There’s a quick, interesting look behind the curtain at the Obama Campaign emails at Bloomberg Businessweek: The Science Behind Those Obama Campaign E-Mails.
With a mailing universe of tens of millions, a mailing schedule that ran to several emails per day toward the end of the campaign, and a narrow, urgent window of opportunity for fundraising, they had an unparalleled learning laboratory, and they used it very well. Most of the 0 million the Obama campaign raised online came from those e-mails.
Two powerful learnings cited in the article:
- Casual, personal-sounding subject lines did best. One of their strongest: Hey.
- Ugly worked. “Every time something really ugly won, it would shock me: giant-size fonts for links, plain-text links vs. pretty ‘Donate’ buttons. Eventually we got to thinking, ‘How could we make things even less attractive?’ That’s how we arrived at the ugly yellow highlighting on the sections we wanted to draw people’s eye to.”
That these things worked in political fundraising doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll work for you. But those two points have played out in my experience:
- If your subject line has that phony marketing voice, the email won’t do well. Make it sound like a real person.
- You simply can’t be too ugly. In email or any other medium.
Here’s a real-life cautionary tale from the Passionate Giving blog: How To Love “The Same Old Thing” in Major Gifts.
I hope you’ll go read the post for the details, but here’s the outline: Richard made a big mistake. He hired some super-cool consultants to do a fundraising project. The super-cool consultants didn’t know anything about fundraising, but they were confident, and they promised the moon and stars. More important, they promised that this project would not be the same old same-old. Unlike all the other fundraising projects, this one would be cool and exciting. Breakthrough. Different.
Of course, as always happens in cases like this, it didn’t work. The super-cool consultants didn’t know what they were doing, and their ignorance proved disastrous. They ducked out, leaving Richard and his organization holding the bag.
Richard thought a lot about this painful incident, and eventually came to some insight about it:
I later discovered … that my core motivation in making the decision was to lift myself up vs. actually getting anything accomplished. I used the organization’s money and goodwill to shore up a very damaged self-image. And in the process I caused harm to the organization and myself.
How often do we make decisions like that? To use our budgets and missions to make ourselves look and feel good?
Failure often comes from our need for glory that we perceive will come when we do something different and exciting.
The glory that matters — doing your job right — isn’t so exciting. As Richard put it:
There is no silver bullet. None. Nowhere. Stop looking for one. There is no grand strategy, innovative scheme, wonderful approach or something yet undiscovered that will make you successful. You will NOT discover it because it isn’t there.
Success in fundraising comes from diligently pursuing the stuff that works. Watching the numbers. Not making errors. Caring about donors.
When you do that, not only do you raise more money and waste less time, but exciting innovations actually do happen. They aren’t pulse-pounding flashes of excitement like you want, but you realize one day that what you’re doing now is light-years beyond what you were doing a few years ago.
And you’ve been raising more money all along the way. I’d rather tell me grandkids about that than that I made lots of ego-driven mistakes that hurt my cause. Wouldn’t you?
It might seem self-serving when a consultant gives advice on how to work with consultants, but getting this right can lead to a much more financially healthy organization.
The Fundraising Authority has some suggestions, at 3 Tips for Successfully Working with Fundraising Consultants:
- Figure out What You Want
- Be Open and Honest with Your Consultant
- Find a Great Consultant – and Then Trust Him or Her
I’ll add one more:
Expect more, and you’ll get more. Make your consultant a partner. Make sure they own your success or failure as much as you do. You want them thinking ahead of the current assignment. You want them dreaming of new ideas. You want them looking for strengths to leverage and weaknesses to shore up. If your consultant is only a one-trick vendor, they can’t do that.
Every consultant in our business can tell horror stories of clients that carefully and deliberately drove their fundraising train right off a cliff because they weren’t interested in what the consultant had to say.
If you have consultants that don’t want to or aren’t able to own your success, get rid of them!