. You see, there’s more to it than just catchy music and appealing to the right kinds of people, especially since much of the music industry seems to be struggling to figure it all out.
Here’s the very important thing: Swift is undeniably aware of who her fans are, and where they are. And she absolutely loves her fans. She shows her love to them all the time, to a degree that is absolutely unparalleled by both those within her age bracket and those who have been playing the game for longer than she has been alive.
From her primary residence in Manhattan, she reaches out to her fans all over the world, every day. She lets them into her life and allows them to see what she’s doing, who she’s hanging out with, and what she’s creating, whether it be her songs or one of her favorite Ina Garten recipes. Taylor opens every possible avenue of communication, within reason. Her Twitter, Instagram and Facebook accounts reveal a flurry of constant activity and also evidence that, when she reaches out, her fans respond en masse.
That sort of communication is the kind that builds and establishes relationships and it matters so much. It pieces together the entire Swift puzzle and allows her to build her persona, her very brand, and tie it to the music that she creates. She conveys to her fans who she is and what she does. So much of that relationship-building happens across that far-reaching, global channel of communication that she has created.
So even though she, as a contemporary music artist, has plenty of odds stacked against her, as all current musicians do, she remains at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 hierarchy, selling albums like Napster was never born.
Who else is near the top? Miley Cyrus, whose 2013 album, “Bangers,” moved 270,000 copies during its first week. Additionally, despite the fact that Katy Perry’s Twitter count exceeds Swift’s by more than 10 million, Perry’s latest album sold just 286,000 copies during its first week of release.
What makes Swift so different? What makes her so special?
Swift released her highly anticipated album, "1989," a few days before Halloween 2014. Projected sales were 750,000 copies, adjusted to 900,000 after assessing pre-sales. Artists simply don’t hit the elusive 1 million mark anymore—at least, not in a week. But then something particularly amazing happened, and she shattered some records to bits (no pun intended).
Swift sold 1,287,000 albums over a span of seven days.
Without question, there are many secrets to her success, components that come together to create a force to be reckoned with. But Swift’s creating and maintaining of her fan relationships through communication matters so much. She knows that and owns it.
She treats her fans like friends. She knows that where she is, is because of her fans, and she doesn’t let them forget it.
Swift has a couple of very important messages for each and every fundraiser, whether you’re a fan, casual listener, totally indifferent or even a hater who’s gonna hate, hate, hate.
- Treat your donors like gold. Forming and maintaining long-term relationships with your donors matters now more than ever. Take the time to let them know how much you love them and you wouldn’t be where you are without their help. Connect with them, whether it's through social media, a handwritten thank-you letter or a multitude of other ways. Do this to the best of your ability, and it will allow your fundraising to flourish into an unstoppable force to be reckoned with, even when the odds feel stacked against you.
- Come up with new, creative and exciting ways to maintain your donor relationships. Swift has hosted private album listening parties in her home for her most passionate fans (during which she posed for photos and baked cookies). She’s swooped down like a mama bird, defending her fans after they’ve been singled out and cyberbullied on social media. She’s sent them gifts, attended their celebrations, flew them out for concerts, paid off their student loans and a whole other host of really awesome, really amazing stuff to show her love. She’s a go big or go home type of girl, that’s for sure. But she’s also bestowed upon her fans smaller acts of kindness, like commenting on their Instagram photos and wishing them happy birthdays.
The point is, Swift has been ultra-creative with her approaches to showing her fans her appreciation and takes the time to do it well. She’s having fun with it while remaining authentic and true to herself. You may lack the resources to attend donors' weddings, send them expensive thank-you gifts, buy them new cars, pay off their mortgages, or charter planes to send them to Hawaiian resorts, but there is no reason why you can’t propose exciting new ways to create and maintain your relationships that are fun, creative and unique to you. Use your resources, do some brainstorming, and go forth and make it happen.
Pamela Grow is the publisher of The Grow Report, the author of Simple Development Systems and the founder of Simple Development Systems: The Membership Program and Basics & More fundraising fundamentals e-courses. She has been helping small nonprofits raise dramatically more money for over 15 years, and was named one of the 50 Most Influential Fundraisers by Civil Society magazine, and one of the 40 Most Effective Fundraising Consultants by The Michael Chatman Giving Show.