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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Turning Salsa Into a Member Management System

Turning Salsa Into a Member Management System

While Salsa does an excellent job as a system for processing online donations for non-profits and political campaigns, it lacks built-in features needed to use it as an effective member-management system. To help, PowerThru Consulting recently completed projects for two nonprofit clients – the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP). We helped them set up a system to enable visitors to their site to sign up for a paid membership, and then to report on membership statistics and send reminder emails to members when it is time to renew. While these systems are similar in many aspects, they had several unique features that help illustrate the different ways PowerThru can develop a custom member-management system within Salsa to serve the needs of different non-profits.
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Email Acquisition Performance 2: Who pays the bills?

Email Acquisition Performance 2: Who pays the bills?

Drew Hudson and Laura Packard contributed writing and research to this post. Go Team! The question I have been asked the most after my first post on email acquisition performance for a non-profit by channel used to acquire them*, “Interesting, but how does it affect fundraising?” After all, all good organizing needs to pay for itself and online fundraising is some of the most efficient around for both political campaigns and non-profits. So inquiring readers want to know how the differing performance I found in new members acquired from Facebook ads, list buys, and list swaps (joint actions) translate into fundraising efforts.

The answer is that the same trend applies in non-profit fundraising emails: joint actions performed far better than either paid list buys or Facebook ads for email acquisition in terms of donations.
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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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Email acquisition performance: nature vs. nurture

Email acquisition performance: nature vs. nurture

If you’re a non-profit or political campaign and have an email list, chances are you want to grow it. (Read our tips on how to grow your email list through advocacy for non-profits and campaigns for more on that.) Even if you just wanted to stay the same size, you will need list growth simply to stay in place as people naturally “age out” of your list. One question on our minds is how do people on your list perform, based on how they were acquired.

You have a few basic options of how to grow your list (besides getting lucky and having your campaign or issue get a lot of media coverage so it spreads virally). The three main ways we see are a) paid acquisitions (paying someone, usually a service like Care2/Change.org/LeftAction/Democrats.com, to acquire new names), b) online advertising (in the case of Environmental Action, mostly Facebook — Google and other methods haven’t performed as well) or c) joint actions with other like-minded groups where no money changes hands, and you exchange names instead.

Obviously, these methods are not exclusive, but I wanted to test how people acquired performed later. Would paying for people drive down their performance? Would list swaps give you people who don’t truly become members of your organization?
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Launching the Pam Byrnes for Congress campaign

Launching the Pam Byrnes for Congress campaign

Pam Byrnes is a well-known and inspirational political figure in Southeastern Michigan. She’s been a part of Washtenaw County politics for many years, was elected three times as State Representative before being term limited out, and finished up her career in the state legislature as House Speaker Pro Tempore. The 7th Congressional District is an equally well-known battleground in Michigan politics, control having gone back and forth between the Democratic Party and Republicans over the past decade. Although not seriously contested in 2012, this seat is perennially a national hot seat.

Pam was temporarily overseas working for the University of Michigan after her time in the legislature, but she came home to win back this seat. Although she had a well-known name and political background, it had been a few years since Pam had run for office — and she had never run for a federal race before. That’s where we came in.
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How Liam Neeson Invigorated NYC’s Animal Rights Activists

How Liam Neeson Invigorated NYC’s Animal Rights Activists

When an actor takes a swipe at the Mayor of New York City for supporting the end of the carriage horse industry, what’s the leading non-profit advocacy animal rights organization in NYC to do? How about demonstrate the incredible size of their movement while combating outdated gender norms? Thanks to the power of social media and online advocacy together, we did just that.
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Four ways NYCLASS used NationBuilder to win the 2013 city elections in New York

Four ways NYCLASS used NationBuilder to win the 2013 city elections in New York

How we built a beautiful and effective new NationBuilder website for non-profit advocacy organization NYCLASSNo one believed it was possible when a small, but dedicated group of “crazy cat ladies” tried to change the landscape of New York City politics. But that’s exactly what our client NYCLASS, New York’s leading animal rights advocacy organization, did this past year with our help.

New Yorkers for Clean, Livable, and Safe Streets is a progressive organization fighting to end the terrible abuse of carriage horses in NYC. We joined NYCLASS late in 2012 to help update their new media presence and begin their first online fundraising drives, and have been working with them ever since.
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Partnering for success: building the GunFreeKids email list

Partnering for success: building the GunFreeKids email list

Founded in 2007, GunFreeKids.org is an Internet-based 501(c)4 issue advocacy organization, working on state and national legislation on sound gun violence prevention policies. The Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus is one of their main projects. They use Salsa for their CRM.

In 2011 just weeks before the anniversary of the tragic shootings at Virginia Tech, NRA-backed legislators in multiple states introduced legislation to FORCE colleges and universities to allow guns on campus. So the students and staff of GunFreeKids called PowerThru to help them crank up their online organizing in a few key states, and build a national call-in day on the anniversary to tell Governors and legislatures everywhere to say NO to guns on campus.
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