The last debate of the longest campaign

The last debate of the longest campaign

It’s been a grueling campaign season. And the last few weeks have, by all accounts, gotten incredibly dark and dangerous as Donald Trump declares the race “rigged” and tells his supporters to form roving voter intimidation squads.

But if you want to strike a blow for civility, normalcy, and good civic behavior join us for the last debate! We’ll watch live as Chris Wallace, the anchor of Fox News Sunday, moderates the final debate. He’s known for his aggressive questioning style of both Democrats and Republicans, so let’s hope he gets into climate change, voting rights, gun safety, and other issues that matter.

Live Blog The last Debate of the Longest Campaign

What’s new since our last conversation? Well, Laura delivered over 50,000 signatures to Fox News’ offices in New York asking them to ask about #votingrights and mass disenfranchisement. Sounds like a good idea to us, given Trump’s ongoing nonsense about “rigged elections”.

Also, tens of thousands of people have signed on to petitions calling on the debate moderators to ask a question about climate change. Given that Wallace works at Fox News, expectations are low that he’ll oblige (no other moderator has asked about climate change either). But we’ve seen him go after Rick Santorum on climate in the past, so we’ll be paying attention!

See you Oct. 19 at 9 p.m. Eastern / 6 p.m. Pacific live online from the University of Nevada in Las Vegas (UNLV).

No-hype required. Watch the Second 2016 Presidential debate Live with us.

No-hype required. Watch the Second 2016 Presidential debate Live with us.

Seriously, no event in modern political history has ever needed LESS hype, drama, or promotion than the second Presidential debate on October 9, 2016.

The only reason we’re even writing an intro for this post is because we teach and provide good Search Engine Optimization services for progressive political candidates and groups – and best practices require at least 300 words in a post.

So here it is – our live stream of tweets, comments, and updates from the second Presidential Debate

Live Blog The Second Presidential Debate LIVE with PowerThru and friends

Just to hit the appropriate word count, here’s a few facts and links:

First of all, let’s remember that the last time these two nominees met, it was a BIG deal. maybe one of the most consequential debates of recent presidential elections. I’ll let Tessa Stuart at Rolling Stone explain:

His humiliation at the hands of the former secretary of state that night sent the GOP nominee into a week-long death spiral. He declared himself the winner, and when no one agreed with him, blamed the moderator and then his microphone for his loss; for good measure, he lobbed a few extra insults at a former Miss Universe.

It would have been almost a relief, then, when a New York Times report last Saturday finally changed the subject – that is, if the subject hadn’t been changed to Trump losing nearly a billion dollars in a single year, possibly allowing him to avoid paying taxes for nearly two decades.

Then the subject changed again on Friday, also decidedly not in Trump’s favor, this time to a leaked 2005 hot-mic recording of Trump bragging to Access Hollywood’s Billy Bush about assaulting women: grabbing them “by the pussy” and kissing them without their consent.

So, yeah, it’s a big deal. But will anyone watch? The first debate had record viewership, attracting about 84 million viewers over 13 channels. But that’s not normal, as Politico explains:

If recent history is any guide, the second one won’t hit those heights. In 2012, 65.6 million people watched the second debate between Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney, shy of the 70 million that tuned in for the first Obama-Romney clash. But this weekend’s events could certainly change that.

It’s such a big deal that, for once, CNN’s over-hyping of something Anderson Cooper (btw – congrats to the first out gay moderator!) does is totally deserved. See you tonight!

Tune in for the Veep Debate!

Tune in for the Veep Debate!

Are you ready for some mostly-inconsequential, but possibly still entertaining Ruuuuuummmbblllee??!

*Ahem* We here at PowerThru love politics. So it will come as no surprise that we watched the first Presidential debate with rapt attention. Our clients and friends (and hey, us!) are working on a wide range of elections this fall, as well as critical issue-oriented campaigns like climate change, voting rights, civil rights, and more that absolutely hinge on the outcome of the election.

So yeah, we’re into it. Which is also why we’d like to cordially invite you to watch the Vice Presidential debate live with us right here on the internet.

RSVP below!

Live Blog Tune in for the Veep Debate!

Why watch with us?

Well, let’s be honest, the VP debate is not expected to be as Trump-y as the first presidential debate. Pence and Kaine are both staid, career politicians that nobody expects to make a fuss. In fact, veteran media analyst Jeff Greenfield says “If you could bottle the indifference with which America will treat the Pence-Kaine debate, it could put several time zones to sleep.”

BUT the battle of the Veep-steaks is worth watching (and promoting) for a few reasons:

  1. We're looking at you, Tim.
    We’re looking at you, Tim.

    For once the expectations are higher for the inexperienced white male Republican in a debate. Pence has to walk back some of Trump’s trumpier trumpisms including: Climate Denial, insulting all women everywhere, and painting Alicia Machado as a dangerous bank robbing felon who once threatened a judge while retaining the latino vote. Tim Kaine needs to wear pants, and gets bonus points if he works in a shoulder shimmy. 

  2. It’s about the media. Lester Holt was widely panned for his work moderating the first debate. Mostly because he let Trump tell 34 lies in 90 minutes (just about par) and never once said, “hold on there crazy pants.” Quijano has a lesser challenge, given that both Pence and Kaine are expected to, you know, prepare and also answer in complete sentences. But she’s still got a job to do – asking about Climate Change, voting rights, choice (which by the by NOBODY has asked about in a debate yet this year) and more. What’s more, if Quijano does ask solid questions on topics that matter it could set a powerful precedent for the second Presidential Debate – coming up next Sunday, October 9. That debate is in a town hall format and you can submit and vote on questions through our friends at the Open Debate Coalition. So the tone and content of the questions at the Veep debate will help shape the coverage and content of more important debates later.
  3. It’s about Congress and the Senate in particular. Pence served in the Congress, Kaine in the Senate. After the first debate, polls swung back towards Clinton and the Democrats. The Kaine-Pence debate offers a chance to talk more about the other-white-meat, err branch of Government. Kaine could have a chance to vote on the TPP during a lame duck session – should he? And how would he vote given Clinton’s for-it-before-I-was-against-it-don’t-tell-@POTUS stance?

So C’mon, do it for Uncle Joe! Tune in with us Tuesday, October 4 for a fun-filled night guaranteed to make you appreciate Joe Biden, and the democratic process.

Debate night with Powerthru and Friends

Debate night with Powerthru and Friends

Let’s watch the debate together to see if Trump and Clinton talk about the issues PowerThru Clients and friends care about: Voting Rights, Climate Change, $15 and full time and more!

Live Blog Debate Night with PowerThru

List Building – the Environmental Action Way

List Building – the Environmental Action Way

This list building post is the first post in my series chronicling exactly how we built Environmental Action from a mostly dead and bouncing list of 40,000 email addresses to nearly 1 million members donating hundreds of thousands of dollars.

What list growth looks like
List Growth Jan 2015-May 2016

As I explained in the initial post, building a big audience is the first step towards building an online army for your non-profit, campaign, or movement. And having a big, engaged, financially invested audience is THE way you can use digital tools to deliver real results on the issues you care about.

First, let’s talk about why email list size is still the most important metric to measure when thinking about the size and reach of your digital audience. Email is still the killer app of the internet – it’s the best and fastest way to raise money, get out a message, or generate action (like people calling their Congressperson, or showing up at a rally).

Social media is awesome too, and essential in this day and age. But it tends to act more like a specially designed megaphone at a rally – it spreads the message wider to people at the fringes of your cause. But social media won’t always get someone you don’t know to the right street corner at the right time to make a difference. In fact, digital organizing won’t reach anyone at all unless they’re already connected to you in some way. And email is the most ubiquitous way to invite people to the right corner at the right time.

So list growth was job #1 for me and everyone who worked for me at Environmental Action. When we started, PowerThru and I were it – we had our wits, our skills and a little bit of startup money to prove that this thing worked. Over the years we’ve added more staff, and tons of projects and partners — all of whom helped with list growth in various ways. But there were only 3 primary ways (marketers call them funnels) that helped us add new members to the list:

Organic Growth; Swaps and joint actions; And paid advertising and acquisition. We’ll talk about each in turn below.

Organic growth

This is achieved first and foremost by writing good and compelling emails, petitions, and social media content. You should not underestimate how hard it is to write good and compelling content.

How much content? Well if you want to grow fast, and that’s what we’re talking about here, you need to plan on at least 3 emails a week, 2-4 Facebook posts a day, and as many tweets and re-tweets as your thumbs can type (at least 5 a day). Depending on your campaign, you may also want to add social media channels and accounts — like YouTube, Snapchat, Instagram, LinkedIn or Pinterest. In other words, if you want to do this right, you need to make it someone (and preferably more than one person’s) FULL-TIME JOB.

Since everyone should use the big three: Email, Facebook, and Twitter — that’s what I’ll focus on. Once you’ve got good people talking about things that matter in a compelling way, you need to spend time on sharing that content. The biggest tool in Environmental Action’s toolbox was the PowerThru Tell-A-Friend tool.

The tool let us design the Facebook share content (image, headline, caption and link), the sample tweet (editable by users) and the forward to a friend email. Really good campaigns like our petitions opposing the Keystone veto override had a share rate greater than 10%. That means the number of times the link was shared through social media =1/10 of the number of people who signed the petition. 

Of the three sharing options (Facebook, Twitter, email), Facebook usually accounts for 80% or more of all shares. If I saw a campaign with a 5% or higher share rate, I would also schedule an email that just links to the share content for all the signers (we call this a ‘tell-a-friend bump’) to make sure that as many people as possible saw that sample Facebook/Twitter email message because it’s already working..

List swaps/joint actions

These are campaigns where we partner with one or more other groups and share the names collected. For my experience, the best and most profitable (in terms of new names) campaigns have been joint actions between us and Daily Kos — the liberal blogging powerhouse administered (the email team anyway) by the inestimable Chris Bowers who literally just wrote the book on the power of big email lists.

Chris explains it better in his Netroots notes, but this is where Kos and a bunch of other groups all agree to promote a common petition (like calling on the Dem candidates to debate in Flint and talk about water issues, or calling on CNN to cover climate change). Each partner group gets a tracking link like and then we all promote the petition for a certain period of time; usually 2-5 weeks. Each group can send as many emails as they want, and use whatever language they want to encourage members to sign the petition.

My advice is to send an initial email to your most-relevant issue segment and check performance. Assuming average-better engagement rates, you can then re-send the email to either similar segments or to the whole rest of the list. If open and click rates for those segments are at or above norms you should also schedule 1-2 additional “did you see this?” style blasts to non-openers. While a swap is live, I also always schedule 3+ Facebook posts on the campaign each week.

Following these steps, Environmental Action could generally expect 10-20,000 signatures. Bigger/better campaigns, or ones that we send to the entire list I’d expect to generate 30-40,000 signatures. Stop right here and consider that: IS there an issue you’re working on that could benefit from 10-40,000 individual email signers? Right. That’s the power of the Environmental Action way of list growth.

At the end of a swap campaign with Kos or similar partners, each organization gets back 2 files:

  1. All the signers through your tracked link, and
  2. An equal number of signatures WITHOUT your tracked link that are not already on your email list.
    (Note -the trick to sharing all those emails is an encrypted file of your list called a “hash” file. You can geek out on encryption here, but most folks just use the Svenn tool.

The match is never perfect because some people sign via Facebook and social media shares and other details. But basically follow Chris’ advice (and mine) and VOILA! 10s of thousands of new members every few weeks – and all you had to do was come up with a campaign and remember to share your toys with the other kids.

Ads and Acquisition –  

We’ve written a bunch of how-tos  about how we spend money to add new names to the email list over the years, so I won’t re-belabor the whole process and math here in this memo (Though here’s the one that deals most directly with the Environmental Action Way of running ads) The principle is that one email address is worth about $1 in fundraising, on average. Obviously, not all list members give money. And some members give a lot more than $1/24 months.

But in principle, if I can figure out a way to spend $1 to add 1 new email to my list, I’ll probably break even in the near-long term

For acquisition, the game is simple – lots of people will sell you lists. Most lists they sell are crap and not worth any money. If you see someone promising to sell your 50,000 emails for $500 it’s a scam, every time. Reputable list vendors, all of whom Environmental Action used over the years, include Care2, Daily Kos, and (see for starters. The key here is that these platforms sell you real opt-in or double opt-in names. In other words people are notified they’ll join your list and have an option not to sign or to un-check an opt-in box  on real campaigns.

For Ads – The how to can be more complex, but the rates are the same – you want to add new records at <$1/email signup. The simplest place to start, and the most reliable results, are on Facebook. Here’s how it works:

  • Use the instructions here to set up upload your entire email list as a custom audience. You’ll EXclude that list (or as many as FB matches) from your ad audience.
  • Create a lookalike audience based on that email list. How big depends on your goals, but more like 1% than 100% of available users. These are the friends and family of the people who’ve already signed-on to your email list. You’ll target your ads to this list, remembering to exclude the list from the previous bullet (and maybe add some additional targeting specifics, like people who like’s page for a climate campaign, or Defenders of Wildlife for a wildlife campaign).
  • Create a copy of the petition/action you want your ads to point to – and add some sort of notation to the reference name, so you know which signers are from ads and which from viral traffic – but leave all the other settings (including, most important the Tell-a-friend link at the end) the same.
  • Once you’ve got the audiences and tracking codes created, it’s all about the ads!I like to make image or video ads, so I make (or repurpose for Facebookfollowing ad guidelines here) 3-5 versions of ad images or videos (especially Facebook Live). For each post you need a short Headline, description, and caption. Then include the link to the copy of the action link you created in the preceding step. It’s the same basic process as making a Facebook post – in fact, if you prefer, you can just post according to your regular social media calendar, and then promote the posts that do best or you like the best to your target audience (though you can’t EXclude audiences in a promoted post, so you might want to add a #3 above and create an audience that’s your lookalike, minus your email list, and throw in some additional factors — like people who like’s page etc).
  • On campaigns that are pretty high performing and viral (like more than 20,000 organic signers) we’ve had good luck at generating new sign-ups at about $0.50/each and new to list signers at $0.75-1.25.

That’s it!

Use those 3 major funnels: Organic Growth, List swaps and paid ads/acquisition, and use them SMART – starting with compelling and diverse content – and you too can double the size of your email list every year.

Got a better idea? want to send us your questions and suggestions? Hit me and the rest of the Powerthru team up on Facebook and Twitter with more ideas and stay tuned for another “Environmental Action Way” post next week.

The Environmental Action Way

The Environmental Action Way

As you may have seen elsewhere I recently resigned as Director at Environmental Action after 5 years building a big, powerful, digitally focussed environmental group. It’s a decision I made with some reservations and emotion, but this isn’t the post where I intend to have all the feels. This is a post where I intend to talk about HOW we did all the amazing stuff we did over the last 5 years. Specifically, growing the email list from 40,000 mostly worthless (bouncing) emails, to nearly a million gross records. And also how we used that big, digital audience to raise the majority of our budget in the form of nearly $1 million a year in online and recurring donations.

What list growth looks like
Env Axn list growth Jan 2015 – May 2016, weekly.

It turns out that growing a digital audience is actually an incredibly fast and efficient way to build power around issues like climate change, fracking, endangered species and clean water – and it can be done in a revenue-neutral way/cash positive manner. Explaining the whole process in one post will be hard, so I’ll break this into a few (to keep my Hemingway-app editors happy) and this one will kick things off and link to all the good, data-driven bits.

So first of all, let’s talk about what we’re talking about: The Environmental Action way can be boiled down to a simple thesis: you (yes you!) can double the size of your email list ~every 12 months, while raising ~$1 from each of those list members every 18 months.

Why do you care? Well if you’re an Executive Director, that means you can create an army (literally hundreds of thousands of people) in less time than you can re-apply from that last foundation that rejected you. For Alinsky-ite organizers, it means you can use the digital toolbox to develop sustainable campaigns with a full ladder of engagement, leaders at every level and stable funding from the people who benefit/are invested in your program. For Piven-inspired movement bomb-throwers think of this as an instruction manual for how to build a list of followers bigger than the average nightly viewership of a CNN program.

For everyone else just consider this: As activists our power comes from organized people, as opposed to organized money (though getting those people to organize their money – either by donating to a campaign, divesting or boycotting  an industry or pooling resources to create our own economic power – is a really important and time-honored set of  tactics). The digital toolbox offers us a new and proven-effective way to organize more people than ever before, faster than used to be possible, with bigger results. After the jump, we’ll lay out the how-to and link to specific trainings and tutorials in each step.

So, you want to make a revolution online?

Read this book
Read this book

Cool. If you want to do it like we did at Environmental Action there are 4 metrics that matter:

  1. The size of the email list and social media audience;
  2. The Engagement of that list and audience;
  3. How much money you raise online; And
  4. Delivering real, visible progress in coalition with allies – Staging a rally or protest, winning a vote or lawsuit, or major media attention are all examples.

Click the links above to see my write up about each of those metrics and how to build success day by day. In doing that, you should be able to pick up our basic drill and how we operate. If you live the practice (like kung fu!) then you’ll absorb the knowledge and magic that has grown Environmental Action into one of the biggest environmental groups online in the last few years.

How to get petition signatures using Facebook

How to get petition signatures using Facebook

If you want to win at the internet, your non-profit or campaign is going to need to capture some email addresses. And that means you’re going to need to get signatures on something like a petition or an action. Coincidentally, online petitions and actions can also be SUPER effective at creating political and social change.

But just starting a petition isn’t enough – you need people to see and act on that petition. And that means you’re going to need to post it on Facebook, where millions of eager people are just waiting to take action. HOW to get those petition signatures is less obvious. It’s a subtle art and precise science that we’ve spend years cooking up at PowerThru. Here’s the cliff notes version – for the real recipe, you’ll have to call us for a consultation.
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What’s a Welcome email worth?

What’s a Welcome email worth?

There’s been a really healthy, if vociferous, argument going around over whether or not to send a ‘welcome series’ of emails to new supporters on your non-profit or campaign email list. The concept is probably familiar: you send a pre-written package of emails over a few days or weeks to ease new people to your non-profit or political campaign onto your list. The pro and con go something like this:

PRO: By easing people onto the list and introducing them to our ladder of engagement, they are more likely to open, click, and donate later on. Good cultivation makes for better members.

CON: Other than checking for dead or spam-bot emails on your list, all a welcome series does is feed outdated content to members who otherwise have the highest-probability of being really active, engaged and excited. Why waste people’s initial enthusiasm with emails that aren’t about your hottest campaigns?

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Welcome Jesse Bacon: Another new hire joins the PowerThru family!

Welcome Jesse Bacon: Another new hire joins the PowerThru family!

It may be April 1st, but no foolin’! We brought on Jesse Bacon to the PowerThru team as an online organizer and writer back in February, and he’s already making a mark. You may have met him at the latest New Organizing Institute bootcamp, or at Organizing NY in New York a couple weeks ago. He primarily works with Environmental Action, but will be lending a hand with all our clients. Anyways without further ado, here’s more about Jesse.
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Are you in spam jail with Gmail & Hotmail? Improve your email deliverability to bust out!

Are you in spam jail with Gmail & Hotmail? Improve your email deliverability to bust out!

Over the last few weeks, we’ve been seeing more and more PowerThru clients reporting some version of trouble getting mail delivered to Gmail, Hotmail, or both. The email deliverability problems for non-profits and campaigns range from the relatively benign – 1-3% of the list not getting email that they should – to the extreme, where up to 90% of all Gmail messages are not delivered. We’ve also talked to several spam and email deliverability experts, and I’m personally indebted to Brett Schenker at Salsa Labs for patiently talking me through some tense moments and bringing me up to speed on these email deliverability best practices and principles. If you haven’t read his posts about deliverability over at Salsa in the last year, it’s worth a look.

We’re putting up this post because, based on research we’ve done with our biggest non-profit clients (lists over 100,000 records) suggest both some simple technical fixes, and also a mindset shift around how we think about our online lists, and the strategies for growing our audience.

The underlying email deliverability principle is to treat your email program like a library that needs a curator, instead of a newspaper that needs to get published daily.

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