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One of the biggest challenges in running a Congressional race is keeping up the required fundraising pace. Email fundraising can help take some of the pressure off the candidate, but how to grow your list?

After starting with friends and family, it basically comes down to append vs. acquire. Here’s why I think a good email append strategy comes out slightly ahead here.

Append

Voter files often have some email coverage in place – the California file includes email addresses, and software like the VAN and PDI have email coverage but may charge fees to use those addresses (you’ll need a campaign-friendly bulk email system no matter what you do here – MailChimp will not allow the kind of voter prospecting I’m outlining).

For purposes of this exercise, let’s say you have about 300,000 voters on your Congressional voter file. An email append from a professional vendor like Accurate Append (client) will give you back deliverable email addresses for about one in three people on file. These emails come from consumer opt-ins throughout the web – however, they haven’t signed up for your list.

This list of 100,000 emailable people will cost you about $6,000, and may include data sweeteners like additional phone numbers for your voter file, and address standardization and correction using the Postal Service’s National Change of Address database.

What do you need to do to get these folks onboard?

First, I email a survey about issues in the district – one a landing page with little to no candidate/campaign branding, if possible. Typically this gives me an open rate of about 22% and perhaps a few hundred people take the survey. I included a prominent “leave this list” note with an unsubscribe link, also letting the prospect know I am reaching out because they are a voter in the district. Perhaps 2,000 of the original 100,000 unsubscribe.

Initially, I will be able to email about 20,000 of these folks, maybe more if I try additional survey tactics – however, I keep a very light touch to keep spam complaints low. I’ll begin to ease these 20,000 openers who didn’t unsubscribe onto my list. And for fundraising, I’ll bring in about $300 per email ($15 per thousand emails). I’ll estimate a that about half the list unsubscribes over the first couple months – but by that time, I should have brought in about $6,000 with 20 emails, paying for the cost of the list. Now I have an asset of about 10,00 voters who will still give about $150 per email, or $1,500 per month. Start early and this is a solid way to grow your list – especially if you’re reaching these local emailable voters with volunteer appeals and generally recruiting their support.

Acquire

An email acquisition strategy generally means partnering with a company that does this full time, or else investing a lot of ingenuity into a petition strategy. I co-founded Really American to help with large-scale signature opt-in acquisition efforts, and will say that getting district-specific emails is difficult and expensive.

But for this exercise, let’s say you can get 6,000 opt-in emails for your district for $6,000. ($1 each is a low estimate here.) These folks opt-in through a petition with your logo on it – but that doesn’t automatically make them happy subscribers! You’ll need to warm them up using Action Network Ladders or some other form of welcome series.

As you begin emailing these folks, you may raise twice as much per thousand vs. the appends, $30. That’s $180 per email, and if you send 10 a month, it’ll take just over three months to recoup your cash investment. You’ll also lose subscribers, ending up with perhaps 4,000 at the end of the first quarter of emails. That’ll be ongoing revenue of about $1,200 a month.

Append or acquire, there’s no easy money – but nurturing an email program can certainly pay for itself while achieving many of your outreach goals. Please read my article in Campaigns & Elections on content that nurtures a list to find more ideas.

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