Persuasion and Development

As the development team ramps up for more appeals, campaigns, and mailings through the fall, the differentiation between central and peripheral persuasion has become clear as our supervisor Kathryn has explained to us how we design these campaigns. For major donors, the central route of persuasion seems to be more effective, as Petty and Cacioppo note that the central route is more useful for sustained persuasion. These kinds of appeals require phone-calls, personal museum tours from the Foundation President, or other in-person meetings, as opposed to our typical, large-scale mailing appeals. The Foundation President has a talent for understanding and working with donors’ motivations as they are, rather than trying to forcefully persuade major donors to support projects in which they may not be personally invested. If a major donor doesn’t have even the slightest reason to care initially, a direct ask probably won’t do any good. Because major donations are often structured as pledges or installments that are paid over time, the donor’s interest and support in the museum has to be sustained with informative updates and strong motivating factors. Generally, we like to keep “the ask” at the beginning of the communication, like a letter, email appeal, or mailing. Donors like to know what they’re giving to, and they like the chance to reject an ask outright if they wish, without things dragging on and on. Many times, it’s just a matter of directly asking the right person at the right time, which has become apparent as the American Civil War Museum awaits the publishing of an article in a major magazine. That’s not to say that fundraising is terse and straight to the point. Many of our appeals require a great deal of patience and meticulous planning, especially when it comes to larger groups of donors or larger foundations. 


This past week, for example, I sat in on a meeting to discuss funding for the temporary exhibits. The Director of Development explained that in order to make an effective ask, the collection and education departments need to have a relatively substantial plan for the exhibit space for at least the next 3-5 years, even if we’re only asking for funding through the next year. The ask will also heavily depend on the content of the proposed exhibits. As many of our donors still support the museum because of its former status as the Museum of the Confederacy, we have to be extremely careful in how we ask. For many, it’s about honoring their families’ legacies. For example, the end of our main exhibit, which associates a KKK uniform with an 8-foot-tall portrait glorifying Robert E. Lee, can be seen as offensive to those with great-grandparents who fought to defend their homes and the Confederacy, but who did not support the KKK. Obviously, these are probably not the best people to ask about supporting a new exhibit about the Lost Cause ideology. For large-scale appeals, like the one the development office has planned for next month, we have the opportunity to share the museum’s new narrative without relying on supporters who sympathize with the Lost Cause. This appeal will include narratives of women’s contributions to the Civil War, which were not previously included in our appeals, despite the fact that the Museum of the Confederacy was initially restored and founded by women. Because of the broad reach of these larger, peripheral appeals, we have the opportunity to expand our donor and member base beyond those who are driven by their ties to the Confederacy. In promoting a different narrative, which includes the stories of women, slaves, and free African Americans, we can reach people who want to invest in scholarship that turns away from the Confederate Lost Cause and toward a more inclusive telling of the history of the Civil War. Right now, the Civil War is an incredibly emotional, politically-charge topic, especially with Monument Ave just up the hill from the museum. By taking the peripheral route, our appeals can find those who may be interested in the subject and bring them into the museum to learn more about the new, more inclusive scholarship. Hopefully, they’ll donate or buy a membership while they’re here. 


A lot of development is diligence, patience, and timing. Looking back with just one week left, this summer seemed like a lot of tedious editing, creating reports, and researching what seemed like long-shot appeals. However, the length of my internship has allowed me to see campaigns from start to finish. I’ve seen how direct asks can reap big, immediate results, while our somewhat tedious postcard campaign brought in a few, but a dedicated few members. People like the personal touch of a real signature and personal note from the Foundation President, or a postcard from the interns, or a holiday card from the museum staff (yes, we’ve already started planning for the holidays). While these kinds of peripheral appeals seem tedious and pointless, a little bit of patience can help to build immense trust with our donor and member base, especially when the Civil War’s legacies have taken center stage in our city and nation’s discussion of racial divides. It can be hard to support a museum that covers such a divisive topic as the Civil War and its modern-day ramifications. Our job is to make it clear how meaningful and necessary that support is.