The DNC’s “Grassroots Partners” Program

Christen Sparago, the Democratic National Committee’s Sustaining Donor Manager, writing in “Does this bring in money or votes?” (the DNC Mobilization Team’s official newsletter):

Our monthly donors are digging deep to support the DNC’s goals, but keeping our sustainers engaged -- and getting them back when they stop donating -- is an evergreen project.

In April of last year, I began peer-to-peer texting donors who had cancelled their recurring gift within 48 hours of their cancellation.

I learned that simply asking donors to reconsider pulling their support works about 10% of the time, and nearly 70% of the donors I’ve messaged have responded and have been willing to engage in a meaningful conversation about the DNC’s goals (higher than I expected).

For those who reply no, an ask at 60-70% of their original monthly gift + a reminder that the DNC is building the eventual nominee’s campaign right now (and that Trump has had a 3-year head start) has been most successful with these folks.

And, bonus: those who sign up again increase their giving by about 12%!

This is a fascinating peek behind the curtain of the Democrats’ concerted effort to retain recurring donors through direct, 1:1 contact. 

The key thing, it seems, is that this is a cross-channel effort: it doesn’t matter whether they’re digital donors, direct mail donors, etc. The DNC has a coordinated program designed to reduce churn among monthly donors — whether they give through the mail, telemarketing, ads, SMS, or email.

The Impeachment Fundraising Boom

Melanie Zanona and Ally Mutnick, writing for POLITICO:

Impeachment has become a gold mine — turning even some rank-and-file lawmakers into fundraising juggernauts as they took starring roles in prosecuting or defending President Donald Trump.

A number of Democrats and Republicans who sit on the key committees investigating Trump saw their war chests flooded with cash — and their national profiles raised — during the months-long impeachment fight, which has consumed Washington and dominated headlines since September.

And there is real evidence that impeachment played a role in the fundraising boom, at least for Republicans. Donation pages for WinRed — the GOP’s online fundraising tool — that included the word “impeach” or “impeachment” raised 300 percent more than pages that did not, according to a source familiar with the fundraising platform’s operations.

No surprise: if the base sees you as a key player in the national narrative, your fundraising numbers will improve.

That said, I’m starting to wonder if campaigns will ever come down from these fundraising highs. Or will they keep ginning up controversies like impeachment each cycle to use as fundraising hooks?


How and Why You Should Clean Your Campaign’s Email List

Eric Wilson, writing at Best Practice Digital:

Has it been a while since you’ve sent an email to your campaign’s email list? Do you have an email list from a past campaign you want to reactivate? Maybe you’re spending lots of money to store inactive emails on your email marketing software. Or your deliverability might be suffering because you’re sending emails to subscribers that never open.

These are some of the reasons you need to practice good email list hygiene.

A dirty or stale email list is the single most likely reason that your campaign or cause is struggling to raise money online. 

Email is not like direct mail: sending messages to people who don’t want them (or people who don’t exist) will dramatically affect your ability to reach the people who do want to receive your messages — for the worse. 

Unfortunately, convincing a candidate, campaign manager, or executive director that shrinking their list will result in more fundraising is almost always a tough sell. It doesn’t matter that it’s the truth, and it doesn’t matter if the data and common sense support it. Every time I’ve had that conversation with someone in leadership it’s always been a hard one.

If you’re fortunate enough to be able to convince your boss to let you clean your list, you’d do well to start by following Eric’s advice. And remember: list cleaning isn’t a one-time deal! Once you’ve cleaned it, you have to keep it clean by regularly removing unengaged subscribers.


“If I See The Real Thing in Nashua, Should I Tell You About It?”

“The West Wing” is, without a doubt, my favorite TV show of all time.

I discovered the show near the end of its running, around 2003–2004, and it formed a key part of my political education. (In fact, I would emphatically argue that you can learn more about the real work of politics by studying The West Wing than by studying political science at most of the nation’s colleges and universities.) And throughout the show’s seven seasons, I’ve always found that I related most with the character of Josh Lyman. 

One of my favorite scenes is a flashback to how Josh first came to be a part of President Barlet’s senior staff. At the time, he’s working for Senator John Hoynes, a cunning Democratic centrist and the frontrunner for the party’s presidential nomination. Josh is at the peak of his career to date, and is doing exactly what he had set out to do; he’s also profoundly unhappy and feels like he’s lost his way.

Then, a friend of his father convinces him to go to Nashua, New Hampshire to see a longshot candidate speak. On the way, he makes a pitstop in Manhattan to see an old friend, and this is the conversation that ensues.

It’s been nearly twenty years since I first watched this show, and I still find new lessons in its story. When I first watched it, I was a teenager aspiring to a career in politics. Now, I’m nearly the age Josh was in Season 1 — and basically the same age he was in this flashback. And, like Josh, I sometimes wonder what I’m doing. 

I enjoy my job day-to-day, and it’s allowed me to create a good life for my family. But deep down, I think I’m still looking for the “real thing in Nashua.”

So my ask today is this: if you’ve found that person, tell me about it. Convince me to take the train to wherever and hear them speak. Don’t keep it to yourself. Because (and I know this sounds crazy) the 2022 midterms and the 2024 presidential elections are right around the corner.


Can We Have a Meeting?

Yesterday, Alex Muench shared this fantastic flow chart on Twitter. In turn, I want to share it with you.

Flow Chart: Can we have a meeting?
Source: Alex Muench (Twitter)

Alex is 100% correct: every call needs a clearly defined purpose or agenda, and no call ought to last longer than thirty minutes.

As a freelancer, I spend a tremendous amount of my workday on conference calls or video chats. They are an essential part of my business development and client services workflow and the primary way that I connect with people professionally.

If I don’t keep my call time in check using this simple set of criteria, I’ll quickly find that my calendar leaves no time for productive work. That’s why I use pre-defined Calendly links to schedule every call in thirty-minute blocks. 

The one exception that I’ll take with the above flowchart is with, “could it be an email?” Yes — email is typically more efficient than a meeting. But at NationBuilder, I learned from my mentor Jim Gilliam that a barrage of “quick questions” can be far more detrimental to my productivity than a 30-minute conversation. Jim loathed “quick questions” and for a good reason.

So when I start to get a flurry of emails from a client, my immediate response is to schedule a 30-minute “check-in” call. Ahead of the scheduled phone call, I ask them to make a list of their questions, and we use that pre-defined time to crank through them one at a time. I also record the call (using Zoom) so that they can refer back to my answers later.

For me, this has proven to be an effective strategy. Moreover, the meetings I do choose to participate in are more focused, pleasant, and productive.


NationBuilder Docs: Create a Tag Library

Setting up a library of tags is key to organizing your data effectively. As NationBuilder says:

To create a tag library, you'll start by determining a naming convention for tags in your database. A tag is only useful if you and your staff remember it and use it multiple times on multiple different profiles. You can tag a profile with 100 different tags, but unless they are specific and searchable, they won’t serve much of a purpose.

Nearly every organization I have ever worked would’ve benefitted tremendously by setting up a tag library.

If you’re looking to clean up your NationBuilder database and make it more useful, this is a great place to start.


Thoughts On Revenue Diversification

When people ask me what I love about being a freelancer, I usually give some answer about the flexible schedule or time with family. 

The truth, however, is much more practical — and rooted in worry.

My favorite thing about freelancing is that by diversifying the sources of my family’s income, I am reducing the likelihood that we’ll find ourselves without one.

I don’t talk about it a lot, but in mid-2012, I was let go from my job. It took me months to find a new one. (Thank you, NationBuilder, for taking a chance on me when I needed it the most.) In the meantime, I had to gut my expenses, sell my car, and move my wife and two kids into my parents’ house to make ends meet. It was a formative experience.

When I was young, my dad told me to know a little bit about a lot of things and a lot about a few. That was fantastic advice, and it’s served me well. Now, I apply that the same recommendation to my income: earn a little bit from a lot of revenue streams, and a lot from a few. 

By diversifying my revenue across a variety of client projects, my risk of repeating that experience has been drastically reduced. If a prospective client doesn’t hire me, or a current client cancels a project, I have others to balance the load. And by studiously avoiding having any “mega-clients” (i.e., clients who pay the bulk of my ongoing income), no single client contributes enough to my bottom line that their loss would cripple me.

The one thing that could actually cripple me is a severe injury or change in my health. If I broke my hand, I could be unable to code for weeks. If I got cancer, I might be unable to work productively for months. That is an unacceptable risk, and no amount of savings will mitigate it entirely.

So, what am I to do? Diversify my income further. Today, the bulk of my income comes from custom NationBuilder website design projects. This year, I have plans to offer in-person training, launch an online course, and possibly even publish an ebook. The goal is to create a mix of active and passive income from complementary projects and services. 

For me, this is not about freedom from work or the acquisition of wealth. Diversifying my revenue streams helps me and my family find safety by keeping our proverbial “eggs” in a variety of baskets. It’s worked so far, and I’m bullish on what leaning in further might yield.


Do we have to LOVE our work if we work for ourselves?

Today, Paul Jarvis and Kaleigh Moore spent some time on their podcast talking about a topic that’s top of mind for me: how work affects freelancers’ identity. Here’s their lede:

Do you have to be crazy passionate about your freelance work? Maybe not. In this episode, we're talking about the reality of freelance work and the fact that you're probably not going to be in love with it year-round, even if it does offer some serious perks.

As a sort of tangent midway through the conversation, they talk about the very thing that sparked my recent redesign: I am not my job.

Freelancers feel enormous pressure to be “passionate” about their work and to have their work define their personhood. But freelancers, like everyone else, aren’t their job. No one is. 

I think the pressure stems from the sense that we need to brand and market ourselves as thought leaders in a particular niche — and we may be — but people are more complex than their niche specialty or current focus.

And if, as is likely to happen, one day your passion changes (or the market forces you into a new line of work), over-emphasis on your freelance niche as the hallmark of your identity will force a minor career change into a full-blown identity crisis. That’s neither healthy nor necessary.

That’s what the recent redesign of my business is all about: taking a wider view and creating space for me to be myself.

The work I’m doing now is challenging, interesting, and profitable, but it may not be the work that defines my career. The best may be yet to come! But as a freelancer, if I do not keep myself open to the full range of my interests, skills, and the opportunities they afford, I’ll never have the chance to find out.


Hines Digital 2020

Welcome to the new Hines Digital.

Since 2015, Hines Digital has been my professional office.

From time to time, I have adjusted the company’s business model, services, and staffing to accommodate my professional needs as they have evolved. This is one of those times.

From 2015-2019, I worked hard to grow Hines Digital into the best digital agencies in politics. Using NationBuilder’s software platform, my team and I pushed the limits of what’s possible in website design, email marketing, online fundraising, and digital advertising. And we had more than our fair share of successes.

But in the middle of last year, I came to the profound realization that I was unhappy with my work. All I had wanted (professionally) up to that point was to build a top-tier digital agency, but — having achieved that — I found that the work/life balance it required was incompatible with my expectations of myself as a father.

So last year, I began the process of unwinding my consulting agency and devolving Hines Digital into my personal professional office. Essentially, I returned to my formerly successful career as a freelance consultant, designer, and NationBuilder Expert. It’s proven to be one of the best decisions I have ever made.

For the past six months or so, I’ve proceeded in this fashion — but with a website design that still presented Hines Digital as an agency. Frankly, it made me uncomfortable. Hines Digital is not an agency (not anymore), and I am more than just my job. 

With this redesign, both of my business model and my website, I wanted to return to those good old days of the internet by building a website that reflects my personality, promotes my work, and gives me the flexibility to blog freely. It feels really, really good to bring it online.

I’d love to hear what you think. Click on the “discuss on Twitter” button below and let me know.


3 Reasons Why This Congressional Campaign’s Launch Day Website Was Effective

Photo Credit: Byron Donalds for Congress
Photo Credit: Byron Donalds for Congress

Since 2015, Hines Digital has worked with at least seventeen congressional campaigns across the United States.

That breadth of experience has allowed us to learn what’s important — and what isn’t — when it comes to launching a campaign effectively online.

One of the most valuable insights we’ve unearthed is that, while it’s essential to have a functional, scalable, on-brand website at launch, it’s a waste of time and money to try to build your campaign’s site to impress.

That’s what makes Florida Republican Byron Donalds’ campaign launch-day website so effective: it does everything that it needs to do (and well), and nothing that it doesn’t.

Below, I’ll break down what makes this design so effective, and explain why every down-ballot campaign ought to be doing something similar at launch.

1. It Was Built and Deployed Quickly

Under the Federal Election Commission’s rules, once a candidate begins making expenditures in connection with a federal campaign, they have just ten days to file their official Statement of Organization.

And since a Statement of Organization is a public document, candidates typically want to have their website ready for a public announcement timed to coincide with the paperwork dropping. 

That means that in most federal elections, a campaign’s website designer has just over a week from the moment the project begins to the moment the site needs to be live — and often even less than that.

Byron Donalds’ launch was no different — launching with little time for iteration or tinkering — which is why the ability to design, develop, and launch his website quickly and professionally was a crucial component of its success.

2. It Gets Right to the Point

Useful congressional campaign websites are not content-heavy. 

Like a traditional “door hanger,” their primary purpose is to establish brand awareness and answer the basic questions voters have about the candidate:

  • Who are they?
  • What’s their story?
  • Why should I vote for them?

A good campaign website also makes it easy for a candidate’s supporters to get involved, and in that area, Donalds’ site also excels. 

It’s intentionally clear how supporters can sign up to join the campaign, with the primary signup form appearing “above the fold” on both desktop and mobile-sized screens.

And because grassroots fundraising is fundamentally crucial in modern campaigns, the website puts explicit donate buttons in prominent places.

Screenshot: Byron Donalds’ Homepage (January 7, 2020)
Screenshot: Byron Donalds’ Homepage (January 7, 2020)

The campaign “hired” this website to do three jobs: tell the candidate’s story, collect email signups, and facilitate online donations. On those three points, it gets straight down to business clearly and effectively.

3. It Raised More Money Than it Cost

Buying a website is a lot like buying a car: there is a range of options at almost every price level, and with rare exceptions, they’re all pretty nice. Most people can find what they need by shopping for a model on the lot; a few people need something built-to-suit.

But while most people have purchased a car (or know someone who has), few candidates have invested in a website. As a result, they often make the mistake of overthinking their needs and over-inflating their budget. 

Screenshot: Byron Donalds’ Donation Page
Screenshot: Byron Donalds’ Donation Page (WinRed)

Byron Donalds’ team did not make that mistake. He got exactly the website he needed, and — without sharing hard numbers — I can say that he’s already turned a profit on that investment.

Within twenty-four hours of his campaign’s launched, Byron had already raised more money online through his campaign’s website than he invested in building the website. From here on out, every marginal dollar has his website infrastructure investment “in the black.”

The Bottom Line

For political campaigns, website design is not an art project. You’re effectively hiring that website to do a job (e.g., to tell your story, capture email signups, and raise money online), and you need it done effectively and profitably. 

By focusing on practical design within their constraints, Byron Donalds’ team got a website that got the job done on time and budget.