What your Digital Fundraising Program should Focus on in the off-year

Digital Fundraising with email campaigns

As our new Director of Digital Fundraising, my focus is on offering campaigns a product that sets them up for long-term success–an email program with an authentic voice. By being thoughtful and intentional with early investments, we ensure that every one of our client’s dollars spent early will return quickly and many times over. I want to share what we think you should be focused on in the off-year to ensure your program raises as much as possible throughout the whole cycle.

Campaigns should invest in real email programs, powered by experienced Digital staffers and firms. A real email program, implemented with a strategic approach, has the capacity to generate real money, rally voters and establish political power. So when asked “Does this bring money or votes?” We emphatically say: yes–if you do it right.

Building email into your broader comms strategy

By integrating email fundraising into your broader communication strategy, campaigns can leverage this powerful medium to spread their message, rally supporters, and raise serious cash. Emails can and should be unique to your campaign, tailored to fit your campaign’s needs and tap into local networks effectively. 

However, in order to tap into these potentials, campaigns also need to give their email programs the necessary resources for them to grow. Email programs should not be seen as another line item in your finance plan and not just more copy to approve. You need a talented, transparent team with a plan for success.

Early acquisitions (like list purchases and swaps) that add local voters, stakeholders, and potential donors ensure your campaign gets off to a solid start – then you can build up from there through ads and texting.

I need to tell you the truth though. Countless programs barely cover their retainers. Countless more only net a little over the costs. When you couple this with staff time and candidate headaches, there just isn’t an added value. You don’t have to get stuck in this cycle of not investing, not raising enough, and firing and hiring firms multiple times. 

With the right email partner, quality programs continue to bring in more money than ever. The Biden/Harris campaign in 2020 (which I worked on) saw emails that raised over $1 million as the norm, high-profile statewide races crafted narratives over email that became pop culture, and many more programs continue to fund campaigns and causes of all sizes. 

Some of our competitors don’t like to show you behind the curtain – gatekeeping this info because they think it makes them more valuable. We don’t believe that. We are happy to share what we do because we know it helps you understand the value we provide.

Build your list fast! (But build it smart!)

Building a list of purchasers

The most common and efficient way to grow your list is by going to a well-respected vendor and buying a list. By simply paying to grow your email audience you have the best guarantee to reach an ROI-positive acquisition after 2-4 months. It’s fast, it’s efficient, and with the right partners involved, you know what you’re getting. 

Not all lists are created equal, and the costs associated with this type of acquisition vary based on quality. List purchases don’t run cheap, so it’s important to weigh with your team what the best option is – folks who have recently engaged cost less, and people that are active and regularly donate cost more.


Swaps on the other hand are free, but the names might be less active and people less likely to donate to your campaign. Swaps do often include a political ask – it’s a swap after all. An entity or campaign will agree to exchange some of their names for some of yours, or you’ll make an agreement to share names at a later date.

An important clarifying note: When doing a swap, both you and the original owner of the list will be in the audience’s inbox. It’s an incredibly affordable option (free!) but comes with the price of getting a list that has been over-asked and is experiencing donation burnout.

And on the compliance side, make sure the names are eventually returned at the end of the cycle, otherwise you might have to report the names you received as an in-kind contribution!


You have your list(s) but you need to keep building your outreach and communications. Texting is crucial in actually talking to voters, stakeholders, potential donors, and volunteers. You want your audience to know you, your campaign, and your voice. Texting not only can bring in money, but it also puts you right in the palm of the folks who will help you win.


Over the last couple of cycles, more and more direct-to-donate programs have brought in less money than it took to run the campaigns. However, there certainly are situations where ads make sense and can work. COMPETE is a full-service firm, and in these situations, we can work with our in-house creative and tech teams to ensure your ads are going to the right audience and raking in whatever dollars the internet has to offer.

The blog was originally published here.

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