Campaigns have been questioning whether their over-the-top email programs helped or possibly even hindered their efforts last cycle. Going into 2014, the conventional wisdom said you needed to grab your list’s attention with a gripping subject line and dramatic text. But that strategy was used with such enthusiasm during the midterms you would have thought that the sky was falling if you got your news solely from campaign email blasts.
While many Democratic campaigns would characterize the results that way, to say that communication strategy was effective would be a similar hyperbole.
Since digital fundraising hit the scene with the first Howard Dean email, it was the shiniest of objects to campaigns. It was going to be the savior, and for many it infused a new stream of revenue previously thought to be impossible.
Each cycle, savvy campaigns found ways to build on it and seemingly “perfect” it. It was the golden child. That is until everyone took it for granted.
The recent telenovela-level drama in these emails had everyone from “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart to leading campaign strategists cracking jokes about how they were destroying democracy. The former hero for underfunded campaigns was now a villain. But it doesn’t need to stay that way.
It’s time campaigns went back to the basics. Here are five best practices for email fundraising that will keep your coffers full without damaging your chances for victory (or our democracy).
1. Mix things up
Volume is okay if you have a mix of fundraising and non-fundraising emails. Winning campaigns last cycle also used calls to action that asked for volunteers or signatures on petitions. They shared articles or updated supporters about the race on the ground. It wasn’t just a stream of endless fundraising emails. It told the story of the candidate, and the narrative was part of the same narrative the campaign was using in its direct mail, on television, and in stump speeches.
2. Be authentic
Your voice should be your voice. There’s nothing more infuriating than to see a candidate on their “knees begging you please.” The rest of the campaign’s consulting team is working so hard to portray the candidate one way, so don’t destroy that in an email for a few thousand dollars. Find your voice and use it to give urgent reasons for the supporter to give without giving up dignity.
3. Give them a real reason to give
We tell our campaigns to think of it like a transaction. Give the reader a real concrete reason to give and why they need to give right now. The reader doesn’t want to give to you, but they will if they have a concrete reason. It’s not enough to just ask—you have to tell them where it will be put to work.
4. Capturing attention doesn’t always have to include a cat
Emails went over the top in 2014, and that made sense for party committees and PACs. But if your candidate’s persona or profile doesn’t fit the over-the-top category, find a different way.
5. Having a culture of testing within your program will help you see what works and what doesn’t
Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) can be funny because he’s a professional comedian, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) can do really long, wonky emails because that’s what she’s known for. Don’t try to make your campaign fit into another’s box. Test, target, and track your results. You learn a lot from listening to the reactions of your supporters.
Still, no matter what you do, there are some complaints you don’t have to take too seriously. Volume is one. People will complain about the number of emails they receive regardless of how many land in their inboxes.
Taryn Rosenkranz is founder & CEO New Blue Interactive, a boutique digital/new media strategy firm.