Hey! Obama email fundraising reveals secrets to success

There’s a quick, interesting look behind the curtain at the Obama Campaign emails at Bloomberg Businessweek: The Science Behind Those Obama Campaign E-Mails.

With a mailing universe of tens of millions, a mailing schedule that ran to several emails per day toward the end of the campaign, and a narrow, urgent window of opportunity for fundraising, they had an unparalleled learning laboratory, and they used it very well. Most of the $690 million the Obama campaign raised online came from those e-mails.

Two powerful learnings cited in the article:


  1. Casual, personal-sounding subject lines did best. One of their strongest: Hey.
  2. Ugly worked. “Every time something really ugly won, it would shock me: giant-size fonts for links, plain-text links vs. pretty ‘Donate’ buttons. Eventually we got to thinking, ‘How could we make things even less attractive?’ That’s how we arrived at the ugly yellow highlighting on the sections we wanted to draw people’s eye to.”

That these things worked in political fundraising doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll work for you. But those two points have played out in my experience:


  1. If your subject line has that phony marketing voice, the email won’t do well. Make it sound like a real person.
  2. You simply can’t be too ugly. In email or any other medium.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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About the blogger

Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.