For all the talk (including on this page) of the revolutionary nature of crowdfunding, it’s really a pretty old fashioned model: It’s more or less what political parties and public radio stations have been doing forever. With that in mind, here are a few things that we can learn from the Obama fundraising machine. (Note: I was on Michelle Bachmann’s mailing list for some reason and her team did a lot of the same; which is to say this is an apolitical post about political fundraising.)
- Use relevant influencers: You might not think that the President would need influencers to amplify and disseminate his message but he’s definitely using them. In the past week I’ve gotten emails “from” Bill Clinton, Michelle, Beyonce and Kal Penn and I assume that this group is not random: I’ve been sliced and diced into a cohort that is thought to be susceptible to influence by former presidents, smart women, talented singers and well-educated low-brow comedians. My parents probably get emails from Steven Spielberg, Madeline Albright and other boomers. Point being: Have a deep think about who your target market is and work back from there to figure out which influencers you want on board.
- Set up intermediate goals and create (meaningless) deadlines to spur action: Anyone who’s done sales knows that it takes something extra to get an interested person to actually pull their wallet out and pay over some cash. There are all sorts of techniques to close the deal including creating deadlines and meaningless milestones. Obama’s got both of these techniques down. I received an email from Bill Clinton on Friday telling me that the FEC fundraising deadline is approaching and so I should give right now. I don’t know how meaningful this deadline is — and Bill’s email didn’t really clarify — but I did feel a momentary impulse to hurry up and donate. Bill’s email was followed up by a series of emails over the weekend pushing to get the campaign’s 10 millionth donation. Again, a fundamentally meaningless milestone but a useful one in spurring action.
- Create lots of impressions: The number of emails Obama sends out borders on insane but I’ll admit that I donated in response to one of those emails. I don’t know if it was the 20th or 30th or 40th they sent my way but the constant bombardment did its job. NB: I’m not suggesting bombarding your supporters but it’s simply true that multiple emails will eventually convert some people. The question is whether the gain in those supporters is worth the possible alienation of others.
- Design interesting rewards: Notwithstanding the fact that Obama is asking for donations and that the grand ‘reward’ is a certain electoral result, the campaign offers to give you something of value (even if only sentimental) to get you to act. Photos, bumper stickers, t-shirts, something. Most noteworthy, I think, is that almost all of which serve to broadcast the campaign message. And then, of course, there’s “Dinner with Barack”, which the campaign has tried to convince me has become a well-known and loved tradition. Obviously not every campaign can offer “hang out with the most powerful person on the planet” as a carrot but every campaign can think about rewards that create personal connections between the fundraiser and their supporters.
So, that’s how you raise hundreds of millions of dollars from millions of people.