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It’s Never Too Early: Building Your Political Email Donor Base

Ready or not, the 2012 election cycle is upon us.  And it’s not just presidential jabs from Sarah Palin … in the House and Senate game plans are well underway.  Though it may still seem early to some, there is no better time than now for political campaigns to start building, or rebuilding, their email lists for when things really get hot in 2012.
Though direct mail may still be the 800-pound gorilla for political direct response fundraising, with 80% of Americans online and 500 million Facebook users worldwide the Internet is an undeniably powerful force. Email marketing is the Internet channel of choice for political fundraising—low cost, high ROI, and the most effective, targeted way to deliver, test, and sharpen a campaign’s messaging

As you know, donor acquisition/cultivation via online marketing channels is a two-step process: 1) capture the email address, and 2) through a series of timely and relevant communications, convert email constituents to online donors.  

But still … why now?  Quite simply, constituent email addresses collected earlier can prove far more valuable than those collected later in the cycle … and not just because there’s more time for additional solicitations.

The value of attracting influential, loyal constituents sooner, rather than later, transcends industries—whether it is political fundraising, nonprofit institutional development, or more commercial direct marketing ventures. Parallels can be found in the world of retail e-commerce, where customers who purchase in the first 10 months of the year prove to be more valuable than customers acquired in the peak, impulse-driven holiday shopping season.  Value in this case is determined by future purchase rates.  Though a Chief Marketing Officer would never turn away a holiday shopper, those who shop earlier in the year are more coveted, as they are known to stick around (and keep buying!) after the New Year.

Loyalty—whether to a political party, a charismatic incumbent, or even to a favorite retailer—is an extremely potent emotional and financial dynamic.  Let’s think of early-cycle email constituents as supremely brand loyal. They are the hand-raisers who have taken the time to join a political campaign’s email list prior to the 24/7 media hype.  They are passionate, engaged in the issues, and influential—exactly the people who need to be cultivated early on.  But before they can be cultivated, you have to capture their contact information.   

A Chief of Staff may think, “Now, how can I focus on that?  My finance director has yet to be hired and we have not formally announced yet.” But capturing email addresses early does NOT mean prematurely chasing after revenue or aggressively spending on ambitious online media plans that are best saved for late 2011 and 2012. It simply means that the net should be cast with some low-cost, easy-to-implement tactics to optimize important collection touch points.  For example:

  • Though building a new, multi-page, multi-issue website may be too ambitious in the short-term, launching a low-cost, utilitarian landing page now will assure you have a vehicle in place to at least capture email addresses with functionality to “forward to friends.”
  • Incumbents with existing sites should conduct a quick functionality tune-up.  For example, an existing Senatorial website may not have been meaningfully updated since their “thank you” message from 2006. 
  • Clearly communicate a meaningful “value exchange” to explain why collecting email addresses is important.
  • Optimize for natural search rankings so the website can be found “above the fold” on major search engines (known as “search engine optimation,” or SEO).
  • Allocate a small budget for “pay-per-click” advertising via Google (“search engine marketing,” or SEM) or Facebook to ensure messages are served to the most highly qualified, geo-targeted audiences, giving the best possible chance for email collection.
  • Collect email addresses from social media fans with some very basic conversion tactics.

Bottom line: it’s never too early to start collecting email addresses and building a messaging calendar to begin converting and growing online contributions.

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