Drew has been a political organizer with state and national campaigns for the last 12 years, specializing in merged online work with on-the-ground field organizing. As Field Director for the Vermont Public Interest Research Group he organized the state’s largest volunteer network, including planning and executing 5 summer canvass programs on clean energy and climate change that raised more than $1 million. At MoveOn.org Drew planned and executed all-volunteer vigils, petition deliveries and other actions as a leader of the Operation Democracy project. He’s directed statewide field and national voter education campaigns for labor-backed campaigns, environmental groups, and progressive candidates. Today Drew is the Executive Director at Environmental Action, where he directs the efforts of staff and over 150,000 online members to defend the only planet we will ever call home. Drew is based in Columbia, SC.
This is adapted and cross-posted from Drew’s startup project, 198 methods – check them out if you want to see some of what Drew is doing when not helping our clients save the planet (hint, saving the planet by other means).
Imagine a world where Donald Trump’s tweets are delivered faster, instantly, to every device in the world, but our messages and emails planning protest and resistance take hours to be delivered. It’s not a nightmare (well, it would be) — it’s what the internet could look like without Net Neutrality.
Net neutrality is a basic concept: your internet provider cannot slow down your browsing on certain pages, block websites, or charge apps and sites extra fees to reach an audience. All legal content is treated the same.
It’s been crucial to new movements around the world because it ensures activists can share news and ideas at the same speed as corporations and governments. If you streamed a video from Standing Rock, Donated to a candidates campaign online, or just shared an online petition with a friend – you’re using Net Neutrality.
Trump has a former Verizon lawyer to lead the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in a crusade to weaken Obama’s legal framework for net neutrality.
If they succeed, Cable companies and internet providers like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon will have dramatically more control over what you can see online, and can extract bribes and payments from anyone who wants to get their message out. Without the current net neutrality rules, they’ll be able to block, throttle, and censor what you can see on the internet – not to mention charging you extra fees for decent service.
But its not too late to speak out: The FCC is taking public comments until Monday, July 17th. Which is why we’re teaming up with a huge coalition of friends online to make our voices heard. Millions of people have already spoken out against the FCC’s plan to kill net neutrality, but we need to turn up the heat even more.
Thanks for standing up for a free and open internet.
The plan was to use modern digital fundraising tactics to raise approximately $1 million dollars between the end of November (Giving Tuesday) and December 31 for 350.org.
This was a substantial increase over past December drives, so we needed a mixture of smart planning, crisp writing, and updated ActionKit. Then, just as we were about to really get this party started in November, Donald Trump was elected President. In the first week of December, Trump announced former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tilerson as his nominee for Secretary of State.
In the end, we raised just over $2.2 million in the December Drive. Even more important, we dramatically increased recurring donors, which are a key source of ongoing funding for 350. Here’s how we did it and a a few key elements to our success:
Talking about Trump and the election: Simply put the election of Donald Trump was the key to success we never wanted, and couldn’t stop taking advantage of. Emails that mentioned Trump explicitly out performed non-Trump emails by a wide margin. It’s clear that 350 members and supporters understand the threat of the Trump presidency and are motivated to support your work as a result
Sending more emails. We added emails to the calendar, extended the fundraising plan by 2 weeks (from 4 to 6) and sent close to 5 million outbound messages in total, more than twice as many as in 2015. And more mail did not lower the average gift or yes rate; In fact we raised 14% more/email sent than in 2015.
Suggested asks and algorithms that bumped up the average gift. Our plan called for a 30% increase in the average gift. Thanks to ActionKit’s suggested Ask tools and more targeted segmenting of the donor list we beet that goal by $1 in small gifts and more than $40 in mid-level donations.
Recurring donors. We hoped to increase monthly giving by about 10%/month. Instead we nearly doubled it – and have beaten industry standard metrics for donor retention every month – so technically, we’re adding new monthly donors in 2017, instead of gradually losing the ones we signed up in late 2016.
Not everything worked perfectly, of course, and we had a few misfires of things where we got mixed results. Where we could identify consistent types of failure, we of course tried to pivot away from those behaviors. And on the whole, the drive was a huge success. But into every life a little rain must fall, so here’s some examples of things that need more time in the oven or were outright failures, may you learn from (and not repeat) our errors:
Video content: Historically, Bill McKibben records a year end video that’s sent to the entire 350 global community, and it’s usually the top performing fundraiser by far. This year, Bill recorded a video with his adorable dog, and it did fine, but not great. .
Match asks and pledge-raisers. We added several match asks to the YE series this year, and for giving Tuesday we ‘raised our own match’ by asking mid level donors to chip in first, and then asking non-donors to match their pledges. The #givingtuesday version was a big success – the content overall was one of the most successful part of our drive. But the individual match emails did not perform better than our best Trump content (see table above). That doesn’t mean matches are a bad idea, especially where there is not a specific anti-Trump message that makes sense to raise money on.
More photos and animated gifs. This one is a decidedly mixed result – with some clear indications that photos and animatics in donation emails are probably a good idea but more testing needed. To wit – we did one head to head test on Giving Tuesday where we tried versions with and without photos, and tried two different photos – 1 an image of Trump’s face and a more “uplifting” one of a big anti-Trump march. While the click and donate rates were similar for all three versions, the one with Trump’s face had a markedly higher average donation and raised more than $10,000 more. It’s also true that in the image tests, more of the clicks went to the image/button than to the text links. But because the click rate was not higher overall, we can’t say that the image itself caused more people to click – just that when presented with an image, they’re more likely to click on that than other content.
More links and different kinds of links. Interestingly, when we re-sent that same #givingTuesday email later in the day encouraging people to help us hit the match goal before the end of #givingTuesday, people were equally likely to click on the text link in the short lift note as they were to click on the image lower in the email. Again the overall click rate did not go up, so we can’t say for sure that adding the image or the lift note made the click rate go up, but we do know that people are more likely to click on short summary links at the top, and big images in the body of an email.
And here’s one to avoid.
Apologizing asks and “sorry but” phrasing. When comparing emails with photos/graphics, similar word counts and similar messengers/signers. One thing stood out as different between some messages: tone. Where we were defiant and the call to action clearly connected donations to the campaign with sentences like “If you believe in our collective work to stand up to fossil fuel interests, I hope you’ll make a $15 donation to 350.org this year” we saw big success. In otherwise similar messages where the tone was more apologetic and reluctant, like “Neither of us are super keen about asking you for money, but we are committed to this fight, and we hope you are too,” we had a struggle.
So that’s our experience raising money for 350 in the Post-Trump December 2016. Got ideas, questions, or maybe a suggestion for how to do things better? Hit us up on facebook, twitter, or just drop me a line and let me know how PowerThru can help you.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When: Tuesday, October 4, 9pm Eastern / 6pm Pacific.
Where: Right here, live on this page, on any cable news network and on the hashtag #VPdebate
BUT the battle of the Veep-steaks is worth watching (and promoting) for a few reasons:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 www.signforgood.com/wateract/?code=EA 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:
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.
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 Change.org (see http://advertise.change.org/nonprofits) 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 350.org’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 350.org’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.
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.
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.
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?
Cool. If you want to do it like we did at Environmental Action there are 4 metrics that matter:
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.
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. Continue reading →
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?