In August 2015, we were approached by Edmonds Elder, who ran the UK Conservatives’ groundbreaking 2015 digital campaign, about becoming part of what would eventually be known as The In Campaign Ltd. Later known as Britain Stronger In Europe, or just “the Remain campaign,” this group had a monumental task: conceive of and build out the national organizing infrastructure for the campaign to preserve Britain’s place in the European Union.
Ten months later, the people of Britain had their say. And while the vote ultimately did not go our way, the margin was close—and we left nothing on the field. Indeed, over these past months, The In Campaign built one of the most impressive digital grassroots organizing efforts in the world.
We were proud to have been a part of that effort, playing a lead role in designing and deploying the campaign’s digital organizing infrastructure, as well as an ongoing support role throughout the campaign. The case study describes what we believe are the most exceptional achievements of that collaborative effort between our agency (Hines Digital), Edmonds Elder, and the campaign’s internal team.
Deploying the campaign’s NationBuilder infrastructure
One of the earliest decisions The In Campaign made was to build the campaign’s organizing infrastructure on NationBuilder’s community organizing platform, which ultimately powered its website, email program, volunteer program, and online fundraising.
As internationally recognized experts in NationBuilder’s platform, The In Campaign brought us in to deploy and maintain that organizing infrastructure throughout the campaign. We designed and developed the campaign’s website, provided training and support to its internal team on how to get the most out of NationBuilder’s platform, and remain on hand to do anything the campaign’s exceptional internal team needed to get the job done.
Essentially we teed up the ball—deploying an easily maintained, action-oriented website; optimizing email templates; and designing high-conversion donation pages—and they knocked it out of the park.
Designing and deploying a scaleable website that engages
Our core role in the campaign was as designers & developers: building the campaign’s website on NationBuilder’s platform. We took everything that we’d learned designing more than 100 sites on the platform to that point and developed a site that perfectly matched the campaign’s branding perfectly and gave the in-house digital team the tools they needed to organize online.
The website supported more than thirty different types of pages: from Posts to Petitions, Events to Endorsements. Each could be created, populated, and published—no developer required. That gave the campaign’s internal team incredible flexibility to act independently and scale their efforts as the campaign evolved.
And scale they did—grabbing hold of that flexible infrastructure and leveraged it to incredible effect. By polling day, they had created more than 11,000 individual website pages and driven more than hundreds of thousands of individual signups. Across Britain, the campaign’s field team had organized and posted online more than 8,000 events. And on polling day, they used the website’s events calendar functionality to create a searchable map of more than 240 “campaign hubs” where volunteers could get involved.
Paired with a social media campaign that was incredibly well coordinated, on-message, and effective at driving, Britain Stronger in Europe’s website proved to be an effective platform for supporter engagement, volunteer coordination, and email acquisition.
Deploying custom-built landing pages with personalized feedback
A core part of the campaign’s approach to supporter engagement was to provide personalized feedback—a sort of “give something, get something” approach to online engagement. To support that approach, we designed & developed a number of customized landing pages designed to convey the real, personal impact that leaving the European Union would have on individual Britons.
The most notable of these custom built pages allowed Britons to calculate how their family budget would be affected should the United Kingdom choose to leave the European Union.
After sharing their email, post code, and how many people are in their household, they receive customized feedback — and are offered the chance to share the calculator (but not their result!) on social media. By Polling Day, the Family Budget Calculator had been used by more than 107,000 people.
All told, more than 2 million people engaged with The In Campaign through its website, with the bulk of that traffic coming in the final three months before Polling Day. The campaign published an average of 43 pages to the site each day, and used the website to connect with 50,000 self-identified volunteers.
Strong email deliverability, facilitating regular engagement
Email is still the best, most effective way to stay in touch with supporters. And email deliverability — the part art, part science of getting your email blasts into the inboxes of your supporters—is one of the most important and least sexy parts of online organizing.
The In Campaign’s internal digital team ran one of the most effective, error free email engagement programs we’ve ever had the opportunity to be a part of. While the audience, content, and timing of individual emails was all led by the campaign’s internal team, we played a lead role in designing the email templates and training the team on how to leverage NationBuilder’s email platform, including using database queries to personalize content and increase conversions.
In the end, the campaign sent nearly 20 million individual emails, with an all-time open rate of 27.8% and a spam complaint rate of 0.04%. That’s right: they had essentially no spam complaints—a fact that underscores how incredibly well executed their email program was.
The key to their email program’s success was a complete and total lack of phoniness or false urgency. They never “blasted” their “list;” they communicated with their supporters. And because they treated their supporters with courtesy and respect, and never attempted to deceive or manipulate them, folks learned to anticipate and look forward to receiving new updates. Their spam rate was so low because they didn’t send spam. And the results speak for themselves.
A powerful small-pound, grassroots fundraising program
As a result of their strong website, social media, and email engagement efforts, The In Campaign was able to raise big money online through small-pound, grassroots donors.
In total, the campaign raised more than £1 million online from small dollar donors, with an average donation of approximately £30. These were truly grassroots donations made by ordinary Britons:
- 97% of online donations came in amounts of £100 or less;
- 91% of online donations came in amounts of £50 or less;
- 78% of online donations came in amounts of £25 or less;
- 47% of online donations came in amounts of £10 or less; and
- 87% of online donations were made as a result of a fundraising email.
29% of donors gave more than once, illustrating the tremendous power of a campaign built for and powered by grassroots supporters. And the 87% of donations stemming from an email blast further underscores the tremendously important role that email deliverability played in allowing the campaign to compete—both online and offline.
By investing early in cutting-edge digital infrastructure and technical & strategic support, and by committing to a true grassroots organizing program from Day One, The In Campaign empowered its internal team to achieve extraordinary results. Despite the eventual result, we believe that The In Campaign’s digital effort can and should stand as an example of what an Independent Expenditure Committee can achieve through online organizing.
Ian Patrick Hines is the founder of Hines Digital, a full-service digital firm, and a certified NationBuilder expert and architect.