I’ve been sounding the alarm for a while now that the GOP’s online fundraising problem isn’t just about an ActBlue competitor, but rather our failure to build and share email lists. Since he rode down the escalator four years ago, Donald Trump and his campaign team have been showing the way forward, but not enough Republicans are following.
Top Republican candidates in must-win Senate and House seats aren’t working on building their lists, which means they aren’t taking online fundraising seriously enough and they risk being swamped by the Democrats’ grassroots fundraising strength.
The warning signs are flashing, but nobody is paying attention. Why? Here are five possible reasons.
They Believe the “Warchest” Delusion
The old conventional wisdom is that a campaign with a large “warchest,” which means a high cash on hand number and a low burn rate, will scare away potential competitors in the primary and general elections.
It may have worked in a bygone era when it was difficult to quickly scale a campaign and attention was expensive, but nobody is scared off by these numbers anymore. For one, we all know these numbers are manipulated through accounting gimmicks like holding invoices until after a reporting period and delaying spending until after a deadline.
But a candidate can launch a campaign without much money and reach large segments of the electorate through the internet quicker than ever. Being nimble like this and scaling on demand is actually an advantage challengers have over slow-moving incumbents.
Campaigns that are focused on FEC reports aren’t building the critical infrastructure, namely an email list and online fundraising program, they need to be successful in modern campaigning.
They Don’t Connect Email Lists & Online Fundraising
Some candidates and their campaigns still don’t understand that the bigger your email list is the more money you will raise online. There’s no other “secret” to online fundraising. They incorrectly assume that online grassroots donors will know they are in a tough race and will send money.
Do you open up a P.O. Box and expect checks to come in? Absolutely not. You start with a housefile of donors and grow it through prospecting. That’s what you have to do with email and online fundraising.
Campaigns that are successful at online fundraising bring in the vast majority of their money via email, so if you want more online fundraising, build a bigger email list.
They Don’t Believe They Can Raise Money Online
I hear it in just about every conversation I have about online fundraising with a candidate or their campaign: they don’t think they can raise money online because they’re not running a “red meat” campaign which is typically code for being an “establishment” candidate.
Again, there are no secret words you need to say to raise money online. You just need a sufficiently large enough email list. Sure, if you keep hot button topics off the table in your email and list building copy, you will make your job more difficult and you’ll pay more to build your list, but it doesn’t make the task impossible.
Any candidate can raise money online. Those that choose not to are putting themselves at a huge disadvantage.
They Don’t Know They Have to Start Now
Candidates and their campaigns may not realize how early they have to start building their email lists. President Trump has been the top spender on Facebook (where his campaign is building its list) all year. In my experience it can take 45-90 days, on average, between when a supporter joins an email list and then becomes a donor. If you don’t start this clock before election year, you’re already behind and waiting until after Labor Day isn’t going to cut it.
I’ll say this as clearly as I know how: If you want to win an election next year, you need to be aggressively building your list today.
They’re Getting Bad Advice
Finally, we have to consider the possibility that if a campaign isn’t aggressively building its email list right now – especially if they have money in the bank – they’re not being served well by their current team. Anyone who has worked on a campaign in the last few cycles understands just how powerful the Democrats’ grassroots fundraising waves can be.
It’s short-sighted and doesn’t serve your client if you are hoarding cash now for a TV buy next October at the expense of critical campaign infrastructure. Candidates have to take a more active role in demanding to know what their teams are doing to build email lists and raise money online before an election year arrives.
Republicans know how to raise money online – President Trump’s campaign shows the way forward – but for a handful of reasons described above, they’re not putting in the work needed to build email lists. Fortunately there’s still time before election day on 2020 to get started.