Lots of political campaigns know the power of online fundraising. That’s why so many campaigns spend so much time focused on driving people to their websites – to get them to click on that big green (or red… or orange…) “Donate Now” button.

But, did you know that the real “killer app” for online political fundraising isn’t your campaign’s website? It’s e-mail! That’s right… most political campaigns that raise a significant amount of money online do so through strong e-mail fundraising appeals.

Why Does E-Mail Work So Well for Fundraising?

E-mail works so well for online fundraising because it is the only truly “active” medium for your campaign to use online.

Your website is passive. No matter how many times a day your campaign updates your website, it is still just sitting there, waiting for people to come visit. And, when people do come visit, you have no idea who they are or that they were there… unless they happen to click that “donate now” button (which very few will) or sign-up to receive updates or to volunteer for your campaign.

Social media is fairly passive as well. Sure, you can post lots of updates to your social networks each day, but chances are your followers won’t see most of them.   Think about it – if someone follows 1,000 people on Twitter, and those 1,000 people post an average of two tweets per day… how many of those 2,000 tweets do you think the person will actually read? 10? 100? 1,000?

The same holds true for Facebook… In fact, unless you pay for advertising, Facebook is now showing your campaign’s updates to less than 10% of your followers… and if one of your followers happens to be on the site when you post an update and happens to be part of that 10%, there’s still a decent chance that they will not read your update.

Your website and social media are very passive mediums.

E-mail, on the other hand, is a very active medium for your campaign fundraising. Nearly everyone checks their primary e-mail address at least once per day. Most people are constantly checking their e-mail, and with smartphones, tablets, and smartwatches, chances are that more and more people will be constantly connected to their e-mail, receiving your messages as soon as you send them out.

E-mail is the most powerful medium for your campaign’s fundraising communications because it allows you to actively go out and talk to people, and (if you have a good e-mail address for a person) almost guarantees that they will at least see the subject line, and then actively decide whether or not to open your e-mail.

The Primary Fundraising Focus of Your Campaign Website

Because e-mail is so powerful for your online campaign fundraising efforts, it’s important to understand that the primary focus for your campaign website, in terms of fundraising, is to collect e-mail addresses… not to get people to hit the “donate now” button.

Sure, hitting the donate button is nice, but 99% of people who visit your site won’t do that…. And if they don’t donate, and then they leave your site, they’re gone, and you have no way to reach out to them.

On the other hand, if someone visits your website and gives you their e-mail address, along with permission to contact them, you can communicate with them and cultivate them and then ask for a donation for your campaign. And here’s the good news… far more people will be willing to give you an e-mail address the first time they visit your campaign site than to click the “donate now” button.

So… how do you collect e-mail addresses on your campaign site? It’s simple – put up a nice big bright box inviting people to enter their e-mail address to sign-up for your campaign newsletter. (For an example, check out the newsletter subscription boxes here on Local Victory – they’re at the top right of every page). You can even offer them something special, like a bumper sticker, and invitation to a free event / rally, or a special welcome e-mail from the candidate, in return for signing up.

Cultivate and Communicate First, then Ask!

Once someone has signed-up for your campaign’s e-newsletter by giving you their e-mail address, don’t skip right to asking for money! Instead, cultivate your prospect by communicating with him or her.

Use an autoresponder e-mail service like AWeber, Constant Contact or Mail Chimp to send the person a note thanking them for signing up. Then, send out regular campaign update e-mails and newsletters once or twice per month (or once per week if the campaign is really interesting). After communicating with the prospective donor for a month or two, you should be ready to send out an e-mail asking for a donation.

Writing Strong Political Fundraising E-Mails

A fundraising e-mail is similar to a snail mail (direct mail) fundraising letter. The goal of a fundraising e-mail is to ask the person to make a donation by clicking on a “Donate Now” link in the e-mail. Here are some tips for writing strong fundraising e-mails for your campaign…

#1 – Keep it Short

While very long direct mail (snail mail) political fundraising letters often work, the opposite is true for fundraising e-mails: the shorter and more concise your e-mail, the better. People don’t like to read long e-mails,
and will often just skim e-mails to decide whether to read it all.

People don’t like to read long e-mails. Keep it short.

In order to be successful with your fundraising e-mails, your campaign needs to deliver its message and make its ask in as short an e-mail as reasonably possible.

Generally, this means sending fundraising e-mail that are no longer than 300-400 words. Some campaigns can write clear and compelling e-mail solicitations in as few as 200-250 words.

Remember, keep it short, but make sure it is compelling and clear. Great fundraising e-mails are an art form!

#2 – Create Curiosity with your Subject Line

The first thing people see when they open up their e-mail programs or apps is a list of subject lines. Your recipients will use these subject lines to decide whether or not to open and read your e-mail… and to determine which e-mails get read first, and which get pushed off into “I’ll read this later if I have the time…”

The best way to get people to open and read your e-mails is by writing great subject lines that create curiosity and make people want to open them. Subject lines like these:

  • Will You Be My Guest for Dinner?
  • The Mayor Tried to Call…
  • Three Weeks from Today is the Biggest Party You’ve Ever Been To!
  • I Just Met the President!
  • I Need Your Help Today at 3 PM

Don’t those subject lines make you want to keep reading, just to find out more?

#3 – Make a Strong Ask

Remember that people don’t give unless they are asked. This is true for e-mail fundraising as it is for in-person fundraising. If you want people to donate in response to your e-mail, you need to make an ask.

In order to be effective, your ask can’t be wishy-washy. It has to be a real question, and use actual numbers. Saying something like, “Please consider donating as much as you can to our campaign!” won’t work. Instead say, “Will you donate $50, $100 or more today to help us win this election?”

Reminder: Don’t Spam!

Finally, to only send e-mail newsletters and fundraising appeals to people who give you their e-mail address with permission to use it. People hate spam, and they are keenly aware of the online etiquette that dictates not sending e-mails to people who haven’t requested them. Thus, if you spam people, they will often think of your campaign and candidate as doing something not only annoying but unethical as well.

Set up a program to collect lots of e-mail addresses for your e-newsletter and fundraising e-mails. Put a sign-up box on every page of your website. Ask for e-mail addresses on your donation reply cards. Have e-newsletter sign-up forms at every event. But be sure not to use rented, purchased, or found lists for your campaign e-mails.

Photo Credit: Shawn Campbell