So, where to start with your emails? Great emails don’t all follow the same formula, and vary depending on the objective, audience, and call to action. That said, there are a few characteristics of effective emails that we know consistently work, based on our experience with campaigns AND commercial email best practices. Nail these basics first, and your team will be well on your way to generating great engagement and raising money.
Let’s walk through core best practices to create short, personal messages with clear calls to action, starting at the top of the funnel and working our way down.
Understand your audience
- Analyze and understand who is on the list - in/out district, in/out of state, opened and donor history are the top 4 that typically matter.
- Add all available contacts to the list - include all previous donors from ActBlue, checks (yes, really!), volunteers, event attendees, etc. Are all your donors already on the list? Don't assume they are.
- Clean the starting list - filter out duplicates, bad data, dead emails to help deliverability.
Segment your list: Start with the high-value basics
Segmentation can get very sophisticated, and building lots of finely-targeted segments usually only makes sense if you have a truly sizable list, but here’s where to start before trying to get fancy:
- Engaged (i.e., opened an email in previous 6 months) vs. non-engaged
- Donors vs. non-donors
- Get donors off the sidelines and into your race - convert folks who are engaged and give to politics but have not yet donated to your campaign to donate for the first time.
- If your campaign has software that shows political donation history (not just for their campaign), segment on this and see who could give to your campaign that hasn’t yet. This is the single best segmentation system to use for fundraising.
- If they don’t, segment based on what they have given to your campaign, and include previous election cycles if your candidate is not a first-time candidate.
- Get existing donors who have given less to your campaign than they give to most campaigns to contribute more or “max out” if they do
- Reactivate dormant list members - Give non-engaged folks a reason to open and become reactivated. Usually, someone who has not opened the email in 4-6 months is considered dormant.
- Set up a welcome series/onboarding drip campaign to welcome and convert new subscribers into engaged and donating supporters
Opening the email: Use compelling subject lines
Keep them short - This is often 2-3 words max. Your subject line is not to tell them precisely what is in the email, it is to induce curiosity to find out what’s in the email and get the user to open it.
- ✅ Examples: curiosity-inducing subjects that are a little vague work. E.g., “That text” rather than “That text we sent you this morning for your support” or “Seventy five” rather than “There are only 75 days left to take action”
Talk local - this is a big differentiator for state races, so use it. Weave in references to local counties, towns, school districts, well-known local institutions, etc., when possible.
The sender matters - in addition to sending from the campaign, send from individuals too, including campaign staff, family members, or endorsers.
Keep it real - don’t write emails you wouldn’t open, like ones with first names in the subject - these quickly register as spam in readers’ minds.
Driving conversion: Short, personal content and clear calls to action
Focus on one main call to action. You can and should have multiple opportunities to click (buttons, text links, linked logos), but keep consistency on the action
- ✅ Example: Use one email for donating and a different email for volunteering, don’t split your clicks on several different actions.
Promote the CTA at the top of the email - Include a button ‘above the fold’ where it will be prominent, including on mobile devices - don’t rely on them getting to the end to click.
Keep the content short, focused, and personal. Candidates love to write long emails but we’ll be sending a lot - there’s plenty of time to cover!
Don’t only send fundraising emails - the first rule of ongoing fundraising is don’t only talk about fundraising. At least ⅓ of your emails should not be direct dollar asks but updates on progress, press, personal stories about why they ran, opportunities to just share on social media, events. This isn’t what you see from a lot of political campaigns - but it helps people feel like they are part of something, not like they are an ATM. Fill in the content calendar so you can look at it as a team to know for sure.
Driving dollars and engagement: Tactics that work
Create urgency - deadlines work.
- ✅ Example: “10 hrs to reach our goal”
Set (realistic) goals - create goals that recipients can help you reach.
- ✅ Examples: “We’re $1,100 to our goal!” “We need to get 50 new donors by tonight”
- 🔑 Pro Tip 1: non-round numbers break it up visually, e.g. $1,100 vs $1,000
- 🔑 Pro Tip 2: Goals can be set for the email's goal only, they don't need to necessarily correspond to the finance plan.
Use Kicker emails - these are replies to previously-sent appeals close to a deadline.
- ✅ Example: “I wanted to make sure you saw this because we are $500 from our goal.” Exclude people who just donated and watch unsubscribes.
How much should I ask for?
- Don’t anchor too low. Unless you’re explictly targeting first-time donors, avoid super small asks. “Can you chip in $3” works for Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders, who have millions on their list. Candidates often have 1,000 or fewer contacts, and a good email may only yield 20 or fewer donations - make them count.
- Segment based on giving history and target the ask that way: contacts with no history of political giving get a lower ask than people who typically give $500-$1000.
- When possible, tie the donation to a specific action or outcome
- Example: “Every $100 funds a day of digital ads”
- Customize your CTA buttons to reinforce impact - rather than just ‘Donate’, put specific text in the button that underscores the impact,
- Example: “Help put us over goal” or “Help Sam deliver 500 yard signs” or “Help me fight back.”
Don’t only look at political emails! In addition to politics, get your inspiration and ideas from the commercial world too, who have to do this for much larger lists. Don’t assume political emails work just because you get a lot of them.