Tuesday, December 4, 2012

5 Fundraising Lessons from the Obama Campaign

Did you know that the Obama campaign had an advisory group of unpaid academics whose research and expertise in psychology and behavioral science were used to aid the cause? Or that Obama's quirky fundraising emails raised ten times more online than their biggest SuperPAC?

Seems like nonprofits could learn a trick or two from this past election:

Lesson #1: Subject lines in emails make a difference. Campaign strategists found that a casual, familiar tone worked best - including mild profanity (such as "hell yeah"). They also did constant analysis of what raised money and what didn't. Their most successful subject line? Simply the word "hey." I'm not suggesting you use these exact words, but it's definitely worth your while to pay more attention to the wording of subject lines. And consider doing regular analysis of which fundraising emails raise the most money.

Lesson #2: Make your pitch personal. The campaign found that just identifying someone as a voter made it more likely that he/she would actually vote - because people want to be consistent with what they have done in the past. So be sure to do your own research before you contact donors, and acknowledge their previous support.

Lesson #3: Have people sign a pledge card. Research shows that people are much more likely to follow through if they have made a simple written commitment to do so. This made a difference for Obama's voting numbers, and my own experience confirms that these research results apply to donations as well.

Lesson #4: Ask them when and how they will contribute. I did some phone calling for the Obama campaign, and we were instructed to ask people when and where they would vote. One of the campaign's many emails said, "People do things when they make plans to do them; what's your plan?" Turns out making even a simple plan increases the odds that someone will follow through, whether it's voting for the President or making a charitable contribution.

Lesson #5: Use peer pressure. Psychologists have confirmed that people like to conform to standard behaviors. One well-known study showed that when hotel guests were told that a majority of guests reuse their towels (rather than putting the focus on environmental value), there was a 29% increase in reuse. So - consider organizing house parties where the hosts announce their contribution to your cause and ask others to join them.

New York Times science writer Benedict Carey quotes psychologist and Obama advisor Dr. Craig Fox as saying "little things can make a difference" in people's behavior. The Obama campaign used these little insights successfully - and so can you and your nonprofit organization.

P.S. You can listen to the NPR podcast about Obama's email campaign at: http://www.marketplace.org/topics/elections/campaign-trail/science-behind-obamas-fundraising-emails

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