The Do's and Don'ts of Online Fundraising and Communications
Between President Barack Obama’s successful 2008 online campaign and the myriad tactics candidates employed this fall, the political sphere has provided many lessons in regard to online fundraising and communications.
During the Care2 webinar “Lessons From Campaign 2010: Innovations in Online Fundraising and Organizing From the Mid-term Elections,” Teddy Goff, associate vice president of strategy at Blue State Digital, and Taryn Rosenkranz, director of marketing and new media for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, discussed three underlying principles of the Obama campaign, and the do’s and don’ts of online fundraising gleaned from 2010.
“The most important thing to keep in mind is the audience and particularly the way the audience has changed,” Goff said.
Supporters and donors have increasingly moved to the digital world when it comes to getting news, gathering information and even donating. And the digital world “gives the opportunity to talk to supporters in a way that activates and unlocks even more passionate support and turns these people into evangelists,” he explained.
It’s important to think about building a long-term program, not a quick money grab. “Success online isn’t about gimmickry,” Goff said. “The goal is to build sustained loyalty and sustained brand equity.”
Three principles behind the 2008 Obama campaign did just that.
1. Authenticity. In 2008, that meant showing the faces behind the organization. In one particular e-mail, Voices for Change, the word Obama didn't even appear. Instead it featured a photo of one of the staffers with her child, lowering the barrier to entry and putting a human face to the cause. Another good example was an e-mail sent by U.S. Sen. Al Franken’s daughter, which kept Franken’s tone and again put a face to the issue.
Goff cautioned about delving too deeply into “checking and noticing that you haven’t yet donated,” etc., because it can feel unauthentic. You don’t want to lose credibility with your supporters.
2. Transparency. Provide a glimpse into how the organization is funded, who runs it, where it’s headed, where the money is going, what the strategy is — “almost the way you’d give this information to a member of a board on a nonprofit,” Goff said. Use Twitter and/or e-mail to break news so your supporters feel like valued members. You don’t want them to feel like targets of public relations. A great example of this was U.S. Rep. Jerry McNerney sending out an e-mail sharing that he had just voted and he hopes "you will too."
3. Participation. Lower the barriers to entry, and give people something to do, Goff said. For example, allow them to create events, watch video, tweet something, etc.
“Continue to think creatively about ways to get people involved and participating as the landscape changes,” he said.
Do’s and Don’ts
“How can we take the Barack Obama phenomenon and make that work for most people?” Rosenkranz asked. “It’s not going to work on the same level for most people. You’re not going to have the budget or persona or the name recognition. What can we take from what we learned there?”
She said the most successful strategy is when you’re able to bring in more grassroots supporters. How do you do that online? Here are some do’s and don’ts.
Do: Have good subject lines. Use one-word subject lines, short, mysterious, vague words — negative words sometimes work best, i.e., absurd, outrageous, despicable. “Don’t give away what you’re doing,” Rosenkranz said.
Don’t: Use the following …
- Contribute before midnight tonight
- Critical fundraising deadline
- Double your donation
- Last chance to give
“No one really wants to do anything that’s difficult or hard. Saying donate now or last chance to donate is a bad idea … you just gave away the joke,” Rosenkranz said. “And there’s never a last chance to give money.”
Do: Write from one person to one person. “When it’s asking them to do anything, people will be more likely to do it when it’s personal,” Rosenkranz said.
Don’t: Send from the “Smith Campaign.” “Many times you think it’s important to say ‘American Red Cross’ as the from line, but sometimes it might make sense to actually make it from a person. It’s a lot harder to say no to a person than it is to an entity,” she said.
Do: Put a video on your contribution or donation page, and make it easy for people to share it.
Don’t: Take them to watch a video and come back; don't link to YouTube or anywhere for them to watch the video and then come back and give. They don't come back!
Do: Link only to your contribution page. "When someone clicks on the donate button, they know what they want to do, and they want to do it quickly," Rosenkranz said. "Don't put so much on the links or donation page that they forget why they were there or feel overwhelmed and leave."
Don't: Link to a news story — ever. "Newspapers pay people lots of money to keep people on their sites," Rosenkranz said. "Do not send them there to read a story; they are never coming back to give!"