Quick quiz: Is Texas a Republican State or Democrat State?
Good news, it doesn’t matter what you answered because you’re all correct! Or, another way of looking at it is, that you’re all wrong. There are three “true” answers:
1. Perception: Yes, Texas is a very conservative/Republican state
2. Perceived Reality: Yes, Texas is a VERY Republican state and that’s why I moved there!
3. Reality: Not exactly.
For the sake of this exercise we are using the 2018 Midterms as an example. The senatorial race was between Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke. In the election, Cruz won by 2.6%. A tight race but we definitely won. Therefore Texas is Republican, case closed! Not so fast, exit polls showed that there was a contrast between how native Texans voted and transplants. Native Texans actually voted (in this particular election) for the liberal candidate, while the transplants voted for the conservative.
Texas has a strong reputation for being a very conservative state. And that reputation attracts more conservatives. But like so many other cases the “reputation” is a generalization and not quite true. But because the reputation is so widely known and so attractive to other conservatives, it has become a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is becoming true because so many people already believed it to be true. This is also how I talked my wife into marrying me:
“Yup, Hannah, I am VERY good looking. Maybe not in the classic symmetrical way, but trust me…”
But there are a few lessons that nonprofit communication can pick up from this, and specifically how they relate to potlucks.
Potlucks are so old fashioned, but more popular than ever!
The common sense knowledge on any subject is not necessarily the correct one. Recently I’ve seen several churches talk about getting rid of potlucks or “rebranding” them to try and sound more modern. Potlucks sound so 80s that we need to come up with something else if we want to be more relevant. Many others have counter argued that churches are all about meeting together and fellowshipping over food, potlucks are practically a sacrament! Neither of these arguments deals in actual facts or statistics. If potlucks are preventing people from coming to a church then of course we should ditch them, no matter how much tradition. But here’s the thing, potlucks are more popular than ever outside of the church:
Look at that! Why isn’t your church doing a potluck?
Assumptions mean missed opportunities
When we make these kinds of assumptions, we miss opportunities to reach people. But we also paint a monochromatic picture, which is a very easy mistake to make when in this marketing business. We create marketing segments and place people into buckets to more accurately communicate with them. But each person on the other end of the screen is a complex soul, with good days and bad, hopes, dreams, dirty socks, and opinions on potlucks. I work with an agency that specializes in churches and nonprofits. The two states that the bulk of our clients come from are California and Texas. Assuming that California is too liberal for churches would mean that we are missing out on working with the state with the highest percentage of nonprofits per capita.
Perceived reality changes actual reality
When we make broad assumptions about the complex political opinions of entire states, then we affect their reality. Tennessee and Texas are seeing conservatives pouring in and voting low taxes even lower. Meanwhile California, New York, and Minnesota are seeing liberals seeking like-minded people. America is self-sorting and it is all because people are looking for a community that listens to them. When we treat poor people and minorities as dangerous and uneducated then eventually many of them are going to believe us. When we treat people like they are valuable members of a community and that they are actually loved by God, then sooner or later, we are going to persuade them. And the great news is that it is the actual, God’s honest, Truth. Potlucks really are great! I am actually exceptionally handsome! (ok, somethings may be more of a subjective truth).
Your communications and marketing efforts matter. They make a difference, not just in your own organization’s outreach efforts, but in the larger public discourse. How we treat people and talk to people make a difference. So be kind and let your boss know how great you are regularly!