Learning from political fundraising: dance with the one that brung you

There’s a saying in politics to dance with the one who brung ya codified in Chris Matthews’ classic book of political wisdom called Hardball; “Dance with the One that Brung Ya” is the title of the fourth chapter.  In it, he talks about how Ronald Reagan went to speak at CPAC and gave interviews to conservative papers as a way of remembering from whence he came (and Matthews notices that he got into trouble during Iran-Contra in part because he was dancing with Iran rather than his supporters).

This came to mind for me when I saw a study from Fluent about the makeup of political email lists.

It turns out that while AOL.com email address make up only 4% of political email subscribers, they make up 22% of online political donations.  They are literally over five times more profitable than the average email address.  Gmail addresses are the reverse: they make up 48% of political email addresses, but make up 13% of online political donations.

political donations

You’ve probably seen the jokes about AOL.com email addresses.  If you haven’t, here’s one from the great online cartoonist The Oatmeal.

The addresses have the reputation for representing those who are very out of date or stuck in their ways or (gasp) older.  In fact, the first audience that AOL lists on its advertising list is 50+.  They are the very definition of online uncool and looked down upon by your Web designer who, to stereotype a bit, is likely much younger.

But older donors are the ones that brung ya, and continue to bring ya.  In this extreme case, the 4% of political email addresses that are from AOL are worth (in donations, at least) significantly more than the 48% of political email subscribers that are from Gmail.  For more evidence of this, take a look at why focusing on Millennials at the expense of those who got you where you are is a recipe for disaster

This is even true online.  Those over 60 are just as likely to donor online as those under 40, according to Dunham + Company, and their average gifts tend to be higher.

So how do you cater to the people who are most profitable online?

Test fonts: With an older demographic, font size and clarity are key indicators of success.   While your younger Web designer may be able to read at nine points, your audience may not be able to.  This has a secondary benefit of helping people access and read your sites on mobile devices.  Different sizes work better for different audiences, so test out your site. 

Targeted messaging: Don’t want to pay for a data append to your file, but still want to talk to people about planned giving opportunities?  You could probably do worse than target AOL.com email addresses with this messaging.

Targeted advertising: Often, you only know the basics about a person.  But as long as you have their zip code, you can customize their ask string based on this information.  Just like you could, in theory, target increased asks to AOL addresses because of higher-than-average gifts, there’s also no reason to treat 90210 as the same as 48208 in Detroit.  Yet we persist in having a site with one ask on it at a time.

Offline/online integration: Chances are that you already have these older high-value donors on your file — just not on your email file yet. That’s why it’s important to e-append your offline donor file, as well as asking your offline donors to join your email list. How better to dance with the ones who brung ya than focusing on your longest term donors?

Learning from political fundraising: dance with the one that brung you

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