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Fake deadlines. Apocalyptic predictions. Dubious matching offers.
For years, practitioners have been raising concerns that these siren tactics will rub donors thin. Now, those worries are being amplified because email as a channel is under threat. In this environment, some digital consultants fret that the bad practices engrained by years of pushing donors to meet quarterly fundraising deadlines will hasten the decline of email’s effectiveness.
That’s because a donor who gets fooled one too many times is likely to stop opening email pitches altogether. For instance, the sounding of fake alarm bells, or using terms like “final notice,” can make an email pitch look like a notice from a debt collector, noted Revolution Messaging’s Robin Curran.
“What if you have student loans or you’re overdue on your credit cards, and then after a few minutes of panic, you realize it’s from the DCCC,” Curran said recently at C&E’s CampaignTech East conference in D.C. “You do not need to resort to shaming or manipulating your supporters.”
Hadley Chase, an email fundraising strategist with Rising Tide Interactive, noted that often it’s not candidate campaigns using the alarmist tactics.
“We have our candidates approve everything that we write under their names. If you have a candidate and you want to have them sign off on an email that’s like, ‘final deadline,’” they likely won’t do it, she said. “It’s not all about fundraising, it’s about winning elections. You better not burn the list down in the first six months.”
Even if the bad practices are confined to the parties’ campaign committees, Ian Patrick Hines worries they’ll have a spillover effect to a candidate’s supporters. “The short term gain is there — it worked this quarter — but it worked for only two months. And now that person doesn’t want to open anyone’s email,” Hines said.
He pointed to a deceptive practice that some candidate campaigns employ: telling supporters that there is a period when their donation will be “quadruple matched” by a supportive rainmaker.
“It’s just not true,” he said. “Don’t lie. Lying to your donors and supporters is a problem to me. These are people reading emails, and you want these people to vote for you. Don’t start off by lying to them.”
Hines speculated that this problem may be alleviated without any self-correction by practitioners. “There’s a market solution to this problem,” he said. “Deliverability.”
“If email subscribers react poorly to that content, it will drive deliverability to the forefront.”
Often what drives poor email practices is pressure to fundraise and deliver quarterly results. At times, that drives campaigns to rent non-complimentary lists and hit them hard for donations.
That pressure can be alleviated by a candidate starting early to build a campaign email list, according to Jennifer Harrington, director of operations for Conservative Connector, an email list rental company.
“If you don’t want to aggressively build a list, you can’t sit still for six years as an incumbent senator,” she said. “Start earlier.”