All the Inboxes Groaning: Democratic Email Fundraising Goes Wild

Democratic organization logos

“Mommy, where were you during the Great Email Deluge of 2014?”

Democratic email fundraising may not quite have reached the level of a Global Catastrophe yesterday, but it sure as hell got talked about: I heard an earful at a NARAL fundraiser last night, and various back-channel email lists and Facebook groups buzzed with people sick and tired of repetitive fundraising messages sent by campaigns, PACs and the party committees. The volume was noteworthy, for sure — I personally received a few dozen fundraising messages yesterday, most from national groups rather than individual campaigns.

But is this a bug or a feature? If nothing else, the end-of-September email deluge clearly demonstrates the POWER of email fundraising: if those messages DIDN’T raise money, organizations wouldn’t devote the staff time to writing them, testing them and parsing the results. And when I talk with professional political fundraisers at groups like the Democratic National Committee or the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, they say that they CAN’T send too many emails — any message they DON’T send leaves money on the floor. Plus, don’t forget that September 30th was both the end of a contribution reporting period AND just five weeks away from Election Day. In a year with a bad map and low presidential approval, Democratic campaigns desperately need the money, and as we’ve seen, they’re spending it on the kinds of activities that might make a difference in close races.

Of course, we have to assume some level of diminishing marginal returns when this kind of insane volume is concerned, but I’ve also been told by fundraisers that if individual messages perform less well on a high-traffic day, they’ll just send more of them. The extra messages make up for the drop-off! They find that the amount of money Democrats will donate isn’t fixed; if you send more messages, you’ll convince more people to give more money.

I’d be very curious to see the unsubscribe rates groups saw yesterday, though list-shrinkage is less of an issue this close to November 4th, since the committees will have plenty of time to build their databases by 2016. Nonprofits and other advocacy groups have to be more careful about burning out their supporters: we tend to be in it for the long term, and a lost supporter is likely gone forever. The risk/reward ratio is different for political fundraisers, since they have the urgency of a short deadline in front of them.

BTW, a big chunk of the last-minute appeals were heavy with images, much like the “Eric Cantor’s Eyes” message we looked at back in June, probably to catch people away from their desks and on their cell phones. If you’re curious, The Hill gathered up some of their favorites for the rest of us to enjoy. Just five weeks to go!

Update: Fundraising emails as poetry? In Greg Greene’s hands, yes: don’t miss this.

Update II: WaPo takes a peak at the DCCC’s email fundraising methods, while Politico includes the Republican side, too.

Written by
Colin Delany
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