Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Libertarians: Stop Relying on Email!

Just because you assemble your life around your email inbox doesn't mean everyone else does.

In fact, these days email has become almost ineffective as a marketing method.  It was at one time a fair way to reach your prospects -- until everyone caught on, making it increasingly difficult to break through the noise.  Now, the trash bin and the spam filter are very likely to be the final resting places of your email messages to your members.

We Libertarians tend to rely too much on email.  Way too much.  Especially our leadership.

One of the (many) things I have repeatedly tried to convince Libertarians of is that email is a woefully bad way to get real warm-body participation. They’re great for reminders, or for an occasional nudge, but they are NOT a recruiting mechanism. They *can* be used for recruiting and fundraising, but the fact is that real letters — not to mention ringing a doorbell and shaking a hand — work at a MUCH higher rate.

Establish a project for which you need X dollars. Pick out a list of 100 LP members in your area.  Send:

  • 34 of them email fundraising messages
  • 33 of them hard-copy letters mailed via USPS
  • And go visit the last 33.

I would be happy to wager that the donation *rate* (the largest number of donors) will come from the last group.  I'll also wager that the hard-copy letters will be the next most productive.  The email method, however, will be dead last in terms of how many people respond.

The only advantage email has is it is cheap.

But remember -- you get what you pay for. Yes, email is cheap.  But because we all know it's cheap, many people will get the subtle hint that we don’t really care about them if $0 is all we’re willing to invest.

Far too many libertarian “leaders” rely almost exclusively on email for communicating with their fellow members. If we’re serious about building the movement, or the party, we have to actually knock on doors and meet our fellows, or call, or write them a professional-looking letter and include a couple of quizzes and your business card.

Just because you see some email addresses on the database that the national LP sends your state, before you make a habit of using them for all your LP needs, remember two things:

1)  The LP does not have current email addresses for 100% of our members (not everyone chooses to provide one).  In my home state of Virginia, typically there are about 60% of members (never mind former members and inquiries!) who both have an email listed and for whom that address is actually current.

2)  It's a proven fact of life for nonprofits: Web-based and email *never* generates anywhere near the results as paper mail, regardless of whether one is speaking of fundraising, volunteer recruitment, activity notices, and the like.

It's well and good to communicate with those of us like myself who "live on email", but 95% of people do not, even if they have email and use it regularly.

Again -- with email, 1) it's too easy to delete it and forget about it; and 2) there's so much email flooding inboxes these days that it's easy to get lost in the noise.

Back in the 1999-2001 & 2003-2007 years when I was editing the Virginia LP newsletter, I made a substantial effort to suppress paper newsletters from going to those who had asked to receive them by email.  We tried it two ways: 1) Sending the pdf via email directly; and 2) sending just a link to the pdf via email so they could download it at their leisure.

It was fairly clear that the paper edition was actually getting read, because in conversation at LPVA conventions, issues that had been discussed in the newsletter were often the topic of discussion in-person at those conventions, too.

It was also fairly clear the web/email versions were not being read.  I realize email "read" receipts are not universally returned, but most are, and they are indicative of "open" rates.  Again to test which version was getting read, I placed email receipts on the emails with the links as well as the ones with the pdf attachment.  The response rate to these emails was dismal.

Anecdotally, the state chair in the y2k period received his newsletter via email -- and more than once asked me to print something I'd already printed recently, and I had to point him towards the newsletter link with the issue that had already covered the subject.

At one point I got pretty frustrated with this, as his frequent requests were the primary reason I'd gone to the trouble of making the newsletter available online in the first place.

Don't get me wrong.  Let me reiterate that email does have a role to play with communicating with our base.  But if you are in any way engaged in organizing LP activity, be real and don't use it as your first-choice method of speaking to your colleagues.  Pick up the phone, go visit, or send a real letter.  Just remember -- face to face with one person, making a friend is worth 10,000 spambox bound emails.

If you are a candidate, then door knocking is the TOP way to engage voters and volunteers.  That’s why unions invest millions in their canvassing programs and why the RNC makes it the focus of their 72 Hour Plan.

Direct mail and live phone calling (NOT robocalls) should also be emphasized.

Candidates should not spend a dime on anything until door-to-door program is fully staffed and funded. Then most of the rest gets spent on direct mail to back it up.

The Democrats and Republicans don't rely on email, and neither should we.

Further Reading

Is Direct Mail Fundraising Really Headed for the Exit? by Chuck Pruitt

Helping New Inquiries Become Members and Supporters by Marc Montoni

Is Online Fundraising Cheaper Than Direct Mail? from Mal Warwick Associates