Congratulations to Andrew Yang! As of Monday, his campaign had raked in over $1 million in donations and at least 450,000 new email subscribers since he announced his Universal Basic Income giveaway (ten lucky winners will take home $1000 per month for a year). The contest gave him a good hook for attention at least week’s Democratic presidential debate, and while some campaign-finance experts may question the legality of a campaign giving money to the public, he can at least put the fresh donations in the bank. The new supporters? I’m not so sure.
Yang faces the same problem I identified with Tom Steyer’s Need to Impeach list in June:
The people on its list didn’t sign up to support STEYER, they signed up to impeach Donald Trump. Why would they give a flip about the 25th-odd Democratic candidate just because someone’s been emailing them in his name? By that logic, they’re likely to vote for that Nigerian prince constantly whispering about pots of money in their inboxes.
Back in 2003, I worked with a nonprofit group that mobilized American hunters and fishermen to speak up for public lands and wildlife conservation. A couple of years before, they’d built a large email list for the time, at least 100,000 members and possibly many more (memory fails). They’d recruited these new advocates at gun shows and fishing shows, offering people an opportunity to win a free elk hunt if they signed up. They did in droves — and then never took an advocacy action on behalf of the organization.
Like many of Yang’s contest entrants, they’d signed up to GET something, not to give something. This organization’s list opened advocacy emails at a trivially low rate and took action even less, because they hadn’t been motivated to act on behalf of public lands in the first place. With a robust email welcome series and a well thought-out persuasion campaign, the organization might have moved a significant number of them up the ladder of engagement. But by the time I worked with them, that opportunity had long passed.
Of course, Yang did raise a big chunk of change after the debate, but I’d be quite curious to see how many of those DONORS were new — I suspect that many of the people already fired up about Yang’s campaign simply gave again. Perhaps after the campaign is over, the Yang gang will let us know how the content-entrants performed as supporters. Did they give money? Did they attend events? Did they volunteer for the campaign? It’s quite possible that many did. But it’s also possible that when you build a list full of people who wanted to get something, they don’t turn around and give you what YOU want.