Five donor-centered fundraising lessons from Obama’s campaign

A fascinating new article, Inside the Secret World of the Data Crunchers Who Helped Obama Win, clearly reveals that this election was won because Obama’s team understood the make up, motivation and support of their base.

What take-aways can nonprofits learn?

1.  Lose the silos.  Your databases need to talk to each other.

For all the praise Obama’s team won in 2008 for its high-tech wizardry, its success masked a huge weakness: too many databases. Back then, volunteers making phone calls through the Obama website were working off lists that differed from the lists used by callers in the campaign office. Get-out-the-vote lists were never reconciled with fundraising lists. It was like the FBI and the CIA before 9/11: the two camps never shared data. “We analyzed very early that the problem in Democratic politics was you had databases all over the place,” said one of the officials. “None of them talked to each other.” So over the first 18 months, the campaign started over, creating a single massive system that could merge the information collected from pollsters, fundraisers, field workers and consumer databases as well as social-media and mobile contacts with the main Democratic voter files in the swing states.

You’ve got that Mail Chimp email database of 378 names you started last year, and your eTapestrydatabase of close to 3,000 donors and volunteers, oh and your marketing department has a database you’re not even privy to.

Take a lesson from Obama’s campaign:  lose the silos.

2.  Know who your best donors are.

The new megafile didn’t just tell the campaign how to find voters and get their attention; it also allowed the number crunchers to run tests predicting which types of people would be persuaded by certain kinds of appeals. Call lists in field offices, for instance, didn’t just list names and numbers; they also ranked names in order of their persuadability, with the campaign’s most important priorities first. About 75% of the determining factors were basics like age, sex, race, neighborhood and voting record.

Have you developed your donor profiles?  Do you know what your best donor does for a living?  How many children she has?  Their names, ages, schools?

3.  Do you have a social media strategy?

“Why did we put Barack Obama on Reddit?” an official asked rhetorically. “Because a whole bunch of our turnout targets were on Reddit.”

Before you jump into Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, do you know where your donors are spending their time online?

4.  Testing, always testing

Early on, for example, the campaign discovered that people who had unsubscribed from the 2008 campaign e-mail lists were top targets, among the easiest to pull back into the fold with some personal attention. The strategists fashioned tests for specific demographic groups, trying out message scripts that they could then apply. They tested how much better a call from a local volunteer would do than a call from a volunteer from a non–swing state like California. As Messina had promised, assumptions were rarely left in place without numbers to back them up.

Too many nonprofits never test.  Even the smallest organization can run simple tests, such as using hand-addressed envelopes in a selection of their direct mail appeals and tracking the results.

5.  Make it easy for your donors

Chicago discovered that people who signed up for the campaign’s Quick Donate program, which allowed repeat giving online or via text message without having to re-enter credit-card information, gave about four times as much as other donors.

How easy is it for your donors to make a gift on your site?  And what does Obama’s Quick Donate program tell us about the beauty of monthly giving?

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