Right now there are two primary ways that campaigns do email fundraising.
In the first, the candidate talks to college friends and attorneys with DC connections to find a digital agency that promises to raise the biggest bucks and build the biggest list. They’ll talk a lot about Facebook and maybe even mention that Millennials like Snapchat.
The folks who’ll staff this pol’s account invariably worked their way up from a party committee or committee-backed campaign. This isn’t partisan, the RNC and DCCC both mold these folks.
The other route is more grassroots. The candidate, whether due to lack of funds or an independent streak, stays local. Maybe they have a marketing expert in their circle, maybe an especially technically adept volunteer. Certainly down-ballot races fall in this camp.
Now, the problem for the campaign industry is that the party committee-brand emails — the ones with shrill, ridiculous, fear-based appeals — burn out email lists. You know, lists of actual people who ostensibly want to be involved in our campaigns.
(For an amazing parody of the Jon Ossoff email program, check out @DCCC_Emails on Twitter.)
I write emails for Democrats and leftists. And I consider that a campaign must have a bigger goal to express. The campaigns we work generally are build around candidates who don’t fit the DCCC mold. And their activists don’t fit the DNC mold. So at my firm we began to developing an email style that pairs marketing best practices (“you”-focused, urgent, segmented) with hopeful messaging.
For a repeat Rust Belt candidate, we started with an existing list of 71,333, and with frequent sends identified the 27,000 regularly active subscribers who would become the core of the program. We brought in 195 online donations in July, 289 in August, 382 in September, 416 in October, and 459 in November.
In an insurgent primary, we took a first-time candidate’s friends and families list and used social media to attract highly motivated subscribers, cracking 1,000 online contributions by the 5th week of the campaign. A hope-focused approach also quickly attracted enough recurring donations to meet the campaigns minimum budget needs — even if the campaign never sent another email blast.
Instead of a churn-and-burn approach that requires continually pulling in “fresh” emails from a list swap or a petition acquisition strategy (disclosure: one of my partnerships provides list-growth services), we need campaigns that integrate email strategies with the bigger message of the campaign. There are so many options with digital, but any outsider campaign must start with the fundamentals: email fundraising.
You can always tell a DCCC-style fundraising email. It’ll lead with a subject line like, “Worried,” and include a promise of a four-times match for every dollar raised by midnight. Near the end of the month of a fundraising quarter – especially in a hot race – they’ll become even more frequent. I don’t quite understand how these lists keep any subscribers.
When I start an email program, my goal is to find the tuned-in folks on the list.
Who is going to receive the progressive message and respond by donating, sharing online, hosting a party, or volunteering their skills? Behind the email program, I want an easy-to-use website and action toolkit so that I can take breaks between financial asks to build up other areas of the campaign with simple asks. And it doesn’t matter if the list churns a bit if the folks you lose don’t want to help.
Instead of doom and gloom, a hope-fueled email program focuses on things the candidate will change when she or he is in office. If there’s an injustice for them to call attention to, or an opponent to pillory, the focus of the text remains on the post-conflict successes we will share.
Your subject lines start to read more like, “How We Win This,” “You Inspire Me,” and “Together.” And these emails work. A well-managed, hope-fueled email program will slowly lose subscribers (or quickly if you cut 90-day inactives outright), while the donor count, donation count, volunteer list, and open rate climb.
Adriel Hampton is a newspaperman turned marketing consultant. Before starting The Adriel Hampton Group, he worked at NationBuilder and Pinpoint Predictive.