Friday, August 14, 2009

New Study Shares Secret Sauce of Obama for America Online Campaign

It's almost a year since President Obama's election, but there is still a LOT of interest in the staggering success of Obama for America (OFA). In particular, people want to know how the campaign used online tools to raise $500 million and win the presidency!

Did the money come in through Facebook,, email or SMS? More important, what can the average nonprofit learn from this historic campaign and what can never be replicated?

A great new study by M+R Strategic Services, Wilburforce Foundation and The Brainerd Foundation attempts to answer these questions. Specifically, the study outlines the 7 key elements of OFA's success. Interested in creating a kick-ass online program for your nonprofit? Read the full report. Here are the highlights.

1. Have discipline - OFA used a huge swath of media and tools to power the campaign - online and offline advertising, SEO, direct mail, telemarketing, SMS, Facebook, house-parties, a huge field organizing effort, etc. While most campaigns and nonprofits would come apart at the seams in the face of all this promotional activity, the OFA team made an extraordinary effort to align communications and stay on message. And it sounds like they did it through a tight organizational structure and daily team meetings. Are your fundraising, communications, direct mail and membership efforts in alignment? If not, why not?

2. Hire the right people and make it a full time job (italics my emphasis) - If you want to achieve success with online media, at some point you're going to have to INVEST in the human resources to get the job done. Just like any other functional department, new media requires financial and human resources to succeed.

Unlike OFA, you may not be able to draw the top talent in the world to your organization, but you should still try to hire the right people for the job and give them the autonomy and respect they need to get the job done. See page 9 of the report for a job description for your new media lead.

3. Keep the spotlight on your supporters - If there is one thing that OFA did well and that your organization must emulate it's this: focus on your audience(s)! Write this down on a post-it note and put it on your laptop.

Your cause is not about you or your organization!

If you want to be relevant (online or offline), you must focus all your communications on the people you serve and the great things they are accomplishing in this world. Please: No more press releases about the launch of your new website!

4. Be nimble - Online media are so powerful (and dangerous) because they are immediate. OFA used this to it's advantage by timing it's fundraising appeals to coincide with current events. This is a great strategy to emulate. However, if you want to become a "nimble online marketing machine," you've got to put the infrastructure in place NOW to succeed. This means purchasing a good Email Service Provider (ESP), investing in building and cleaning your online list, making your website easy to navigate and interesting to read, etc.

5. Be authentic - I can't say it better than David Plouffe.

"Nothing is more important than authenticity. People have very sensitive

6. Create great content - In my personal opinion this is our Achilles Heel as a sector - writing crappy content. All the best tools in the world can't make up for bad content.

"Tools are a frying pan. If the ingredients (the content) aren't tasty, you're still going to have a horrible dinner." - Scott Goodstein, External Online Director, Obama for America

Bad content is bad content. Period. It won't work online or offline. If you can't afford to hire a copywriter or designer, take some courses to improve your skills. The Goodman Center is a great resource. I'm devoting my September Column in Fundraising Success to providing you with some quick tips for writing better content. I hope you check it out.

7. Use data to drive decisions - According to the report, OFA was religious about testing EVERYTHING in order to optimize return on investment. You can do this too especially with your email-marketing program. Test your subject lines, copy, from lines, message timing and frequency. More important, once you determine what works best, be willing to let the data drive execution.

Bonus: It's interesting to note that the 20 social networking sites and the campaign's own online community (MyBo), which powered OFA did not yield a high return on investment in terms of fundraising.

"From a fundraising perspective, external social networks are not a good use
of time. No one has ever really cracked that code."
- Stephen Geer, Director of Email and Online Fundraising, Obama for America


"The real drivers were old school. They were email. And they were web." - David Plouffe, Campaign Manager, Obama for America

This last point resonates with what folks in the online marketing, communications and fundraising are saying. Social media work for awareness and brand building. But when it comes to bringing in the bacon online, you have to focus on email and your website.




EW said...

Thanks for pointing me to the study and thanks for your insight. I've just moved from corporate communications to the nonprofit sector and your blog has been a terrific source of information.

Jocelyn said...

Thanks EW :) I appreciate your comment.


Luise said...

Thanks for this recap - very interesting! It was also refreshing to read such an honest quote about not having "cracked the code" for fundraising via social media. We know there are many resources out there, but nevertheless it's nice to know that an otherwise so successful campaign fount it difficult as well.

Jocelyn said...

I agree Luise. It's so validating to know that even the big guys don't get this stuff!


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