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E-mail List Management

Campaign season is well under way, and with several candidates coming right out of the DFA community—like Marian Harris running for Ohio State House and Anne Dicker going for a State House seat in Pennsylvania—it's important for our circle of progressive activists to have the necessary tools to win races.

One of the most critical developments in forming an effective campaign is managing your email list. Now email lists are a relatively recently-developed tool, so while your campaign staffers may be well-versed in precinct organizing and phone banking, managing an email list might be a daunting prospect.

Let's start with the basics. You've walked into the offices of your candidate, and whatever your official job title, your duties include managing the campaign email list. One of your co-workers runs up and says, "Welcome... so anyways, if we can get 5,000 local people to sign up on our list, we'll have a great online base for fundraising, events and activism!"

Sounds like a plan. How are you going to do it?

Building a List
There are many ways—which run the gamut from highly effective to crash-and-burn awful—for building your email list. A few of them are:

  • Your local party organization — Depending on your location and how organized your local party is, they may or may not have a list to share. Or, they may have a list with strict guidelines which prevent sharing. It's important to respect those guidelines (they're in place to protect user privacy!) and work with the party to ensure both you and they treat members with respect for their preferences. Sometimes, an organization which will not share a list, will in fact send an email on your behalf to the list—allowing their users to visit your website and join your list.
  • Website signups — Your campaign site should always feature an easy way for visitors to join your list. Getting newsletter updates is a low-hurdle to campaign participation. Through careful list management, you'll be able to tell which members are interesting in moving up the volunteer ladder, doing progressively more involved tasks for your campaign. People want to help, so give them an easy way to start!
  • Buying a list — Various Internet back-alley email dealers will sell you a million names for a buck. Should you chance it? Well, let's take a look at that list. It's probably one that a computer program assembled by crawling websites, looking for people who have unwittingly posted their email address on message boards and websites. Maybe it's a million randomly-generated email addresses, most of which don't exist. Perhaps you'll happen to buy your addresses on a day when the computer program was crawling through right-wing websites and you'll have a million angry people emailing you to, "Take me off your list!" There is rarely a good time to buy a list. It's better to have a smaller, yet more targeted list than a bloated billion crummy addresses.
  • Event signups — Whenever I walk into campaign events without a sign-in sheet, I wonder if the campaign ever knew I was there. Make the sign-in sheet prominent, include a spot for email addresses and make sure that you ask if you may email those who sign in. A simple checkbox with "may we email you updates?" will do. It's also a nice touch to email a thank you note to everyone who attended your event, no matter what their role. Someone gave up their time for you—thank them!

There are many more ways to grow your list in a smart manner... what can you think of?

If you have other questions about list building and management, fire away -- go strategic or tactical, granular or high-level, content or technology -- whatever you like.

What we're discussing tonight is an extremely abbreviated version of the Online Organizing training which is taught across the nation at the DFA Training Academy. If you would like a more in-depth treatment of this subject, I strongly encourage you to sign up for a two-day DFA training in your area—they are well worth it!

Posted by TaraLiloia on April 24, 2006 at 07:12 PM | Permalink

Comments

I'll be back at 8:00pm EDT for the discussion!

Tara

Posted by: Tara Liloia DFA | Apr 24, 2006 7:15:30 PM

Thanks for being here with us tonight Tara. Another Congressional candidate from PA is Lois Herr will be joining us in June. I'm seeing this blog as a great way to engage many candidates across the country. What I'd like to see is for every blogger on this site suggest at least one more potential candidate that we can contact and get involved with our Monday discussions.
On another tread, how do you go about creating an e-mail list from scratch?
bob

Posted by: Bob | Apr 24, 2006 7:33:22 PM

Hi Bob, I agree that the MViMV blog is a great place to start a discussion with candidates. Lois Herr is a former Dean Dozen candidate, so we're definitely glad to hear she'll be here! Deval Patrick is a candidate for MA governor, but there are grassroots activists on both sides of his campaign -- it would be worth opening the discussion to give him a chance to address their concerns directly.

Posted by: Tara Liloia DFA | Apr 24, 2006 7:58:14 PM

Other ways to build a list from scratch...

Trading Lists with Like-Minded Organizations
This is a perfectly-viable option, and there are several progressive organizations which are willing to share their list with you. Some will make the offer when they've endorsed your candidate. Some prefer a list trade, name-for-name.

There are a few things you should be aware of when list-trading:

-- How closely aligned are the goals of your campaign and the other organization? (I wouldn't advise trading with the local anti-choice brigade...)
-- Did the members on that organization's list agree to have their addresses traded to a like-minded organization? (There is nothing you want *less* than a group of 10,000 people who feel their trust has been violated.) Look at the National Anti-Poverty Organization for legal language to look for, "NAPO does exchange its trade list with other like-minded organization from time to time." http://www.napo-onap.ca/en/about/privacy%20policy.htm
-- How are you going to welcome this group of new people to your list? They don't know they've been traded -- so make them aware that you're adding them to your list and why. It's better to have people leave with a shrug now, than with an angry letter later.

My preference lies in building a list organically, through events, polls and similar activities. You'll have a hightly-invested group of members if they *want* to hear from you.

Posted by: Tara Liloia DFA | Apr 24, 2006 8:00:10 PM

Hi Tara,

My problem is I needed advise on email lists 2 years ago, so now I have all these lists for various orgs and candidates, but their literally just lists of email addresses with no other useful information. Do you have any advise on "fixing" old email lists?

Posted by: Jessica | Apr 24, 2006 8:01:30 PM

And while we discuss managing an email list, let's take a look at the flip side. Anyone here feeling overwhelmed with political emails? Have you unsubscribed from any political lists because of "email fatigue"?

Which are the first lists to go... the most frequently mailed? The one with the worst images? The one with the most typos? The lamest campaigns?

We have an idea of what sparks people interest, based on our own three years of statistics, but what do you like to see in an email?

Posted by: Tara Liloia DFA | Apr 24, 2006 8:03:07 PM

Which are the first lists to go...

Posted by: Tara Liloia DFA | Apr 24, 2006 8:03:07 PM

The campaigns or issues that I basically have no interest in. If I have even a tiny spark of interest I'll keep it, but I must have been traded to some of these lists ;-)

Also, one thing that definalty helps with email fatigue is to set some or all of your yahoo groups to daily digest.

Posted by: Jessica | Apr 24, 2006 8:08:33 PM

I know that I get over 100 spam messages [even though the university has an anti-spam program]every day! I just block them out, which of course means there might be "one" truly important message in there that I'd like to see. It's very frustrating.

Posted by: Bob | Apr 24, 2006 8:10:10 PM

Good to see you, Jessica.

Do what any good campaign does with old lists -- start re-identifying people. If financially feasible, get your technology in order so you can track open rates, click throughs, bouce rates and other pertinent data.

The next time you send an email to that list, make a note of how many are "hard bounces" (dead address) and "soft bounces" (difficulty reaching an address). Chuck those hard bounces off your list. They count against you on ISP spam filters, so don't mail them ever again. If an address "soft bounces" several times in a row, take it off your list as well. Dead addresses only hurt you.

Now, you've got working addresses. A good start. The next time you have a petition, ask for an address and a phone number. We don't see a huge dropoff in signers when we ask for a bit more information, but you experiment with what works with your list. Now you have an address and a phone number -- yay!

Figure out your open rate (what percentage of your list actually opens your messages) and trend it over time. If you've got some good email software, (or a good volunteer techie), you can find out who opens which messages. If you've got a group of people who consistently open "Iraq" messages, you've now got an "Iraq" subgroup. Same for poverty, health care, any issue.

Survey your list... kind of heavy-handed, and you won't get a huge response, but you will get a page worth of answers from a small percentage of the list, as well as an idea of which members are willing to put the effort into a page-long questionnaire (I wonder what else they'd be willing to help out with...). ;-)

Posted by: Tara Liloia DFA | Apr 24, 2006 8:10:53 PM

Hi, Tara! Thanks for the great info on email lists! You rock!

I'm glad to see we've done a few things right with the MViMV email list, like only including those who have directly provided us with their email address and respecting their privacy! One thing we have struggled with is how often to email; we probably under mail because we don't want to drive folks away.

The most unsubscribes come when we've emailed two emails within a week or two. I understand this problem because there are times when I get tempted to unsubscribe from an org because they have hit me with too many emails in a week.

Posted by: Charlene | Apr 24, 2006 8:12:02 PM

Hi Tara,

I like seeing an email from a person, not from an organization.

Posted by: Quintus | Apr 24, 2006 8:12:57 PM

Tara, what do you think about this contest that Bernie Sanders is running? They'll enter you in a contest for a free trip to Burlington to see Al Franken and Bernie for each email address you send the campaign.

http://www.progressiveamerica.us/weekend/index.php?rand=1338678214444d68f18f2998.79264491&init=1

(Disclaimer: I am employed by the Sanders For Senate campaign.)

Posted by: Jessica | Apr 24, 2006 8:15:22 PM

Posted by: Bob | Apr 24, 2006 8:10:10 PM

Spam filtering is a constant source of frustration for both email recipients (you) and email senders (us).

An ISP basically has no incentive to deliver an organization or campaign's emails to their members. AOL could care less is Joe Candidate's fundraising email goes through. And an AOL user isn't likely to know that the email has been blocked in the first place, so won't raise a stink that it's missing.

As an email list manager, you'll likely deal with the cold shoulder of most ISPs. And I'll tell you that it's not a pleasant process. There are hoops to jump through: forms, feedback loops, reviews, applications for whitelisting, a letter of recommendation from your grandmother.. *ahem* You get the picture.

Most ISPs now block emails based on how many of their members have marked your message as spam. The best advice I have is to keep your list squeaky clean. *Only* send to people who have opted-in to your list. Remove bouncing addresses and unsubscribes promptly. Make address corrections quickly. Send messages with content your members want to see.

Posted by: Tara Liloia DFA | Apr 24, 2006 8:16:14 PM

I'm thrilled to see Deval Patrick getting such great support from DFA. I believe Kate Donoghue will be blogging here on behalf of Deval on May 15th.

I knew Marian was running but hadn't realized Anne Dicker was running. I'll send her an invite to blog with us, Bob.

Posted by: Charlene | Apr 24, 2006 8:18:29 PM

One thing we have struggled with is how often to email;

Posted by: Charlene | Apr 24, 2006 8:12:02 PM

That's something we struggle with at Democracy For Vermont too. We send out 1 email a month, plus sometimes a mid-month email if there's a really important issue or event (it has to be pretty important).

I think we've only gotten like 2 unsubscribes in 2 years, which is pretty amazing IMHO, but we also have only gotten email addresses from people who have signed up through our website or at one of our events, so it's a good solid list.

Posted by: Jessica | Apr 24, 2006 8:21:08 PM

Tara - I follow most of your suggestions but the list still gets longer. I feel like throwing my computer out the window and going for a long walk!

Jessica - the Bernie trip to B'ton sounds interesting and the idea of gathering e-mails makes good sense, but...sorry, I teach energy conservation and reduction in GHGs - trips, hotels, food - all put a continuing strain on our energy resources. Where's the alternative, renewable initiatives here?

Posted by: Bob | Apr 24, 2006 8:22:46 PM

Posted by: Charlene | Apr 24, 2006 8:12:02 PM

Hi Charlene, planning an email schedule is an important part of an organization and campaign. The fact that you've taken the time to notice that you get a jump in unsubscribes when you increase your mailing frequency is fantastic -- many organization don't even have that much information!

Now that you know it, you can act on it. If you know you can only email twice a month without triggering "email fatigue" on your list, you'll need to treat those two emails per month like gold. They're your only two opportunities to talk to your list. Plan them well in advance and map out the "story" you're going to tell to your members.

And, of course, you always want to double-check your data. For example, were the weeks in which you emailed often ones in which there was an issue-based email followed by an event-based email? Do more people drop after event-based emails? (We've had people leave the DFA list after we send an event-based email, because they don't see an event in their area and mistakenly assume there's no DFA group near them.) Or, another example, were those weeks ones in which other political organization emailed often as well? Check your reasoning against the data every so often to ensure that you've got the right strategy for your list's behavior.

Posted by: Tara Liloia DFA | Apr 24, 2006 8:23:18 PM

Posted by: Quintus | Apr 24, 2006 8:12:57 PM


Hi Quintus, you're absolutely right. And while I'm sure most people don't think that Tom Hughes in emailing them individually, we always craft our DFA emails from one person, in their own personal voice. You can always tell an email from Jim Dean, because the odds are good he'll call someone "folks." And that's how Jim talks -- it sounds like Jim, because he wrote it!

Writing back is also an important part of not being a faceless organization. We have Pat Hanson, our super-volunteer, answering all of the incoming DFA emails. She's a real person, giving an individual answer. Most people reply to her with a surprised, "I didn't expect to hear from anyone!" Give more than your members expect.

Posted by: Tara Liloia DFA | Apr 24, 2006 8:26:10 PM

Most ISPs now block emails based on how many of their members have marked your message as spam.

Posted by: Tara Liloia DFA | Apr 24, 2006 8:16:14 PM

Thanks for explaining this, Tara, and for giving advice on how to keep your message from becoming spam. I didn't even know to ask the question and I've wondered why some of the emails that I want to receive sometimes get caught up in my MX LogicTM spam blocker.

Posted by: Charlene | Apr 24, 2006 8:26:57 PM

If anyone's interested, I can tell you something that does NOT work for getting people to join your email list...

I did this 10-page website for a local candidate: http://www.howardforrutland.org/ but I forgot that I needed a page for people to join the mailing list (Duh!), so I added it as an afterthought to the homepage. (I did the website for free, so it's not like candidate is complaining about it, but still, it's annoying to myself).

Anyway, people are using the volunteer form, and making contributions (which both have their own page and huge buttons on every page), but not one single person has "joined the mailing list"...Need to go in and fix that somehow.

Posted by: Jessica | Apr 24, 2006 8:29:08 PM

Posted by: Jessica | Apr 24, 2006 8:15:22 PM

I applaud the campaign for being so transparent about the fact that this is a list-building initiative. As campaign supporters, we know when a poll asks for our email address, that we're likely to end up on the email list. But usually there's a *wink, wink, nudge, nudge* air about the whole thing. Leave it to Bernie to come right out and ask!

One change I would make to the contest is that the invitation to join the list comes from the person entering the contest. More of a, "Hey, I love Bernie, join his campaign!" than the campaign asking. Forward to a friend works well when it comes directly from the friend.

Posted by: Tara Liloia DFA | Apr 24, 2006 8:29:43 PM

Hi Charline - Yes, Kate is scheduled to be with us May 15th, and we're certainly open to invite Deval Patrick to join our discussions - I appreciate that - thanks. I was going to ask about how we might contact him.

Posted by: Bob | Apr 24, 2006 8:29:59 PM

Posted by: Tara Liloia DFA | Apr 24, 2006 8:26:10 PM

Give it up for Pat Hanson! She is a super lady!

And so is everybody here. : )

Thanks so much for being here and sharing all your wonderful wisdom, Tara!

Bob, Thanks for organizing it!

Back to work I have to go.

Posted by: Charlene | Apr 24, 2006 8:30:42 PM

I think we've only gotten like 2 unsubscribes in 2 years, which is pretty amazing IMHO, but we also have only gotten email addresses from people who have signed up through our website or at one of our events, so it's a good solid list.

Posted by: Jessica | Apr 24, 2006 8:21:08 PM

Sounds like the list is in great shape -- not a lot of unwilling participants. Those are the ones that will clog your inbox with "Get me off your list!" cries.

Posted by: Tara Liloia DFA | Apr 24, 2006 8:31:26 PM

The campaigns or issues that I basically have no interest in. If I have even a tiny spark of interest I'll keep it, but I must have been traded to some of these lists ;-)

Also, one thing that definalty helps with email fatigue is to set some or all of your yahoo groups to daily digest.

Posted by: Jessica | Apr 24, 2006 8:08:33 PM

Thanks, Jessica. Is there a frequency of emails at which you say "forget it"?

Posted by: Tara Liloia DFA | Apr 24, 2006 8:32:52 PM

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