[Guide] Digital That Drives Campaigns

December 7, 2018 | NGP VAN

At its core, digital organizing is still organizing, and digital fundraising is still fundraising. Going digital just employs a new set of tools and technology to expand the influence and reach of your campaign or organization.

What is Digital?

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Rather than being a small subset of what your campaign or organization does, digital should be at the heart of everything you do. It empowers you to tell (and distribute) your own narrative and effectively reaches supporters where they are. When you’re launching a new campaign, digital needs to be part of your strategy from the very beginning.

If news outlets aren’t showing up to cover your actions, start documenting them yourself and distribute them on social media. Live stream your actions, live-tweet updates and take video that you can employ later. Video is an indispensable storytelling tool. 

When you need to knock more doors or raise more money, build out a robust email program that informs your supporters, provides them special insight into your campaign or organization, and asks them to contribute their time and money to the campaign. Pair that with a well designed, mobile-optimized website and you’ll be sure to capture the attention of your supporters. 

A strong digital program will inevitably be a source of strength for your campaign or organization. By defining your voice, understanding the digital ladder of engagement, growing your list, and running tests to inform your strategy, you can build a thriving digital operation.

Defining Your Voice

Start by deciding what your voice is and really sticking to it. Your voice should be distinct enough to stand out in a crowded digital space. Think about how you want to focus your efforts and what type of content you want to post. Make sure that you have a conversation with all of your key stakeholders to make sure that you’re all on the same page.

If you’re struggling to define it, look to the digital programs of campaigns and organizations that you admire for inspiration. You may find that a politician or brand whose digital presence resonates with your work.

Even the clearest voice may need to differ across different spaces and platforms. That’s okay — if you’ve done the work to define your voice, each audience will still understand who you are and what values drive you.

Your Twitter content may be more centered around breaking news, while your email program may focus on long appeals to your supporters. Every audience is different, so you’ll need to pay close attention to the data to find out what performs best.

The Digital Ladder of Engagement

Moving people up the ladder of engagement is the work of cultivating casual supporters into activists and donors by deepening their investment in the campaign over time.

Field organizers employ this strategy constantly. When someone takes an action, the organizer expresses their gratitude and follows up with another, larger ask. This builds the relationship between the supporter and the organizer, making the supporter feel valued and trusted.

The ladder of engagement for a field organizer may start by asking someone to attend a house party, follow up with an invitation to canvass, and escalate from there. We laid out what that can look like for digital work below. Keep in mind that the challenge in building an effective ladder of engagement is keeping track of hundreds or thousands of people. You’ll want to automate every step in the process and you’ll need a CRM, like Digital 8 or EveryAction to keep on top of it all.

One. Ask supporters to Like or Follow You. It all starts with a small ask and one of the easiest actions someone can take is following you on social media. You can run Facebook ads for likes, but you’ll also gather a lot of likes from people who are generally interested in politics. At this stage, people may be sympathetic, but they probably aren’t invested in the success of your campaign yet. You can cultivate these followers by providing them engaging content about your candidate or issue.

Two. Introduce Sign-Up Forms. Once you have an audience, your next step is gathering their contact information so that you can begin sending more targeted and relevant content. Ask your followers on social media to sign a card for the candidate or sign onto a petition. When they sign-on, you can collect their name, email, and zip code and opt supporters in to your email list. 

Three. Offer a gift. Offer to send supporters a gift in exchange for a small donation. Supporters can donate $3 in exchange for a cool bumper sticker or $10 to receive a keychain. This is an easy way to convert your supporters into donors.

Four. Mobilize your list. Now that you’ve identified key supporters who’ve bought in by making a small gift, ask them to attend a house party or rally. Schedule a one-on-one with an organizer near them. Work with your field team to engage your supporters as volunteers.

Five. Keep making asks and highlighting actions. Whether you’re seeking contributions of time, money, or both, the relationship doesn’t stop when a supporter makes their first donation or completes a canvassing shift. Keep making escalated asks in exchange for a more meaningful relationship with the campaign.

You’ll also want to lift up the great work that your supporters are already doing. Breakdown the impact that a $25 donation can make or post pictures of volunteers gathering before a canvass.

Building Your List: Collecting the Data that Matters

The three most important pieces of data to gather from your supporters are Name, Email, and Zip Code. Knowing your subscribers’ zip codes will help you send them more targeted, relevant content. And targeted, conditional content helps ensure that your supporters will feel connected to you.

Whether you’re running for the state house or for Congress, it is important to segment your list by location. If your campaign has donors from across the nation, you’ll want to send your fundraising emails out to your entire list, but only make volunteer asks of your local supporters.

Those three points of data are a useful starting point, but you can collect more information to further segment your list. Sending supporters a poll about the issues that matter most to them or inquiring about their communication preferences will enable you to target your communications even more effectively.

Well-segmented lists are also a valuable asset for rapid-response. If a crisis occurs in part of the nation, your campaign or organization may want to address everyone on your list except those people directly impacted by the crisis. Of course, all responses to a crisis should be tactful and it is usually not appropriate to fundraise in these moments.

Because so many of the policies and politics that shape our everyday experiences are local, localized messaging speaks directly to our experiences and builds trust.

Test Everything

Testing early and often is essential to the success of your digital program. Every audience is unique and knowing yours will empower you to be a more effective digital organizer and fundraiser.

Some audiences will respond really well to emails packed with graphics, while others will prefer simple plain text emails. Facebook ads that encourage people to ‘Contribute’ might outperform ads that ask people to ‘Donate’. You may have a good sense of what works for your list, but running ongoing tests helps ensure that your digital program is fully-optimized.

Test one variable at a time. This is simple. If you want to know what the best subject line is, the only thing that should change between Test Email A and Test Email B is the subject line. If the copy differs from email A to B, you will not be able to tell what made the successful email stand out.

With our digital tools, you can run A-J tests (meaning you can test up to 10 different subject lines, donate buttons, etc.) so you can run the tests they need to optimize their programs and ultimately, raise more money.

Select your test audience. Send your test content to a subset of your full list. Be sure to exclude supporters who have their donation information saved (one-click donations). These supporters are most likely to give, so you want to serve them the most effective content possible.

Measure success carefully. When deciding which email to share with your full list, it can be tempting to select the email with the most opens. This is a good metric if your goal is to share a note with your supporters, but if your goal is to raise money, be sure to send the email that resulted in the most supporters making contributions or in the largest amount raised.

Keep testing. Once you get a result, you shouldn’t assume that it will always hold true for your list. People may have responded to the novelty of a new button, but still respond better to a donation link overall.