The Great 2012 Political Fundraising Debate
Four years ago, the presidential election cycle saw an explosion of new channels entering the fray. Then Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama’s campaign found tremendous success engaging voters and donors online, while the traditional workhorses continued to bring in large sums of money for Democrats and Republicans alike.
As the 2012 presidential election cycle heats up, it’s clear that political fundraisers must operate in a multichannel environment. And with projections predicting that Americans will spend and raise more money in 2012 than they have in any other presidential fundraising cycle before, the conversation has shifted.
“Technology has changed our industry so much in the past four years that it’s not really about just Republicans versus Democrats anymore,” says Kim Cubine, president of direct-marketing firm Chapman Cubine Adams + Hussey. “It’s about the channels — how Democrats and Republicans are preparing and planning to do direct marketing for the 2012 presidential election.”
On Nov. 3, Cubine moderated a panel discussion presented by the Direct Marketing Association of Washington titled “The Great Debate: Channel Wars — Red vs. Blue, Old vs. New,” on how the political parties plan to communicate with activists and solicit donors for 2012. Joining Cubine were Adam Conner, associate for privacy and global public policy at Facebook; Kim Postulart, director of marketing at the Democratic National Committee; Jim Rowley, direct of marketing at the Republican National Committee; Michael Sabat, vice president of business development and account management at mobile marketing company Mobile Commons; and Eric Wilson, director of congressional clients and digital advertising at full-service interactive agency Engage.
Here, Cubine shares some of the takeaways offered by the panelists for political fundraisers and other nonprofit organizations alike.
The influx of donors
The reason the 2012 presidential cycle is expected to bring in a record amount of dollars is twofold, Cubine says. For starters, baby boomers are moving into the prime giving age as the elder boomers approach retirement age. Thus, there is an expanded donor base of higher-net-worth givers, not to mention the enormity of attention surrounding presidential candidates that draws in more younger donors than your typical campaign.
“Presidential elections are atypical of general nonprofit and political fundraising because people like to be a part of a movement, and they like to be a part of something where they feel like their activity is going to make a difference,” Cubine says. “There is no other opportunity better than a presidential election year to do that.”
Secondly, people have much more opportunity to give these days because there are multiple channels.
“People aren’t just sitting home waiting for a direct-mail piece. They might get a direct-mail piece, and then they’re going online and might actually give their gift online,” for example, Cubine says.
Cubine says panelists from both the left and the right had two main things in common: A multichannel donor is two to three times more valuable to an organization than just an online donor or just a direct-mail donor, and a direct-mail donor has a higher donor value than an online donor.
Further, both sides agreed that they will raise much more money using direct mail and telemarketing than they will using the Internet in the coming year — but online giving and activism still will play a role.
“As organizations are trying to make decisions about where to place their money in their budget, they need to look at their budget holistically. Online is not off in its own little world. Mobile is not off in its own little world, Facebook either,” Cubine says. “They’re all channels that feed into one another.”
So it’s not wise to ignore any useful channels, however, “don’t take money away from channels that are going to drive the predominate focus of your revenue in the coming year,” Cubine says.
In this case, that means direct mail and telemarketing. Both parties expect the mail and phone to bring in the majority of funds in 2012, especially larger gifts and donations leading up to the election. However, the last 30 days and especially the last two weeks of the election cycle are expected to bring the largest amount of money online.
“The way [Democrats and Republicans] are structuring their fundraising plans, the months leading up to the election, mail and phone is going to drive everything because the Internet and mobile are more reactionary,” Cubine says. “You get the opportunity to tell more of a story when you write a direct-mail letter and when you’re on the phone with someone. Telling the story and making the case for why you need to raise money far out from an election takes more time, requires more information than what you can generally put in an e-mail.
“So the plan is to bank what they can bank leading up to the elections, and then they know that people are probably going to go for the immediacy of online giving in the last two weeks,” she adds.
The panelists agreed that they are making concerted efforts to integrate everything much more tightly this time around. Ways they plan to do that include:
- Making sure there’s an opportunity to access any channel in direct mail — URLs, phone number, etc.
- Making sure that they follow up telemarketing calls with e-mails.
- Putting specific URLs on fulfillment information.
- Turning activists into givers when they can, online and offline.
Cubine adds that a key takeaway gleaned from the panelists is that telemarketing is the most successful medium for taking online activists and recruiting them into donors. So if you can get their phone numbers, give them a call.
Here are a few other keys Cubine shares from the discussion:
- Don’t believe the hype — “Don’t get sucked up into the cool, shiny object and distracted from what’s going to raise you the most money,” she says.
- Know the difference between donors and activists. “When you’re thinking about your market, it’s very important to know who are the people who are giving you money and supporting you financially, and who are the people you need to keep pushing for activism — because donors and activists can be the same, but often activists aren’t going to become donors,” Cubine says. “A donor might be an activist as well, but often for activists, activism is their contribution.”
- Learn from other organizations. “Organizations like the Democratic National Committee, Republican National Committee, Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund, they have big marketing departments, marketing membership professionals, consultants, so they have the capabilities to be testing and thinking and can afford to fail at things to find the next new thing, whereas smaller organization on a tighter shoestring maybe can’t,” she says. “It’s really beneficial to hear what other people are doing to benefit from the progress they’re making in the marketplace because [smaller organizations] may not have the staff or funding to do that type of aggressive testing.”