Could Your Advancement Work Be A Victim of Cancel Culture? A Three-Step Action Plan

Bill Crouch

Mike Carter


For years, social scientists, communication experts, journalists, and others who possessed a public voice would use terms such as “zeitgeist” or “social milieu” to describe a particular set of characteristics unique to an individual and/or a group during a defined period of time. 


Identifying characteristics and describing individuals and/or groups is nothing new. Social scientists have long reported on various subcultures that stand out over and against the dominant culture. 


But, in the past few years, a new form of social labeling has become more than noticeable. It’s called “cancel culture” and it has become a major part of popular culture. Today, major news broadcasts and various political campaigns are identifying and discussing the impact of “cancel culture.” It’s even more rampant on social media. But what is it, really?


What is Cancel Culture?


Originally, the term was used to describe and discredit others online and in social media formats. Today, examples abound that go beyond the digital world. It has become a way to identify and discard, or cancel, a person’s influence and even that of larger groups. 


Truth does not matter in cancel culture because a new narrative is replacing the old (or original) so as to cancel out the past. Today, we see this practice of social reconstruction being applied to more than just individuals in high profile settings, but also to anyone and to any organization that is targeted and labeled for exclusion. 


The reasons for such targeting can vary from the insignificant to the substantial. The intent of those acting on behalf of the cancel culture is to erase the existence of a person or group whom they have deemed needs to be discredited.


For example, highly successful professionals who hold certain political or cultural views are being targeted, labeled, and then excluded from prior relationships. The truth may or may not be voiced in a cancel culture situation.  In this day of predominant social media and with ready access to high visibility communication platforms, large numbers of people can be given information that may or may not be true but can influence others to simply “cancel” the relationship and deem it unimportant. 


The impact of the information released from social media can be devastating to a person’s reputation and or to that of an organization. The end result can bring about serious harm to those who have been targeted. We are reminded of the old adage, “once it is said, it is hard to take back!”


We suggest that development and advancement professionals be aware of this new form of social labeling since it can have a direct impact on fundraising. In some instances, it is more than a label, but actual exclusion from prior engagements. In other words, gifts could be lost due to being the target of cancel culture.  We suggest that the following three steps be taken to assess and plan if cancel culture activity surfaces in your work.


Three Steps For Action


First, conduct a comprehensive social assessment, a 360° review, of the communication messages that are coming into and out of the organization. 


We suggest a “content analysis” of communication coming into the organization to see if it has fallen victim to someone or some group that wants to “cancel” or impede the mission. Also, communication flowing out to the organization needs to be assessed for mission accuracy. In other words, identify if a threat exists and is working to cancel the message and intent of the mission.


Depending on the extent of the negative campaign against a client, it may be necessary to employ a more detailed communication plan to counter the negative messaging taking place.   The objective is to limit the damage and take back control of the narrative so as to keep fundraising efforts alive and well.


For example, if messages from the organization are being re-branded by the cancel culture group, then action must be taken to correct the message and disseminate the correct message as soon as possible.


Second, assess any negative communication coming to the advancement and/or development team. At times, fundraisers can be identified and vilified by individuals who do not want change or a different direction of change in the organization seeking advancement assistance. 


Is there any truth to the accusations affecting the development effort? If so, this must be dealt with first. If this occurs, steps must be taken quickly to counter the negative messaging and labeling since the development team represents the organization’s mission. The client must be reassured of the credibility of the advancement team. If and when cases like this occur, more information rather than too little is needed to help reassure the client of the abilities of the advancement team.  Be prepared to introduce new strategic initiatives into the advancement strategy in order to so demonstrate adaptability to a changing environment.


Third, when cancel culture attacks occur, correcting the narrative is extremely time-sensitive and needs fact-based in correcting the message. Facts and dates that are verifiable are crucial to countering a false narrative. Hence, we suggest that the organization and the advancement professionals all embrace an ethic based on transparency, honesty, verifiable truth, and integrity.  


Truthful communication and practice, even when mistakes have been made, can keep effective communication flowing. If a mistake has been made, admit it and voice the necessary corrective action that will be taken to correct the situation. 


Our experience has demonstrated that this is not a one-time fix. Counter culture operatives keep coming with waves of information designed to discredit and erase the past. Be prepared for a process that is ongoing. This is not a project that has an easily seen conclusion. Being transparent keeps the narrative from changing and in the long run saves time and money.


Final thoughts


If you are the victim of a cancel culture attack:  assess the messages through “content analysis” and bring a complete 360° review into your assessment methodology. Be strategic in planning your counter communication against the cancel culture attack. Be prepared for this to take more than one attempt to correct. Truth, an accurate recounting of history, and verifiable facts are essential in letting the public know the message from the organization that has a mission worth supporting. 


In severe cases, seek professional communication resources so that you can proceed with your advancement work and further the mission of the organization that needs the new philanthropy.

At TheBrightDot.Com, we provide advice on how to deal with cancel culture attacks and can provide the necessary resources to help you address this problem. Talk to us today!

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