We're hiring two Digital Fundraising Strategists to join our growing team!

At Hines Digital, we're super focused on getting the best digital fundraising results for our clients. We're not just trying to raise money-we're trying to raise the bar for what digital campaigning (and especially email engagement) looks like for conservative campaigns & causes. And to do that, we need good people. People like you.

Right now, we're looking to bring on two new Digital Fundraising Strategists to join our growing team. What's a Digital Fundraising Strategist do? I'm glad you asked!

What you'll be doing

You're going to be executing the digital strategy for conservative campaigns and causes on the front lines of the conservative movement, both in the United States and around the world. Specifically, that means:

  • overseeing email programs for top conservative campaigns and causes;
  • writing, preparing, and sending email blasts;
  • create and launch lead generation campaigns (ads) to build our clients' email and supporter lists;
  • create signup forms, petitions, and donation pages; and
  • working with the rest of the team to think critically, run the numbers, and relentlessly work to improve conversion rates and ROI for our clients.

Who we're looking for

Do you love politics? Do you live and breathe campaigns? Do you sign up for everyone's email list just because you like to compare their fundraising emails, and click the links just to see how the landing pages are set up? Then you're (probably) perfect for this role.

  • On a more nuts-and-bolts level, we're looking for someone:
  • with previous political campaign experience (or something similar);
  • with tremendous attention to detail, because details matter tremendously;
  • who's willing to ask questions when they don't know, and who's open to learning new things;
  • who works well under pressure, and can manage their own time against frequent, hard deadlines;
  • who's a really strong writer;
  • who already knows the basics of HTML and CSS; and
  • who's (ideally) used NationBuilder before (but that's not a deal breaker-we can train you).

Basically, if you're hungry to learn and grow and want to take your first step into conservative digital fundraising and email strategy, this is a great role for you.

Also, fun fact: this is a remote position. You can live and work wherever you like, so long as you do a good job and get results. Seriously.

How to apply

If you're interested in joining the team, send us an email with your resume and some writing samples. (Bonus points if you write your email in the format and tone of a fundraising email!) We're much more interested in seeing how you write and think than we are in your resume, so tell us your story. Who are you? What's your background? What do you bring to the table? Why do you want to join the team? Etc.

You can reach us at hello@hines.digital.

Theresa May and the Conservative Party Won the UK General Election

Yesterday, the people of Britain voted to return Theresa May's Conservative Party back to Downing Street as the nation's largest party and leader of a coalition government. The result was a win for Theresa May, a win for the Conservative Party, and a win for Britain.

Of course, that's not what you'll hear in the press. The talking heads in the news media have been quick to frame anything short of an electoral landslide as a failure by the Tories, but the truth is that Ms. May secured precisely the mandate for strong and stable leadership that she set out to achieve.

In fact-despite losing the pure parliamentary majority in the House of Commons—the Conservatives actually increased their share of the national popular vote by 5.5% compared with 2015. That's the largest gain in the national popular vote by a Conservative Party leader since Margaret Thatcher's campaign in 1979. That's a narrative you'll not hear on television, but it's true: Theresa May grew the Tories' support, nationally, by a greater margin than any party leader during my lifetime. Fact.

And when the world woke up this morning, Ms. May's Conservative Party still held the largest share of seats in the House of Commons. Together with the Democratic Unionist Party, she was prepared to form a coalition government. And with formal Brexit negotiations beginning in less than two weeks time, the Conservatives have a renewed, post-referendum mandate to govern-having won three consecutive General Election campaigns. That's a successful outcome, make no mistake.

We're proud to have been a part of the team that helped her become Prime Minister in the wake of last year's referendum. And while we were not a part of this year's General Election campaign team, we were cheering loudly from the sidelines in support of our friends and partners who were. They may have fallen short of expectations, but they made huge gains in Scotland, came out well ahead of Labour, and they're still in government. Where I come from, that's called a win, and the whole team should be proud of the work they've done.

So congratulations to Ms. May, her campaign team, and the Conservative Party. Here's to a period of electoral stability after three national polls in as many years, and five years of strong, stable leadership in the national interest!


Launching a new conservative movement in Australia

Last February, when we heard the news that Australian Senator Cory Bernardi was leaving the Liberal Party, to start a new conservative movement, we could barely contain ourselves.

Perhaps more than any other country in the Anglosphere, Australia's politics are ripe for disruption. What could an aggressive, American-style digital campaign accomplish down under?

Before long, we joined the team in a two-fold role: design and launch the party's new website, and kick-off the party's growth by boosting non-membership online fundraising.

Designing the new Conservatives.org.au

The first order of business was designing and deploying proper digital infrastructure - the foundational pieces of a strong digital strategy.

Building on their existing logo and branding design, we developed a strong, visually engaging homepage that immediately draws attention to the three most important actions supporters can take: become a member, joining the email list, and making a quick donation.

Screenshot: Homepage
The Australian Conservatives' homepage (February 2017)

Beyond its aesthetic, the Australian Conservatives' new website affords them tremendous functionality to empower grassroots organizing and party building.

Supporters are able to create personalized accounts on the site, allowing content and forms to be tailored specifically to them, and official party members have access to members-only content. The result is a website that's more than a series of pages-it's an online hub for the nation's fastest-growing political movement.

Screenshot: Donation Page
Australian Conservatives primary donation page. (May 2017)

Perhaps most importantly for a growing political movement, a series of top-tier landing page templates help the party dramatically improve its conversion rate for new supporter and donor signups.

As a result, the party's new website design contributed to a 40% increase in online fundraising revenue (not counting party membership fees) month-over-month.

Moreover, after launching the new website (and for the first time in its history) Australian Conservatives raised more money through voluntary contributions than it did through membership fees-and important milestone for a party aiming to continue sustainable growth over time.

High-performing email fundraising

Growing a new political movement takes funds, and our mandate from Day One was to help Australian Conservatives build the best digital fundraising campaign in Australian political history. That meant coming up with a new playbook, as Australia's unique political culture is unaccustomed to the sorts of "churn and burn" fundraising tactics so common in the United States.

Rather than stoke fear, create urgency, or attack the other parties, we settled on a positive strategy-building up the party's community and investing them as an integral part of our shared success.

The party's first direct fundraising email went out the evening of the Western Australian elections, and the results were tremendous. (You can see the email below.)

Screenshot: Fundraising Email

Without sharing hard figures, we can say that this email raised $1.08 AUD per recipient - meaning that if it had gone out to 10,000 supporters it would've raised $10,800 AUD. If you've ever sent political fundraising email, you'll know that those are tremendous returns, and a testament both to the party's energized supporters and the efficacy of the message strategy and donation form design.

(It's also important to note that the party only asked non-member supporters to donate since members had already contributed. This means showed tremendous willingness among non-member supporters to support the party financially, even if they weren't yet ready or willing to become official members.)

The Bottom Line

We're tremendously proud of our work with Australian Conservatives-helping them successfully launch their party's digital presence and kick-off a successful online fundraising effort that's unique in Australian politics.

Australian Conservatives supports and advocates for the essential pillars of conservatism as a means of building a sustainable and prosperous economy and maintaining a civil society. Thousands of years of human experience have demonstrated what works, and we're proud to play a role in the effort to bring that wisdom of that lived experience to bear in Australian politics.


How the Conservatives Are Framing the British Election on Social Media

Last year, we had the chance to design the branding for Theresa May's Conservative Party leadership campaign. This year, we've watched with delight as our friends at the Conservative Party have evolved that brand into a bold, fun, and relentless on-message social media campaign during the present election.

Theresa May Logo
Click here to read more about our 2016 branding work for UK Prime Minister Theresa May.

Like in 2015, Facebook and Twitter are beyond doubt the front lines in the battle for control of Parliament, and the Tories have leaned full-tilt into the platforms to frame and shape the narrative of the election.

The British approach their digital strategy somewhat differently than we do in the United States, and to great effect. Instead of candidates building their own digital infrastructure, it's the party that's the hub of the campaigning activity. Instead of the website as the anchor of online activity, it's the Facebook Page. In part, this stems from the radically different campaign finance reality in UK Politics: British campaigns spend and raise a mere fraction of what's seen in America-even at the state level.

The Conservatives have developed an array of seemingly omnipresent shareable graphics designed to take advantage of the equally omnipresent nature of social media in voters lives. This is an incredibly smart strategy, but smart ideas are a dime-a-dozen. What's really to be applauded is the Tories' execution, which is near-flawless.

Let's take a look at what makes these shareables so great.

Reason #1: They are relentlessly on-message, easily understood, and more than a little fun.

Social Media Image

The Prime Minister chose to call this election because she wanted the strongest possible mandate from voters before commencing formal Brexit negotiations this June. So it should come as no shock that the Tories' campaign is anchored in large part on strong, stable leadership in the national interest and getting the best Brexit deal possible.

What is somewhat of a surprise is how well the Tories have made such a dry, weather-worn issue as Brexit pop so well online. Remember: British voters have been hearing about Brexit non-stop since 2015. They've heard it all before.

And yet, these graphics are fresh, fun, and not at all scary. The Tories clearly want voters to feel optimistic about Brexit (as well they should), and reassured by having Theresa May at the negotiating table. If there's anything to be afraid of, the graphics tell us, it's Jeremy Corbyn's "coalition of chaos."

Reason #2: They are taking the time necessary to design their graphics for Facebook & Twitter's strengths.

Any veteran digital strategist knows: you don't have a "digital" strategy. You have a Facebook strategy, and a Twitter strategy, and an email strategy, etc. Each platform has unique constraints, a unique voice, and unique user expectations-and to maximize your results, you need to tailor your content accordingly.

The Tories get this, which is why they routinely create different versions of shareable content for Facebook and Twitter.

One particular strength of Facebook is its auto-play video functionality in the News Feed. Videos automatically begin playing as the user scrolls past them, and they're often watched with the volume off.

For marketers, this auto-play feature presents an opportunity to transform static graphics into dynamic, moving ads like the one above. (You'll notice that this video works great no matter whether the audio is enabled or not. That's by design.)

Social media image
On Twitter, the Tories have distilled their Facebook video into a single slide. (Source)

Twitter, however, is less friendly for auto-play video. Oftentimes, video content will be preceded by paid advertising by a third party, meaning that your campaign's carefully crafted video won't be visible to your audience for several seconds.

Twitter's timeline is also more ephemeral, with content primarily showing in a chronological ticker rather than sorted by most relevant. This means that campaigns are incentivized to post more frequent, easily scannable posts rather than fewer instances of more substantive content.

Taken together, this means that static images tend to work better on Twitter-which is why the Conservatives have distilled their engaging Facebook video into a single image (above). It's a spot-on strategy and masterfully executed.

Reason #3: Repetition.

The last and perhaps most easily overlooked reason why the Conservatives strategy is so effective is that they've executed it in a consistent and sustained fashion.

Yesterday alone, they shared as many as twelve such posts to Twitter - because they know that repetition is important if you want your audience to internalize your message.

(And those are just a non-exhaustive series of posts from the past 24 hours.)

By repeating themselves so clearly and so often, the Tories are ensuring that whenever their voters open up Twitter they're likely to see a "Vote Conservative" graphic near the top of their feed.

The Bottom Line

Since the election was called earlier this year, the Conservative Party has been aggressively executing one of the most sophisticated, targeted, and intentional social media engagement strategies I've ever seen-and one that's light years ahead of anyone else in the UK.

By proactively and consistently framing the issues of the election, the Tories are putting Labour and the Lib Dems on the defensive and ensuring that the ideological debate is being fought on their terms.


Re-imagining how we schedule and tackle work at Hines Digital

One of the reasons I started my own business was because I believed there had to be a better way to work: remotely, asynchronously, and with some semblance of work/life balance. As as result, we’re constantly re-evaluating how we approach our work at Hines Digital in an attempt to achieve that goal.
This is where we’re at today…

Some background

I’ve found that working in client services can make it difficult to keep control of your schedule. When the clients call and say “can you do this by _____?” you want to say “yes.” Before long, you’ve lost all sense of pace and balance in your workload. You’re always behind schedule, and that’s no way to do great work.

At Hines Digital, we often work with clients whose stakes are high and timelines short. If we’re not available when they need us, we’ll lose the business. That leaves us vulnerable to overbooking.

The flip side of that is that constantly working on short timelines leads to burnout. That’s why we’ve been working to a way to avoid over-scheduling.

We’re going to start breaking our calendar up into discrete, six-week cycles. Here’s why…

Last month, I read (and re-read, and re-read) Jason Fried’s post about how Basecamp works on projects internally. Their approach to breaking the year up into six-week “cycles” really resonated with me. I’ve decided to try it at Hines Digital as well.

Why’d it connect with me so strongly? A few reasons:

Consulting often feels like a treadmill

We’re always working on a range of projects at different stages, and as soon as one ends another begins. But people aren’t made to operate in a permanent sprint; life naturally tends towards cycles (the sleep cycle, the seasons, etc.). Approaching our project calendar in six-week cycles feels—to me—like a natural way to work. It will give our work a rhythm.

On the other hand, without clear project cycles our project calendar can start to feel like a game of whack-a-mole: we’re always working, but never finishing. Over time that leads to fatigue, exhaustion, and burn-out.

Better allocating staff time, pricing projects, and dedicating resources

By carving our project calendar into more manageable chunks, we think it’ll be easier to allocate resources around them.

We don’t track hours at Hines Digital, so budgeting time and staff resources around work to be done can be difficult. Now, instead of a series of ongoing, rolling projects, I’ll have a sequence of six-week cycles.

Within each cycle, I’ll know exactly how much bandwidth I have to allocate and exactly how much revenue I need to realize in order to stay profitable. That simplicity and bite-sized focus will—I hope—help keep things clear.

What will we do in each six-week cycle?

In each six-week cycle, we will tackle two sorts of work: stock & flow.

  • Stock: The bigger, more substantive projects—like branding, website design, or digital strategy development. These are our bread & butter. They draw in clients and lay the groundwork for our future. Each cycle has 1–3 of these projects.
  • Flow: The ongoing, day-to-day work—like digital advertising and online fundraising—to maintain and leverage our work on past “stock” projects. Flow projects reduce client churn, win campaigns, and build long-term relationships. These projects are ongoing commitments and re-evaluating our bandwidth every six-week helps us forecast hiring needs.

After more than three years doing this sort of work, I’m pretty confident that the scope of any project in Hines Digital’s wheelhouse can be crafted so that it’s achievable in a six-week timeline.

Our ongoing business development process continues throughout each cycle. As we’re pitching new “stock” projects (website design, etc.), we allocate them to the next upcoming cycle until it’s filled. This will help us avoid over-booking, and allow us to focus on taking on projects where we’ll have the lead time required to do our best work.

What about projects that can’t wait for a six-week cycle? Sometimes timelines are too short?

For nearly every campaign or cause, a 6 week lead time to develop a website and digital strategy is totally reasonable. Planning a run for office, or launching an advocacy organization, is not usually a spur of the moment decision.

I’ve met people who’ve been plotting their run for office for as much as two years; contracting with a digital agency ought not be something you do at the last minute. After your General Consultant, your digital team ought to be your first hire.

That said, there are two situations where a campaign or cause might not have sufficient lead time, resulting in a true “hurry-up” project:

  1. You’re running for office in a Special Election (or by-election in Commonwealth countries) stemming from an unexpected vacancy, and you’ve got to move quickly; or
  2. You’re launching an advocacy effort in response to current events, don’t already have a digital agency on retainer, and need to move quickly.

Both of those situations are real, common, and understandable. In those cases, we’ll take on the projects on a case-by-case basis, charge a “rush” fee, and—typically—shortcut the full creative process and fall back on tried and true approaches.

Put another way: rush jobs are “flow,” not “stock.”

I honestly have no idea if this will work. And that’s okay with me. We’ll figure it out.

One of the great things about running a small business is that you get to decide how it’s run. There isn’t a “right way” to do these things: there’s only the way that works best for you, and you get to figure out what that is for yourself.

I don’t know if this new approach will work well for us. It might not, and that’s okay. If it turns out to be a bad idea, we’ll pivot quickly; we’re a small team, and we can do that. Lack of certainty, however, is no reason not to try.

What I do know is that Hines Digital can’t be a volume-over-quality agency. I’d rather us take on fewer projects and have our work be consistently high-quality than the opposite. This is an effort to help us focus on not overbooking so we can achieve that goal, and if there’s even a chance it’ll work then we should try it.

Hi. I’m Ian Hines, CEO of Hines Digital. We are the world’s leading digital strategy & technology provider to conservative campaigns and causes.

We’re focused on the permanent things: great client services, measurable, meaningful results, and promises kept. To us, service is sacred. We know that great clients are hard to find, and we aim to keep them.

If you’re running a campaign or cause and want to get the most out of your digital strategy, drop us a line at hello@hines.digital. We’d love to chat.


Raising $1.5 Million Online in Just Twelve Weeks With NationBuilder

In August 2016, we received an unlikely phone call. Evan McMullin, an unknown former CIA agent and chief policy advisor to the Republicans in the US House of Representatives was running for President of the United States as an independent, and his campaign manager-Joel Searby-wanted to know if we would help.

I had been talking with Joel for some months about the possibility of an independent campaign, but now that possibility had become a reality. The campaign was launching on Monday, Joel said, and we had three days to develop all the digital infrastructure and strategy for launch.

Politics is a fast-moving industry, for sure, but even by political campaign standards launching this sort of campaign in just three days would require a Herculean effort. Everything had to be done right, and there was no margin for error - no time for do-overs. Luckily, we had undertaken a similar effort for UK Prime Minister Theresa May earlier that year and knew it could be done.

Of course, we said "yes." What happened next was nothing short of historic.

Putting digital at the center of the campaign's strategy, and allowing it to lead

Political campaign teams, particularly at the statewide or national level, can be overly-complex bureaucracies. And as in any bureaucracy, organizational complexity can make it difficult to execute a comprehensive strategy with speed and focus. Various internal teams vie for influence, budget, and control, and the result is often a campaign that moves in many directions at once - and slowly.

From Day One, when just ten of us met in a small hotel conference room in Washington, DC, the McMullin for President campaign was a small, flat, nimble organization. It was clear that digital strategy would be central to everything the campaign did, and it was never a fight to get the resources or buy-in we needed to succeed.

Evan knew that the campaign needed to succeed digitally if it was to succeed at all.

Hines Digital was charged with overseeing the campaign's digital organizing strategy, including website design and content, lead acquisition, digital advertising, email marketing, online fundraising, and pretty much any other aspect of the campaign that involved software or the internet. We had no time to waste (start to finish the campaign was just twelve weeks), so we didn't waste any. We were given broad autonomy to generate ideas, make decisions, and get things done.

As a result, we were able to bring to bear all of our experience, wisdom, and knowledge - to approach digital organizing "the Hines Digital way" - and that level of autonomy and trust was an essential component in the strategy's success.

Launching the campaign in just three days

From start to finish, the McMullin campaign lasted twelve weeks. It was a pure sprint, and that pace started even before the official Day One of the campaign. We had just three days - from the day we learned that Evan had committed to running to the day we publicly launched the campaign - to design, build, and launch the campaign's digital infrastructure, and we hit our target.

We anchored the campaign's digital infrastructure on NationBuilder's platform, of course, as it's the only unified organizing toolkit that could have been deployed and scaled so quickly. For online donation processing, we used Anedot, which allowed us to begin building a base of repeat and recurring donors from Day One.

Screenshot: Homepage

Launching such a complete and robust website and engagement infrastructure out of the gate helped the campaign to project the level of preparedness and professionalism necessary to be taken seriously. A campaign or organization's website is often how it makes the first impression with prospective supporters and donors, and a strong, launch-day digital rollout conveys to those early stakeholders that their early adopter support is not misplaced.

Being prepared on Day One was essential: nearly 19% of all online fundraising came from supporters who signed up in the first 24 hours of the campaign.

Our "launch day" supporters were our strongest supporters - they sustained the campaign. Fully 9.25% of the campaign's eventual email list was comprised of supporters who signed up within the campaign's first 24 hours. Moreover, those "founding members" of the campaign contributed 18.76% of the campaigns total online fundraising revenue-more than $267,000 in total.

By ensuring that the campaign had a complete, robust, and scalable digital infrastructure-including both a website and the underlying tech to power a true digital organizing effort-we helped to put Evan in a position to succeed down the stretch.

After Launch: An email program that engaged - and retained - supporters

As an insurgent candidate, we knew that the bulk of Evan's fundraising would necessarily come from grassroots enthusiasts and small-dollar donors. This presented both a challenge and an opportunity: a challenge because Evan entered the campaign with an email list of zero, but also an opportunity to push the limits of what could be achieved when building a supporter list from scratch.

Key Stat: 96% of the money raised on the McMullin for President Campaign was raised online.

While most top-tier Republican campaigns take a "churn and burn" approach to email fundraising - sending tremendous volume and offsetting unsubscribes and spam reporters with advertising-driven list growth - we were unable to take that approach.

Lacking the launch-day capital to run aggressive lead generation ads, we were initially reliant on organic growth; and given our zero-based start and short timeline, we couldn't afford to shed supporters en masse through spam complaints and opt-outs. Once we acquired a new supporter email we needed to keep that supporter actively engaged. This necessity of avoiding churn shaped our engagement strategy to tremendous positive effect.

That meant devising an email strategy that immediately engaged new supporters with non-fundraising emails while keeping up a frequency of fundraising asks that kept much-needed dollars coming in at a high rate.

Fundraising email

Warming up new supporters with an intentionally designed on-boarding experience

Once a new supporter signed up on the website, they received a series of on-boarding emails over the following five to seven days that accomplished three major goals:

  1. To convey an ongoing "conversation" between the campaign and its supporters;
  2. To glean more information about our supporters; and
  3. To acclimate supporters to receive emails from several different senders.

The new supporter would receive emails from Evan McMullin, Mindy Finn (Evan's running mate), Joel Searby, John Claybrook (Deputy Campaign Manager), me (Ian Hines), and Richie Alicea (Deputy Digital Director) - in that order. Importantly, none of these emails were a direct fundraising appeal. Instead, new supporters were asked to:

  • complete their profile on our website;
  • volunteer with the campaign;
  • share their support on Facebook, Twitter, and Brigade; and
  • get a bumper sticker.

Only after completing the initial onboarding email sequence without opting out would they begin receiving regular fundraising asks and engagement emails.

Overall email list performance

By the end of the campaign, we had built a powerful and engaged email list that - while not on the same scale as the Clinton or Trump campaign's lists - would have been the envy of any statewide campaign in America. We sent more than four million individual emails over twelve weeks, not including auto-response messages, and our performance far exceeded industry averages.

Our email program's performance far exceeded industry averages, including an all-time "Open Rate" of 30.8%, an "Unsubscribe Rate" of just 0.4%, and a spam complaint rate of just 0.1%.

By the end of the twelve-week campaign, the supporter email list - which did not exist at all on Day One - was perhaps its most important operational asset after the candidates themselves.

The clearest way to convey the value that this approach to email fundraising achieved is by looking at it from a per-address fundraising return basis. Each new email address had an average value of $15.49 over the life of the campaign. For every dollar spent on email acquisition, the campaign would raise nearly $8 in return. Digital ads were effectively printing money.

Naturally, the highest value was with supporters who signed up in August, when Evan announced his candidacy. Over the life of the campaign, each August signup contributed an average of $24.47, and 37% of these signups donated to the campaign more than once.

Fundraising doesn't only happen via email: how user experience design yielded major fundraising returns

As important as Evan's email program was to the success of the campaign, only about 32% of the campaign's overall online fundraising was the result of direct email appeals. More often, people donated directly on the website - either on one of our "quick donate and get a sticker" buttons or via a daisy-chained donation page.

We found that it was essential to balance the "warming up" of new supporters with ensuring that they also had ample opportunity to donate when they were most enthusiastic about the campaign's message.

Screenshot: Donation Page

Through a combination of chaining donation asks to initial signup forms and with passive donation asks in engagement emails and autoresponders in the form of a prominent donate button below the signature of emails, the vast majority of donors gave in the same month they signed up.

25% of new supporters donated in the same month they signed up: the value of each same-month donor was $54.52.

This fast donor conversion timeline was essential to the campaign's success, because on a twelve-week sprint we simply didn't have any time to waste. We worked hard to craft a user-experience that (a) encouraged our supporters to sign up and join the campaign and (b) urged them to give immediately-and it worked.

A final point on campaign leadership & message

I want to say a final word about something that I believe had a significant impact on the digital program's performance, but that I cannot support with data: Evan's own vision for the campaign.

In the campaign's first meeting, at the Hilton Garden Inn in Washington, DC, I framed our eventual digital program by saying (and I'm paraphrasing from memory, here):

We're not going to lean on fake hyperbole, we won't be telling our supporters that the sky will fall if they don't give us $50, and we won't try to trick anyone into donating. We're going to speak the truth, tell our story, and ask our supporters to be part of something bigger than themselves. If we empower them to do the right thing, they'll step up to the plate and help us.

Thankfully, Evan and Joel agreed (they didn't even need to be persuaded!), and that gave us the freedom to pursue the strategy we did. I'm incredibly thankful for their support and buy-in on that front: if they had insisted that we send spam, or rent every list on the planet, or use direct mail strategies via email, we would never have achieved what we achieved.

Evan and the rest of the team were relentlessly focused on keeping our messaging positive. Positive messaging lifts people up and empowers them, and when people feel empowered they take action. Even when we used negative themes (i.e., calling out another candidate) we always pivoted back to empowerment and inspiration before we made the hard ask. That was key.

The Bottom Line

I think it's fair to say that-despite the result-the McMullin for President campaign was the most challenging, exciting, and professionally rewarding project that we worked on at Hines Digital in 2016.

Evan McMullin, Mindy Finn, Joel Searby, and the rest of the campaign team were stand up folks and a pleasure to work with. In an industry that often talks about "not having a seat at the table," I can say honestly that Evan's was a digital-first campaign-the first truly "digital-first" campaign I've been a part of. I had a direct line to the candidate and the campaign manager, and while I didn't always get what I wanted I always got a fair hearing and an explanation. I can't overemphasize how rare or valuable that is.

I also don't want to understate how important Evan's personal contribution to the campaign was to the success of the digital program. He was a relentless campaigner-incredibly disciplined and on-message-and the leadership he displayed on the campaign trail inspired conservatives across America to stand up with him. That, in turn, made it easier to write clear, compelling copy online and in emails. He trusted us, and we trusted him.

We believe that we learned a lot of valuable lessons that'll serve our clients well in 2018 and beyond. Most importantly, we believe we established a model for what an effective, center-right digital engagement and fundraising program looks like.

The metrics we saw on this campaign, and the record time in which we built a big-dollar fundraising program, are so surreal that people often don't believe me when I tell them. But believe me-they're real and reproducible.

We can't wait to see what's next.


Designing the Digital Infrastructure for Britain’s Prime Minister

Theresa May is one of Britain's most accomplished public servants and one of the Conservative Party's most experienced leaders. She was elected to Parliament in 1997. From 2002–2003, she oversaw the Conservative Party's HQ as Party Chairman. And since 2010, Theresa May has served as Britain's Home Secretary - serving longer in that demanding role than anyone in the last century.

When Prime Minister David Cameron announced he was stepping down in the wake of the Brexit referendum, Theresa May announced she was stepping up.

We were approached by her emerging campaign team on a Tuesday afternoon with a crucial ask: could we develop her branding, design her website, and deploy her digital infrastructure by Thursday morning? Just 36 hours to get the job done. Well, the answer was "yes:" we could, and we did.

A strong, yet approachable, visual identity

The first step was to establish an overall brand and visual identity for the campaign. We ended up with a strong, approachable brand that was at once modern and consistent with the proud tradition of the British Conservative Party.

Theresa May Logo

Typography is an essential and central part of any visual identity - communicating tone and personality - so we wanted to be very intentional about the type we used in Ms. May's branding. We ultimately settled on a pairing of Freight Sans Pro and Freight Text Pro. Together, they convey both a sense of modernity and approachability as well as a sturdiness and respect for tradition.

In terms of colors, there was no reason to rock the boat. She was, after all, running for leader of the Conservative Party, so while in practice her branding had it's own look and feel, its color palette was an identical match to the Conservative Party's own.

Theresa May Colors
Ms. May's campaign utilized the primary color palette of the Conservative Party.

The first digital-first Conservative Party leadership campaign

We knew the campaign would happen quickly - indeed, at a blistering pace compared with American elections-and that we would rely primarily on earned media and organic social sharing as sources of traffic. And there was no doubt that our biggest opportunity for earned media would be on the morning of Ms. May's announcement.

We made it our objective to have her branding established and a simple, NationBuilder-powered landing page launched concurrently with her announcement speech-and we succeeded. Indeed, I was up at 3:00 am (GMT-5) to manage the site's launch that Thursday and I'm proud to say that Ms. May was the only leadership candidate to have her campaign's digital infrastructure (website, supporter database, Facebook, and Twitter) ready and live at the time of her announcement.

Screenshot: Homepage
Theresa May's homepage at launch. (June 29, 2016)

That timely initial website launch proved invaluable. Approximately 35% of her overall email list signed up on that first day, a significant shot in the arm on Day One made possible because her team - led in part by our partners at Edmonds Elder—was prepared to capitalize on the day's earned media through effective online organizing.

Overall, the initial holding page saw an 18% conversion rate on day one - meaning nearly 1/5 people who visited the website signed up to join the campaign. That's a fantastic response to a site optimized for supporter recruitment.

Prepared for a national campaign

Within just four days, we'd helped the campaign to launch a full-scale digital infrastructure aimed at identifying, mobilizing, and showcasing her supporters across Britain.

Screenshot: Action Center
The campaign's "Get Involved" section, aimed at organizing grassroots supporters.

Because Ms. May's campaign was-in the most immediate sense-for Conservative Party leader, the website was designed and tailored primarily for the approximately 150,000 Conservative Party members that were eligible to vote by postal ballot.

Our primary objective was to identify supporters, determine whether they were Conservative Party members (via a custom-designed checkbox on every form), and engage them as volunteers in their local constituency. This goal was achieved with tremendous effect: the campaign registered more than one thousand new supporters per day, including nearly 2,000 self-identified volunteers.

Showcasing endorsements from leading Conservatives

Though the postal ballot round was crucial, the more immediate challenge was the first round of voting in the House of Commons. It was vitally important to showcase Ms. May's rapidly growing base of support from leading Conservative Party members across Britain, so we built a robust and easily updated endorsements section on the website.

Screenshot: Endorsement List
The endorsements section allowed the campaign to showcase support from leading Conservatives across Britain.

Each "endorsement block" drilled down to a detailed page about that individual's endorsement, complete with a signup form where the viewer could add their own endorsement if they felt so moved.

Yet while the endorsements of leading Conservatives were important, the support of ordinary party members was just as crucial. Throughout the site "endorsing" Ms. May was the primary action, with supporters being directed to an optimized landing page expressly for that purpose.

Screenshot: Endorsement Page

Quality Infrastructure. Rapid Deployment.

In the end, we're incredibly proud of the small role we played in Ms. May's historic election as Britain's next Prime Minister. We were able to help her campaign deploy top-notch digital organizing infrastructure at breakneck speed, all without sacrificing either aesthetic quality or technical functionality. And we think the results speak for themselves.


Campaigning to Preserve Britain’s Place in Europe

Then British Prime Minister David Cameron, speaking in opposition to the 2016 Brexit referendum.
Then British Prime Minister David Cameron, speaking in opposition to the 2016 Brexit referendum.

In August 2015, we were approached by Edmonds Elder, who ran the UK Conservatives’ groundbreaking 2015 digital campaign, about becoming part of what would eventually be known as The In Campaign Ltd. Later known as Britain Stronger In Europe, this group was responsible for building out the national organizing infrastructure for the campaign to preserve Britain’s place in the European Union.

Ten months later, the people of Britain had their say. And while the vote ultimately did not go our way, the margin was close—and we left nothing on the field. Indeed, over these past months, The In Campaign built one of the most impressive digital grassroots organizing efforts in the world.

We were proud to have been a part of that effort, playing a lead role in designing & deploying the campaign’s digital organizing infrastructure alongside their internal team. The case study describes what we believe are the most exceptional achievements of that effort.

Deploying the campaign’s NationBuilder infrastructure

One of the earliest decisions The In Campaign made was to build the campaign’s organizing infrastructure on NationBuilder’s community organizing platform. NationBuilder ultimately powered The In Campaign’s website, email program, volunteer program, and online fundraising.

As internationally recognized experts in NationBuilder’s platform, The In Campaign brought us in to deploy and maintain that organizing infrastructure throughout the referendum campaign. We designed and developed the campaign’s website, provided training and support to its internal team, and stayed on hand in a support role for the duration of the campaign.

Essentially we teed up the ball—deploying an easily maintained, action-oriented website, optimizing email templates, and designing high-conversion donation pages—and they knocked it out of the park.

Designing and deploying a scaleable website that engages

Our core role in the campaign was as designers & developers: building the campaign’s website on NationBuilder’s platform. The site we made matched the campaign’s branding correctly and gave the in-house digital team the tools they needed to organize online.

Screenshot: Britain Stronger in Europe Homepage
The In Campaign’s Homepage (June 22, 2016)

Scaling an online movement, without an everyday developer

The website supported more than thirty different types of pages: from Posts to Petitions, Events to Endorsements. Each could be created, populated, and published—no developer required. That gave the campaign’s internal team incredible flexibility to act independently and scale their efforts as the campaign evolved.

Screenshot: Volunteer Page
The In Campaign’s primary volunteer signup page. (June 22, 2016)

And scale they did—grabbing hold of that flexible infrastructure and leveraged it to incredible effect. By polling day, they had created more than 11,000 individual website pages and driven more than hundreds of thousands of signups. Across Britain, the campaign’s field team had organized and posted online more than 8,000 events. And on polling day, they used the website’s events calendar functionality to create a searchable map of more than 240 “campaign hubs” where volunteers could get involved.

By the end of the campaign, the team had used that flexibility to create more than 11,000 individual pages — mostly local events—and drive thousands of individual sign-ups.

Paired with a social media campaign that was incredibly well-coordinated, on-message, and effective at driving, Britain Stronger in Europe’s website proved to be an effective platform for supporter engagement, volunteer coordination, and email acquisition.

Deploying custom-built landing pages with personalized feedback

A core part of the campaign’s approach to supporter engagement was to provide personalized feedback—a sort of “give something, get something” approach to online engagement. To support that approach, we designed & developed several customized landing pages designed to convey the real, personal impact that leaving the European Union would have on individual Britons.

The In Campaign’s custom-built “Family Budget Calculator” was used more than 107,000 times.
The In Campaign’s custom-built “Family Budget Calculator” was used more than 107,000 times.

The most notable of these custom-built pages allowed Britons to calculate how their family budget would be affected should the United Kingdom choose to leave the European Union.

By Polling Day, the Family Budget Calculator had been used by more than 107,000 people.

After sharing their email, postcode, and how many people are in their household, they receive customized feedback — and are offered the chance to share the calculator (but not their result!) on social media. By Polling Day, the Family Budget Calculator had been used by more than 107,000 people.

Overall Performance

All told more than 2 million people engaged with The In Campaign through its website, with the bulk of that traffic coming in the final three months before Polling Day. The campaign published an average of 43 pages to the site each day and used the website to connect with 40,000 self-identified volunteers.

Reliable email deliverability, facilitating regular engagement

Email is still the best, most effective way to stay in touch with supporters. And email deliverability — the part art, part science of getting your email blasts into the inboxes of your supporters—is one of the most essential and least sexy parts of online organizing.

The In Campaign’s internal digital team ran one of the most effective, error-free email engagement programs we’ve ever had the opportunity to be a part of. They started things off on the right foot—investing in NationBuilder’s email platform, which is world-renown for its reliable deliverability and tight integration with its supporter and donor database—and things only got better from there.

An example of a supporter engagement email, sent on Polling Day. (June 23, 2016)
An example of a supporter engagement email, sent on Polling Day. (June 23, 2016)

While the audience, content, and timing of individual emails were all led by the campaign’s internal team, we played a lead role in designing the email templates and training the team on how to leverage NationBuilder’s email platform, including using database queries to personalize content and increase conversions.

In the end, the campaign sent nearly 20 million individual emails, with an all-time open rate of 27.8% and a spam complaint rate of 0.04%. That’s right: they had virtually no spam complaints—a fact that underscores how incredibly well-executed their email program was.

The key to their email program’s success was a complete and total lack of phoniness or false urgency. They never “blasted” their “list;” they communicated with their supporters. And because they treated their supporters with courtesy and respect, and never attempted to deceive or manipulate them, folks learned to anticipate and look forward to receiving new updates. Their spam rate was so low because they didn’t send spam. And the results speak for themselves.

A powerful small-pound fundraising program

As a result of their robust website, social media, and email engagement efforts, The In Campaign was able to raise big money online through small-pound, grassroots donors.

The In Campaign’s Primary Donation Page (June 22, 2016)
The In Campaign’s Primary Donation Page (June 22, 2016)

In total, the campaign raised more than £1 million online from small-pound donors, with an average donation of approximately £30. These were truly grassroots donations made by ordinary Britons:

  • 97% of online donations came in amounts of £100 or less;
  • 91% of online donations came in amounts of £50 or less;
  • 78% of online donations came in amounts of £25 or less;
  • 47% of online donations came in amounts of £10 or less; and
  • 87% of online donations originated from a fundraising email.

29% of donors gave more than once, illustrating the tremendous power of a campaign built for and powered by grassroots supporters. And the 87% of donations stemming from an email blast further underscores the tremendously important role that email deliverability played in allowing the campaign to compete—both online and offline.

Conclusion

By investing early in cutting-edge digital infrastructure and technical & strategic support, and by committing to a genuine grassroots organizing program from Day One, The In Campaign empowered its internal team to achieve extraordinary results. Despite the eventual outcome, we believe that The In Campaign’s digital effort can and should stand as an example of what an Independent Expenditure Committee can achieve through online organizing.