Think big in 2017

Think big in 2017

So Trump is our President. What do we do now? Last month I wrote a general overview on what to do with your digital infrastructure after a race, and the lessons still hold true. What else?

We’re in a unique moment, with a president-elect who has never before held public office, and a historically unpopular agenda. There’s unprecedented levels of anger and frustration in our country. You can see it with the street-level protests, and in the donations pouring into well-known progressive activist groups.

Planned Parenthood and the ACLU have already seen surges of donations. In the former, many of those donations were given in the name of Mike Pence — a hook other groups could look at replicating.

Meanwhile, various Democratic groups at all levels have been flooded with new activists and volunteers.

So what to do with this new energy? Think big.

Rules for Revolutionaries: How Big Organizing Can Change Everything talks about the organizing they did online and offline for Bernie Sanders. One of their lessons is to empower your volunteers to build the organization itself. This can be a new way of thinking about online organizing. Your email list isn’t just an ATM. Rather, it should be looked at as a membership and volunteer list: every person on your list has unique skills and talents. Use them fully.

Don’t limit your reach by only asking supporters to click on petitions and give money, or for volunteers to sit around and stuff envelopes. Consider asking your best supporters to do more. Help define your work and the direction you should go. Ask them to step up and own parts of the 2017 plan. Set your supporters free, and see what you can build together.

The Sanders campaign learned how much empowered volunteers can accomplish when you set them free and think big. You can do the same.

What do you do post-election?

What do you do post-election?

It’s the end of an era, President Obama’s term is over and we’re living under Trump rule now. Candidates of all stripes can learn from example of what to do after the campaign or elected office ends.

From Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton to a city council race, what you do with your website, email list and social media after Election Day is crucial to your political future– if you want one.

Sanders has taken a popular route — similar to the one Howard Dean took after 2004 — by shifting his campaign over to a new organization. Dean for America became Democracy for America, and the Sanders campaign has become Our Revolution. That makes sense for a presidential-level campaign, with volunteers and resources in all 50 states. Note that Sanders isn’t necessarily prepping to run again, unlike Ted Cruz, who is keeping his campaign more or less under direct control. The Sanders social media accounts are still active and in his voice, which makes sense because he’s built an audience he wants to maintain engagement with.

Hillary Clinton has mostly stepped off the stage, which means the HFA infrastructure she’s built is sitting there unused. She’s slowly started tweeting again, but the future for her (and her campaign) is unclear.

Barack Obama’s OFA infrastructure has revved up after January 20, with on-the-ground organizing of events and his own social media accounts picking up activity. He may be one of the most active former presidents we’ve seen, as his legacy is directly threatened by Trump.

What you can learn from this is that your supporter base is invaluable. But you must keep in touch. Keep emailing your list periodically, keep your social media accounts active to keep your relationship with your supporters alive. It may or may not make sense to transfer your infrastructure to a separate organization, but either way it needs to be maintained.

Make sure that you have full access to everything before the campaign formally ends – if other people were posting to social media and on the website, sending mass emails for the campaign, you will want to make sure you have all logins and passwords to continue, and any instructions needed to operate the mass email software or update the website.

Aim for at least one email a month, if you can, to keep people up to date on what you’re doing on the issues you campaigned on. Social media updates should be more frequent than that – if you don’t have time to put a lot of content out on Facebook and Twitter, perhaps link the two so content is cross-posted. This isn’t generally a good idea, but it’ll do in a pinch.

Make sure to tidy up the campaign website so it has current content info, and old campaign info is hidden or gone. The site itself should be evergreen enough to carry on for another year or two without touching. Make sure the domain name and website hosting is renewed, and the contact info for the registration goes to a real person so it doesn’t slip through the cracks and get captured by spammers (or an opponent).

Finally, be sure to shut down any online fundraising pages, remove donate buttons and links from the website and social media so you don’t need to deal with contribution refunds after the fact.

If all this digital infrastructure is properly maintained, you will have a real boost up when running for office in the future. Or for changing the world as an activist outside the system.

Evaluating your organization or campaign’s existing online profile & resources

Evaluating your organization or campaign’s existing online profile & resources

With a new year almost upon us, it’s time to take digital stock. Whenever I begin working with a new organization, I start by evaluating where they’re at digitally. I’ve walked into a campaign before to find out that email signups on the website are going nowhere! Or that fundraising is a separate system and online donors are not integrated into your mass email stream. Perhaps the campaign has an old Twitter handle from four years ago, and nobody knows the password anymore. Or somebody is squatting on the domain name of your organization because nobody renewed it. Without taking a thorough top-down look, it’s easy for things to slip through the cracks – especially if the organization or campaign has been on digital autopilot for awhile.

So how do you get started in evaluating your organization’s digital program, and planning for the future? Begin by cataloguing all your digital assets, and making sure you have passwords to everything (or start reaching out to Facebook, Twitter etc. to try to get access back to old social media properties).

Here’s some basic questions to ask to help build that digital inventory.


Does your campaign or organization have a website? What technology is it using – it is using one of the popular CMSs (content management system, a la WordPress or Joomla or NationBuilder) or is it custom-coded? How easy is it to manage and update? Is it mobile responsive? Is your website meeting your needs: who is your intended audience, and can they easily do the things they need and want to do? How much are you paying for regular maintenance, and web hosting? What does your typical amount of traffic look like, and are you prepared for surges? Do you have full admin access to the site, or are you dependent on outside consultants? What domain names do you have registered, are they under your name, and how long is the registration good until? Does the website include an easy way to sign up for email updates, make a donation, and find your social media accounts?

CRM (Mass email, online donations, online activism)

Do you have an email list or lists? What CRM are you using, if any (a la ActionKit, Action Network, BlueUtopia, Convio, NationBuilder, NGP VAN, Salsa)? What does your contract and costs look like? Does your CRM meet your advocacy and donation needs? Do you have full admin access to the list? What’s the size of your list today, and how does your email list perform over time? When’s the last time an email was sent to the list? (If it’s more than a month or so, expect a pretty large drop-off from bounces/unsubscribes the next time you do an email). Do you have orphan lists, left in non-integrated donation systems such as ActBlue or an old NGP account, on paper (such as volunteer sign in sheets or meeting attendance sheets), or in old CRMs?

Social Media

What social media properties do you have? Do you have passwords and full admin access to everything? Do any names of pages or accounts need to be changed or updated? What do your audiences look like in terms of raw numbers, and in terms of engagement level? Are there duplicate Facebook pages out there, personal Facebook profiles instead of pages and so on?

Setting Goals

Once you’ve taken stock of where you at, and noted what needs improving, you can start to set numeric goals (benchmark average website traffic, email list size and open/click rate, social media followers and engagement rate, average amount of donations per email etc.).

If you’re wondering how your numbers compare to other non-profits, check out M&R benchmarks, the latest benchmarks study comparing online fundraising, advocacy and organizing for 105 nonprofits around the country. There isn’t anything so transparent for political campaigns, but you can observe your opponents’ social media counts and engagement levels (and their campaign finance filings) to get a sense of how their digital operation is running.

If you’re trying to figure out what are realistic goals on how big you can get, Facebook advertising can be a good tool for this: you can pull counts of how many people across the country are interested in your issue, or how many voters of your party live in your city, region or state. What % of your target audience have you already engaged with?

Once you have an idea of how big you could realistically get, you’re probably wondering how to get there. For your reading pleasure: how to grow your email list.

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.