The subject line from the email I received from Kevin Gentry this morning – all in lower case letters – read, “quick fundraising question for you.”
I definitely have an interest in fundraising, so the subject topic definitely caught my attention. And the fact that the subject line was all in lower-case letters “fooled” me into believing it was a personal email this time rather than his weekly e-newsletter. So I opened it immediately.
The power of a powerful subject line.
Now, I understand it might irk some of you to be getting so many Campaign Hot Tips focusing on so many things the Obama’s camp did to kick our kiesters last year – but if you want to win, learn from the best in the biz.
As such, below is Kevin’s email on what Obama’s folks did so expertly with their own email program – a program that raised almost $700 million ONLINE! You’ll do well to read it and take the lessons to heart.
Happy New Year!
Until next time. Onward and rightward…
Dr. Chuck Muth, PsD
Professor of Psephology (homeschooled)
P.S. I’m going to write more about this subject in greater detail down the road, but in the meantime:
If you’d like to learn how to meet just about anyone – big-time politicians, major donors, entertainment figures, etc. – and get them to help your campaign or organization…perhaps keynoting a fundraising event for you or signing a fundraising letter…watch this 24-minute video featuring marketing guru Joe Polish.
Two things: First, his strategies work, especially the “tennis shoe” strategy (I’ve used it successfully myself!). And secondly, occasionally Joe uses a little salty language. Duly forewarned, CLICK HERE to watch the video.
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quick fundraising question for you
by Kevin Gentry
Charles Koch Institute
So…did the subject line of my email help get your attention?
Please pardon me for making you the hapless victim of this experiment in marketing. But I did this to help illustrate a point for this week’s Fundraising Tip:
How important do you think the subject line of your email is to your online fundraising objectives?
According to this Bloomberg Businessweek piece, “Most of the $690 million [the Obama campaign] raised online came from fundraising e-mails.” And that eye-popping fundraising success was the product of rigorous testing of direct marketing techniques, including the wording of the e-mail’s subject line. From “The Science Behind Those Obama Campaign E-Mails” —
The appeals were the product of rigorous experimentation by a large team of analysts. “We did extensive A-B testing not just on the subject lines and the amount of money we would ask people for,” says Amelia Showalter, director of digital analytics, “but on the messages themselves and even the formatting.” The campaign would test multiple drafts and subject lines—often as many as 18 variations—before picking a winner to blast out to tens of millions of subscribers. “When we saw something that really moved the dial, we would adopt it,” says Toby Fallsgraff, the campaign’s e-mail director, who oversaw a staff of 20 writers.
It quickly became clear that a casual tone was usually most effective. “The subject lines that worked best were things you might see in your in-box from other people,” Fallsgraff says. “ ‘Hey’ was probably the best one we had over the duration.” Another blockbuster in June simply read, “I will be outspent.” According to testing data shared with Bloomberg Businessweek, that outperformed 17 other variants and raised more than $2.6 million.
You can read more about this in the extensive report, “Inside the Cave: Obama’s Digital Campaign.” Hat tip to Patrick Ruffini, president of Engage Research, which published the report. As you may know, Patrick Ruffini served as eCampaign Director for the Republican National Committee from 2005 to 2006. Prior to that Patrick helped the George W. Bush presidential campaign recruit and mobilize six million online supporters in 2004. It’s a fascinating report.
I must admit to you that I was influenced in preparing this week’s Tip by the flurry of generally unattractive and unappealing emails that I received in the waning hours of 2012. Perhaps you felt pestered, as well. Here’s a sampling of subject lines for emails that managed to penetrate my spam filters:
- Last chance! Advance freedom in 2012
- Final days for your tax-deductible giving
- i’m excited
- Twelve hours left!
- Time is running out!
- Last Day to Donate in 2012!
- We Are Still Struggling
- Last Chance!
- Help Pass it On!
- Almost There
- 7 hours left to reach our goal
- We’re still short of our goal!
My personal favorite was “I need your help.”
This was the subject line for a political candidate trying to impress me to help him meet his fundraising deadline – not to address any particular interest of my own. I have to confess, I was about to reply with, “Well you know what, I need a political candidate that’s more interested in saving the country than his own self-preservation.” But I thought better before hitting “send.”
This is really important stuff, and it’s so often overlooked. It’s also generally addressed unscientifically, because fundraisers opt for what they intuitively believe will work rather than what has been tested to work.
On that point, consider this excerpt from Patrick Ruffini’s report, quoting a senior member of Obama’s campaign email team in a session at RootsCamp 2012:
“We basically found our guts were worthless.”
What the Obama campaign official meant by this was, of course, that predicting what email might work best was simply unreliable. It had to be tested.
However well-informed you think they might be, testing your theories is the only way to improve your success.