Email Fundraising and the Fine Art of Shaming
There are a lot of factors that go into why Democrats seem to be better at email fundraising than Republicans.
Personalities matter – it’s easier to fundraise for a rockstar (Obama) than a perceived run of the mill candidate (Romney).
Audience matters – Republicans just think and give differently than Democrats.
Issues matter – emotionally driven politics that appeal to a lowest common denominator see better success than something you have to think about to really grasp and care about (also why Democrats have cooler bumperstickers).
But the biggest issue is really the same battle that Republicans and Democrats have been fighting in inboxes, on the airwaves, in mailboxes, door to door, and face to face:
There is a right way and a wrong way to deliver any message. “It’s a boy!” is infinitely more positive than “It’s not a girl!” “My mom works as a mortician” is infinitely more positive than “My mom’s in a morgue.”
“Join us” is infinitely more positive than “Don’t abandon us.”
Today we got a great example of this. The RNC sent out an email to a huge list that split tested between a couple headlines:
Jason, did you abandon the RNC?
Have you given up on Republicans?
Out the gate this email creates a visceral reaction that, sure, will get a few people to open it, but already turns off a vast majority of the audience it’s seeking to appeal to.
The other problem is it uses language that’s already something the Republican brand is suffering from. Far too often you hear from Tea Party-ists, libertarians, social conservatives, moderates, and others that “I did’t abandon the Republican Party, the Republican Party abandoned me.” This is language everyone involved in messaging in the Republican Party is familiar with – and to ignore it is a huge mistake. This email invites a negative response before it’s even opened.
The guts don’t get much better. Let’s take it in parts:
Did you abandon the Republican Party?
No matter what the subject line was, they still hit you with the “abandon” rhetoric. You start on a negative, pushing away the reader and asking them “why aren’t you my friend anymore?” Just as it’s inappropriate for you to nag someone for refusing to respond to your texts after a second date, you really shouldn’t do the same when asking for money.
Chairman Priebus has written to you already this year asking you to contribute to the RNC and renew your membership. But we haven’t received your financial support yet this year.
“You’re ignoring us. I mean, the CHAIRMAN wrote you and you still didn’t give.”
The RNC is implying that you got their email, read their email, then tossed it in the trash. Not that you maybe missed it. Or that it went into your spam folder. Or that your kid accidentally deleted it when playing with your iPhone. They’re jilted.
Your past support has shown us that you believe in the Republican Party and the conservative principles we stand for. That’s why we still believe you haven’t given up on the Republican Party yet.
Here’s a big issue with the email: the RNC is implying that if you haven’t given them a dime, then clearly you don’t believe in the Republican Party and conservative principles. Sure, you may volunteer locally, be a dues paying member of your local unit, bleed for a Senate campaign or have maxed out on every Congressional race in your state. But that’s a springtime Republican. You need to be an all-of-the-time Republican by giving RIGHT NOW.
So we are giving you one more chance to renew your membership with the Republican National Committee.
One more chance. And if you miss this chance, don’t worry. They’re going to send you an email time and time again asking for more money because, c’mon, they need your money.
Right now you are handing the advantage over to Democrats. That’s exactly what President Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid want you to do. With committed Republicans like you sitting out in 2014, the Democrats are able to continue their liberal rampage on conservative principles.
Again, the RNC are the gatekeepers of all things Republican. You’re lame if you don’t give them your hard-earned money.
Also, it’s an odd appeal to people who believe in individual responsibility. They’re saying it’s your individual responsibility to give, but using a negative means of doing so. If YOU don’t take responsibility, it’s YOUR fault, YOU lost this, YOU suck.
Personally, I always buy my hot dogs from the vendor who insults me the most.
2014 is our last chance to step in, step up, and take back the Senate to regain Republican control in Washington. Don’t turn your back on the Republican Party now.
Two issues: 2014 is not the last election ever. And Republicans still won’t have the White House, so total control is still out of reach.
Renew your membership with the Republican National Committee now and support our fight to defeat liberal Democrats.
Membership. What does membership get you? A cool hat? A new
rag to wash your car with t-shirt? A lapel pin?
No. You get to call yourself a Republican. Isn’t that awesome?
Honestly, when I first saw the “from” field, I wondered why the San Antonio Spurs point guard was insulting my degree of Republican-ness.
Now, the RNC has gotten heat on this and responded by saying, “hey, Democrats do this all the time!”
“We are always searching for the most effective digital techniques to engage our grassroots and ensure we have the funds necessary to win the midterm elections,” said RNC spokesperson Kirsten Kukowski. “The Democrats have used this tactic regularly – the DCCC did a 48 hour thing like this a couple weeks ago.”
Sure, the DCCC and others have done something “like this” frequently. Shaming people into contributing works – you want to make them feel like they’re missing the boat and don’t want to be the odd man out when all the cool kids contribute.
But it’s HOW they said it that matters. For example:
Subject: FINAL NOTICE
We don’t mean to nag, but President Obama, Vice President Biden and Nancy Pelosi have all asked for your help and we are still lagging dangerously behind.
This is the final notice of your member status before the fundraising deadline.
Name: Jason “The Awesome” Kenney
Supporter record: 8675309
Suggested Support: $5.00
We need a HUGE day today to respond to the unprecedented attacks we’re facing from the Kochs. And since we can only count donations that come in before midnight towards the goal, now is the time to act. Jason, this could make or break us right here.
We need 12,371 more donations by tonight’s midnight fundraising deadline to close the gap. Will you chip in whatever you can now?
MIDNIGHT DEADLINE: All Gifts Triple-Matched!
If you’ve saved your payment information with ActBlue Express, your donation will go through immediately:
EXPRESS DONATE: $5 >>
EXPRESS DONATE: $35 >>
EXPRESS DONATE: $50 >>
EXPRESS DONATE: $100 >>
EXPRESS DONATE: $250 >>
Or click here to donate another amount.
First, it’s short and sweet.
Second, it really talks up the membership aspect, complete with a fake number and a specific ask in order to be a member.
Third, it doesn’t way “THE WORLD WILL END” if you don’t give nor do they question your commitment to the cause. They simply say that it’ll be harder to win. And you want to win, right?
Fourth, they give you a goal you feel that can be achieved. It’s a numbers game. People like numbers and they like games. You can be part of the exclusive national audience of 12,371 who help get them over their goal by midnight tonight.
And this is where we see why Democrats are better than Republicans at email fundraising: The RNC email is a caricature of the DCCC email. Someone at the RNC read the DCCC email and walked away with the impression that it was berating, threatening, and demeaning, so they wrote exactly that and sent it out because, hey, it worked for them!
But what worked for the Democrats wasn’t done over night. It was built, it was tested, it was monitored, it was tweaked, it was softened, it failed, it succeeded, and it worked. Democrats have figured out the art of shaming with a gentle touch while the RNC is trying to do it with a club.
The broad brush concepts behind what the Democrats do well are straight forward:
1) Keep it brief – Short and sweet, get to the point.
2) Make people feel like part of something – We need you to join a number of people just like you!
3) Keep it cheap – Easier to get someone to part with their daily Starbucks than a credit card payment.
Consider the following:
I know you’ve been getting a lot of these but I wanted to make sure you knew that now’s your last chance to help us before tonight’s deadline. We’re so close to our goal but we could still use your help.
We need 1,253 more donors to meet our goal by midnight tonight. Won’t you help tonight?
Some links to click to specific amounts because people like that stuff.
This stuff works. It’s how Democrats do it. It’s how E.W. Jackson was able to show more individual contributions than any other non-incumbent Lieutenant Governor candidate in Virginia’s history (end self horn tooting).
It’s just a start. I could write a book about list segmentation, data mining, targeting messaging based on interests, past open rates, donor history, etc (If the RNC sent this to existing donors, heaven help them…)
But if we can’t get the messaging right, the data’s going to be worthless.
Thankfully, these kind of emails out of the RNC and other Republicans are rare. The core Republican message can resonate and is something that can be packaged to new voters. But we don’t need to berate the choir to get them to sing in key.