A Winning Email Strategy From The White House


And they say money can’t buy happiness….

Barrack Obama looks happy, doesn’t he?

So might you if you’d risen close to $690 million via email fundraising!

OK, so Obama did have a few resources and trump cards on his side – a mailing list of tens of millions, a team of 20 solely working on email and digital strategists and directors galore, but are there any lessons that the average fundraising Joe (or anyone driving actions from email) can take away from Obama’s successes? Absolutely!

Join Me For Dinner….

‘Join me for dinner?’ sounds more like the sort of email you’d get from your best friend or your mum rather than the president of the United States doesn’t it?

But that’s exactly the invitation that the Obama campaign team sent out to his supporters. Of course, Obama wasn’t literally planning on wining and dining each and every one of the email’s recipients. Instead he was offering an evening spent with him as a prize in a draw that all of his donors would be entered into.

The email said:

‘If you make a donation today, you’ll be automatically entered for a chance to be one of the four supporters to sit down with me for dinner. Please donate $5 or more today’.

Temp‘We’ll pay for your flight and the dinner — all you need to bring is your story and your ideas about how we can continue to make this a better country for all Americans’.

This informal approach that has been labelled ‘strange, incessant, and weirdly overfamiliar’ by Business Week clearly worked exceedingly well for the president. In fact, most of the $690 million Obama raised online came from fundraising e-mails like this one.

Toby Fallsgraff, the campaign’s e-mail director said that the campaign team adopted this over familiar approach following rigorous split testing that revealed that ‘the subject lines that worked best were things you might see in your inbox from other people’.

Obama’s Digital Director Teddy Goff told Hubspot that they ‘consistently found that people wanted to get a sense from the campaign that we knew who they were and what they’d done for us in the past. Something as simple as dropping in a line like, ‘You’ve volunteered before; thank you. Now take the next step and become a donor,’ into a fundraising email to non-donor volunteers had a huge impact on results.’

Another one of Obama’s quirky subject lines read “It’s officially over” and another “It doesn’t have to be this way”. He also enjoyed fundraising successes by simply using the words “Wow” and “Hey.”

The campaign emails often inspired readers to turn to Twitter, spreading the message even further…

Now, while unfortunately we can’t promise you’ll be able to replicate Obama’s successes, we can share with you some of the tactics they employed along the way. Hopefully one of these might just work for you:

Stay Fresh

M & R research labs, a publication that provides analysis on online advocacy and fundraising reported that Obama’s ‘team continually tried and retried new tactics, and found new approaches that worked one week stopped working the next’. It was this that convinced them to continually re-test what they had previously found to be true.

Never Assume

According to M & R, Obama’s digital team could never consistently successfully guess which version of an email would be crowned the ‘winner’ following their test sends.

Remember that sometimes, no matter how cool, funny, inspiring or engaging you think something you’ve written or created is, your recipients might not feel the same. It is for this reason that testing is essential!

Consider Casual

On the Future Fundraising blog, Jeff Brooks writes that he was not surprised that the casual, personal-sounding subject lines did best in the Obama campaign. He says that from his own experience as a creative director specialising in the non-profit community he learned that ‘if your subject line has that phony marketing voice, the email won’t do well. Make it sound like a real person’.

Size Matters

As email expert Dela Quist discusses in detail on this blog list size and mailing frequency were major influencing factors. If you have the capacity to send more emails, you will almost certainly increase your ROI every time. It’s a tried and tested approach that we’ll be discussing further here, but do visit Dela’s blog for more in the meantime. He has some great thoughts on this area – as does Tim Watson, who has detailed the testing strategy in an interview with Toby Fallsgraff and his team, who were responsible for the campaigns, on his blog

What did you think of Obama’s campaign? I’d love to read your thoughts, tips and questions on this post. Please don’t hesitate to speak your mind below, or tweet @dotMailer – we always respond.


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