The candidates make their fundraising pitches

A quick scan of the online pages of the various campaigns for statewide office show that, yes, they all survived their first crucial test and survived to see January 1st. For some of them, it was likely a close run thing.

What make-or-break test were they all facing? An end of year fundraising deadline.

Okay, okay – it’s a pretty weak test. None of the eight dozen candidates running had any intention of closing down if they didn’t hit their arbitrary goals. But there was still merit in the exercise, though not necessarily in the ways the candidates or their consultants think.

Because every campaign is trying to raise money at the same time, it gives us an opportunity to compare their techniques. One might think the most traditional pitches would come from the Republican side. Not so this time. The traditionalist this time around was Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, whose “Our first big test” email brimmed with old favorites such as how there was just “too much on the line for us to come up short” in his drive for a thousands new donors. Well, not donors, but “owners” — McAuliffe aimed to have “1,000 individuals owning a piece of this campaign” by midnight on the 31st.

It’s a nice twist. But it also brings to mind McAuliffe’s past as a masterful DNC fundraiser, when everything from snapshots with President Clinton to overnight stays in the Lincoln Bedroom carried a price tag.

On the Republican side, the copywriters were given a bit more freedom. Yes, they had to mention the deadline — that’s the hook. But how they got to the ask allowed that most un-Republican thing of all to flow: creativity. Two campaigns excelled in this: those of Pete Snyder and Scott Lingamfelter.

Snyder got the ball rolling with his “This one is different” appeal:

Ok. By now, I’m betting you’ve received about 15 (or more) last minute, “hold everything and please hit the donate button by midnight on the 31st” emails since Christmas Day came and went… right?

I promise, this one is different.

No false campaign fundraising goals. No hyperbole. No threats of a Mayan Apocalypse if we don’t get your check in the door before midnight on the 31st.

The account executives hiding in my past would have red-penned all three of those paragraphs. No way, never-ever, does one begin an appeal with snark unless one wants the BREs returned empty (or not at all). And this paragraph would have sent those same account execs into orbit:

…our campaign won’t spontaneously implode if you can’t send some support our way right now. Nor will we instantly “win” if you do.

I flinch just reading it.

But it’s different — it’s actually fun! It’s conversational too and, most importantly, it’s in Snyder’s voice. Getting all three of those right is very hard to do. Was it successful? It doesn’t matter. He set no goals, so any response rate can be ruled a success.

Similarly, In “An Appeal to Think About,” Del. Lingamfelter’s copywriters poke fun at the deadline format and do so in a way I’ve never seen:

What would you do if you got an appeal that went something like this?

“Dear Friend (or insert name here J), I’m candidate “X” and I want to send my money to you so you can afford to pay your rent, send your kids to college, fix your leaky roof or put something aside for a rainy day for you! Please provide me with your website so I can dash off my hard earned money to you today! Don’t delay!!! I only have 72 hours until I hit my deadline to give my money to you!!!”

I don’t know about you, but I think I would fall down in shock. Well don’t hold your breath. It’s not likely to happen. And news flash! I have sent these money appeals in the past and all 6288 of us running for Lieutenant Governor in 2013 will over the weeks and months to come.

Humor! The most dangerous and least-used tool in all of fundraising. Why? Because most people won’t get the joke. But it works — beautifully — because Lingamfelter goes on to tell us he’s not asking for money at all. Instead, he wants folks to go to his web site and become convention delegates. And if they just happen to like what they see, they can donate there.

So let’s call these two efforts “anti-appeals.” They do want something from the reader — you bet Snyder wants 10 bucks, and oh yes, Lingamfelter wants you to become a delegate. But unlike the year-end appeals from the other campaigns, these two are excellent examples of candidates trying to engage their audiences rather than treat readers as inputs.

The candidate who creates a strong community of donors, as opposed to a churnable and burnable donor file, will be in a much better position to ask for money a lot more often in the run-up to election day.

Though in Mr. McAuliffe’s case, the community will probably feel more like a shareholders’ meeting, with plenty of power point presentations and no air conditioning in the hall.