I care a lot about online marketing generally, and online political campaigns specifically. And, until this weekend, I’ve been a pretty staunch defender of the team — and still have nothing but respect for how far they’ve pushed the industry forward.
A big part of my respect comes from the results. There’s no question that this is an historically successful program. While we don’t have a proper breakdown, the DCCC outraised its GOP counterpart by $41,OOO,OOO in small donations. And the cycle ain’t even over yet.
But, I am starting to think a part of that success is due to cheating.
Full disclosure: I joined the inaugural Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Online Operations team in the spring of 2003. Before the three of us, there was a part-time communications staffer who occasionally sent newsletter/press release emails.
I’m not worried about the ransom note-style email templates.
I’m not bothered about the stalkery subject lines.
I’m not even grumpy about the volume of emails they send a subscriber every day.
No, I’m more angry about the fact that they treat the people on their lists with no respect whatsoever, and — real talk —are cheating and possibly lying to get a few extra donations.
Again, the DCCC email team are good people — but they’re under immense pressure to perform. However, I’d really like to hear their justification for the following.
Number 1: I don’t believe you for a second that any of these donations — let alone all — are double or triple matched.
Matching grants are a time-honored tradition in fundraising, and a perfectly good way to leverage small dollar gifts, by asking a bigger donor to increase their gifts accordingly. Heck, I use them with my clients.
But, the number of matches they’re suggesting they have set up, and the frequency which with they’re matching, makes me suspicious that there’s not an actual good-faith attempt to find matching money to cover their emails. To wit, in the DCCC’s September 2014 filing (covering August receipts and disbursements), they list $4,423,036.50 in itemized (over $200) contributions, and $4,821,110.44 in contributions under $200. Typically, you’d expect a much higher ratio of larger gifts to smaller contribution. That is, if a lot of matching had been going on. Hardly conclusive proof, but it’s end-of-quarter season, and I don’t really have time for an exhaustive forensic examination of the filing.
Additionally, finding a real match takes a lot of legwork. If they’re consistently sending that volume of email with matches, I’m pretty sure they really don’t have time for that. I’d like to be proven wrong, however, and I’ll take their word for it if they say otherwise.
Number 2: Your unsubscribe process, format, and language are the height of douchebaggery.
First, the unsubscribe language at the bottom of the email is ridiculously tiny on a laptop. Thankfully it’s perfectly normal on the phone, but jeez.
Second, here’s the actual unsubscribe language from a typical DCCC-run email campaign (emphasis mine).
This message was sent to: xxxxxxxx | If you’d like to sign up for emails in a different account, click here.
We believe that emails are a crucial way for our campaign to stay in touch with supporters. However, if you’d rather not receive emails about this particular campaign, click here. If you’d just like to receive fewer emails, you can click here.
Our campaign to defeat Tea Party Republicans is powered by supporters like you. 99% of our contributions come from grassroots donations, with an average gift of $22. If you’d like to unsubscribe from DCCC emails, click here. If you’d like to make an online donation, click here. Thanks for your support of Democrats!
Now, if you go to the ACTUAL unsubscribe link in the third paragraph, you get this.
Look at that last paragraph in the image again. Go ahead, I’ll wait…
Yeah. You click on an unsubscribe link and you get a GIANT form to just get fewer emails… Which, coincidentally is the same page you get if you click the “fewer emails” link. That’s not ok. If you scroll further down, you pass a couple of paragraphs of text trying to persuade you to stay, and then you get this (again, emphasis mine):
If you still wish to unsubscribe, click here and enter your e-mail address.
At least that’s an unsubscribe page.
Number 3: Checking the “Make this a weekly recurring donation” box by default is an asshole move.
Sorry, but it’s true.
If you click through the donation links, you’ll get this.
Seriously. Not great to rely on the errors of your supporters to rake in a couple of lousy extra duckets.
Look, I’ve been in the online politics game since 2000. I get it. We all stretch the truth to be a bit more hyperbolic than it should be, and we selectively edit to inspire our supporters to take action or give.
And, I know you’re data-driven. I’m willing to believe that a lot of what you do is tested, at least for the context of your list and your goals.
But straight-up lying to them about matches, making it damn near impossible to unsubscribe, and hoping they’ll not notice their gifts will keep recurring weekly is a bridge too far. Truth can only be bent only so far before it breaks, and we’re the party that gets all sanctimonious about the right wing’s allergy to factual information. So it’s more than a little disappointing.
Feel free to shut me up about your matches, or show me the case study of how folks MISTAKENLY try to unsubscribe, only to be REALLY INSPIRED TO GIVE by your next stalkery triple-matched ask from Joe Biden.
If I’m wrong, drinks on me.
However, if I’m right, maybe an apology to your list is in order. Just think about it.
I’m pleading with you.
I’d love to you hear your thoughts. You can find me tweeting about online politics, whisky, and cephalopods at @SteveOlson — and if you liked this post, I’d appreciate you clicking the “recommend” button below. Thanks!