Like Obama in ’08, Kamala Harris is Fundraising for the Long Term

Kamala Harris grassroots

The digital side of Senator Kamala Harris’s campaign launch got good reviews this week, as Sam Stein and
Gideon Resnick note at The Daily Beast:

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) announced on Tuesday that her presidential campaign exploratory committee brought in $1.5 million in the first 24 hours of its existence….

But what really grabbed the attention of digital operatives was the work done below the surface.

Harris’ Facebook operation ran a whopping 25,000 Facebook ad variations for its launch, which one operative called remarkable but “overkill.” Through it, they raised money from 38,000 donors (with an average contribution of $37) and expanded her email list by 20 percent.

As we discussed a few weeks ago in C&E, Harris has been list-building since at least the beginning of 2018, so this 20% increase builds on a already-large email community. While her campaign raised a ton of money around the announcement, her staff (like Obama’s in 2008) is emphasizing long-term connection over short-term cash:

The senator has used an email fundraising style that accentuates the personal aspects of running as opposed to dire warnings in subject lines. The former can help build a loyal and devoted list of small-dollar donors while the latter may raise quick cash but can compel individuals on the list to disengage.

Early in 2007, Obama’s digital operation faced pressure to raise as much grassroots money as possible, in part to help establish the campaign’s credibility with reporters and big donors. Digital chief Joe Rospars and his team pushed back on the requests, refusing to treat their email list as a short-term cash machine. The result? A legion of supporters who stuck with the candidate through hard times, gave money repeatedly AND showed up for volunteer shifts.

This strategy goes against the grain of much recent Democratic digital fundraising, which has been criticized for churn-and-burn tactics that prize short-term gain over long-term donor happiness. One factor? Much of that quick-burn fundraising has been on behalf of congressional candidates who weren’t staring down the barrel of a twenty-month campaign. Because they faced short-term cash needs, they didn’t worry as much about turning off donors over time — whatever the damage to the broader Democratic and progressive movement (if any) in the process.

Wisely, Harris is playing a longer game, and I suspect that money of the other Democratic presidential campaigns will follow suit (note that Elizabeth Warren actually hired Joe Rospars a few weeks ago). Millions of Democrats and progressives have given political money since Trump was elected, and millions more have yet to open their wallets but may. The job for Harris and her colleagues is persuade them to give enough to make the nut without sending them screaming for the unsubscribe button. In a primary election cycle dominated by a battle for the passions of fired-up grassroots Democrats, smart campaigns will treat each supporter as the precious resource he or she is.


Photo via the Harris campaign’s Flickr page

Written by
Colin Delany
View all articles
Leave a reply