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Jan 15, 2008
How To

Starter Kit for Grassroots Campaigning: 5 Tactics to Improve Results With Web 2.0, Email & Mobile

SUMMARY: Traditional campaign tactics have been joined by online strategies to elect political candidates and influence ballot measures. A website is especially effective to generate contributions.

We talked to two online campaign managers about how they use social networks, email and text messaging to generate donations and get out the vote. Includes a practical guide with tips to jumpstart your effort.
Are you looking to get a favorite politician elected? Trying to influence a ballot measure? Online tactics have become staples of 21st-century political campaigns -- especially to generate cash contributions for favorite candidates and causes.

Tony Motola, Campaign Manager, Phil Gordon for Mayor of Phoenix 2007, leveraged the Internet to help his candidate get 76% of the vote in his September 2007 re-election race. Max Fose, Executive Director Integrated Web Strategy, RIESTER, helped Motola develop his online strategy and has organized grassroots efforts to defeat ballot measures in Arizona.

Online organizing will never replace traditional campaign tactics like direct mail, telemarketing, posting campaign signs or setting up physical campaign headquarters. However, using email and text messages can be cheaper and faster when you want almost instant access to your supporters. A website can serve as your virtual campaign headquarters as you work to sway voters in your favor.

Fundraising appeals can go out the same way, with dramatic results. “We’re talking about 45% of the money that came in for the campaign came in through the website,” says Fose.

Create a Virtual Campaign Website
The most important component of an online political campaign is a website. In Motola’s campaign for the mayor of Phoenix, the website served as the only headquarters for a time.

“Before we had an office, our campaign, the first 90 days, was a virtual campaign headquarters. So everything was worked through the website and through email. So, I would say, the shop during the first 90 days got off the ground that way and allowed us to get off the ground earlier because we didn’t have to wait for a physical building. We didn’t have to wait for phone lines,” says Motola.

“You could get onto the mayor’s re-election website and find out just about everything you needed to know about the campaign from, ‘Who is this guy?’ to, ‘I wonder what they mayor’s doing?’ to ‘I want to go do something to help the mayor out tomorrow, or next month,’ ” says Motola.

-> What a campaign website should include:

o Calendar of events - Rallies, meetings, any scheduled events where supporters can help should be posted on an easy-to-read calendar. It can it easier for supporters to plan how and when they can help the campaign.

o News area - Positive publicity about your cause or candidate should be posted in a press section. Include news clippings and broadcasts. This section can also include press releases for easy access by reporters.

o Messages - Your campaign’s stance on an issue should be very clear to any visitor to your website. Organize your website by major issue. These sections can also contain major speeches on the issues by your candidate or supporters. Devote a section of the website to your candidate’s accomplishments and credentials.

o Testimonials - Find people who your candidate has helped, or who have been helped by your cause. Put their testimonials onto your website so visitors can gauge the impact on the community.

o Donation page - Every campaign needs cash to spread your message. Give people an easy place to donate.

o Voter information - People have to vote for your campaign to succeed. Make sure your site is loaded with the information people need to register to vote and find their polling places.

-> Other options:

o Blog -- It can serve two functions: as an informal way to communicate with supporters; as a regular update on your campaign’s progress, such as qualifying for ballot placement or reaching fundraising goals.

o Twitter -- It’s a ‘micro-blogging’ service that delivers very short text messages in real time. Mayor Gordon’s campaign had a Twitter icon on its homepage that would update every time the mayor was in public. This helped illustrate his level of activity in the community.

Generate Regular Email
Email is the best communication device for an online campaign. It gives you an instant and cheap way to contact supporters. But you need to build an email list first.

-> How to build your email list

o Buy voter lists

One way to make sure that you’re talking to registered voters is to buy voter lists from places like the Voter Action Network and the Republican National Committee’s Voter Vault. They can even provide maps of voters in your area with specific demographic profiles. After you have a list of voters, you can match their information to email address databases and start emailing them.

o Conduct a paid search campaign.

Here’s how you can do a paid search:
#1. Develop a list of keywords related to the major issues of your campaign
#2. Bid on those keywords in major search engines -- like Google -- to place ads in their search results
#3. Point the ads’ links to a landing page that describes your campaign’s stance on the issue
#4. Place an email address submission form on the landing page

This strategy could also be used to drive traffic to your campaign’s homepage.

o Other options

- Ask people at campaign events to sign up for email updates.
- Make it easy to submit email addresses on your website.
- Include a “forward-to-a-friend” feature in your emails.

-> Keep your email list clean

Your email list should be updated regularly to keep it strong and current. Invalid email addresses and people who opt out should be removed immediately. Make sure your email messages go only to people with real potential as supporters.

“If someone gives you or you purchase or find a good list of emails to communicate with, constantly be updating it. And make that a component of every message that you send out to people,” Motola says. “Always let them know that they can unsubscribe … and when some come back undeliverable, you’ve got to scrub constantly. You can’t just take what you’ve got and hit the send button. If you’re getting returns, your list isn’t doing what it’s supposed to be doing.”

-> Focus on email design

The design of your emails should look and feel like your website:
o Use the title banner, font, colors and navigation links.
o Tie in other images from your campaign, like from signs and posters.
o Include donation icon.

“At the end of every email, we would have an icon that said: ‘If you’d like to donate, click here’,” says Motola. Money generated from these links accounted for 25% of all funds raised online for Mayor Gordon’s campaign, says Motola.

-> Tailor email content

When you’re sending emails, “you need to respect people’s time in the email and provide them with relevant information. Whether it’s a political campaign or a commercial product, content is king, and people want to receive that content,” says Fose.

Types of messages you should send out:

#1. Campaign updates -- Tell people about campaign landmarks or goals that indicate your cause has upward momentum.

#2. Positive press and campaign messages -- Your PR messages should go out to supporters in particular so they can help with positive talking points.

#3. Response to attacks -- If your campaign is attacked in the press, you can respond to it quickly, possibly before the attack reaches them, and initiate nearly instant damage control with well-informed rebuttals.

#4. Voting information and reminders -- You can remind your supporters to register to vote, request early or absentee ballots and find their polling stations.

“The week leading up to the election, we’d send out emails every day saying that next Tuesday is Election Day. And, again, we gave the contact information for the city clerk, and we also provided a link to the city clerk’s website that would allow you to type in your address and find out where your polling place is,” says Motola.

#5. Events information – “We used the email just about weekly for grassroots events. It was a good tool for ‘the mayor’s supporters are going to be together on Saturday morning at nine o’clock at X coffee shop…and we’re going to get together and go door to door, either dropping literature or spreading the mayor’s message, or talking to voters,” says Motola. He suggests sending an email five to seven days before an event.

#6. Donation requests -- Raising campaign dollars works best when a “click here to donate now” call to action does not compete with other content. After clicking, users should be immediately led to a form to submit a contribution. Appeal emails accounted for about 33.3% of all funds generated online by Mayor Gordon’s campaign.

#7. Polls -- “One thing we started to do towards the end, which by no means is empirical, but we started to do email polling. We would send out a questionnaire to registered voters and ask them ‘rate these 10 things on a scale from one to 10. What’s the most important issue, in your opinion, in the city of Phoenix?’ That provided really good information for us relatively quickly and relatively inexpensively compared to a full-fledged telephone poll,” says Motola.

That information “helped us target our message. It lets us know what’s resonating with voters. Should the mayor be talking about education? Should he be talking about immigration? Should he be talking about jobs? Should he be talking about public safety? And it gave us a clear idea of what people wanted to hear about, not only for their emails, but what they wanted to hear about in the mayor’s speeches and mail pieces that get sent out and that kind of thing,” says Motola.

#8. Refer to social network -- “When we send out email blasts, we always mention to visit the mayor’s website, and you’d always mention to visit the mayor’s MySpace page. And we found the more that we did that, not only the more volunteers did we have, we added more emails, more people were signing up on his MySpace page, more people were signing up on his campaign website to receive updates and request the mayor speak at their neighborhood events,” says Motola.

Consider Text Messaging
Mayor Gordon’s site let visitors enter their cell phone numbers for text messages. Campaigners used these numbers in two ways:

- Event updates -- Remind supporters about campaign events they could attend. It served as another way to connect with supporters.
- Rally supporters -- To defeat a proposition, Fose used text messaging in a much more strategic way.

“If there was a radio show going on and we needed them to call in, we would send a text message to them with [the station’s] call-in number so they could just hit the number through their phones and just call right in,” says Fose.

Bank on Blogs
“We ask our supporters: ‘What websites do you go to? Where are you blogging? Where are you visiting?’ ” says Fose. Once you have that information, you can visit those sites and try to steer traffic to the campaign website through commenting and linking.

Another way to find relevant sites is by building a demographic profile of likely supporters. “You take that profile and you go, just like you would when you place banner ads, you would say: ‘Where are these people on the Internet?’ and you start messaging there and trying to recruit people from those sites,” says Fose. “There’s really two types of groups: people who are your supporters and then people you can influence, hopefully, to get to vote your way.”

Build Social Network Pages
You should build a page at social network sites like MySpace and Facebook -- especially if you’re trying to attract younger voters.

Mayor Gordon’s campaign designed a MySpace page to look like its website, complete with the mayor’s biography, initiatives and positive press. Motola sent out “bulletins,” or messages to every member of the campaign’s MySpace “friends list,” about the mayor’s major speeches.

“I would say with both Facebook and MySpace, the focus was less on fundraising and more on time raising,” Motola says. “We were looking for people with time, as opposed to people with money. We didn’t go there for fundraising.”

“Tell people you have a MySpace page, you ask them to become your friend, and then you tap into their network of friends … you know because like-minded people will talk to like-minded people,” Fose says. “And our goal is to use them as a vehicle to talk to as many likeminded people as possible.”

Links related to this article

Creative samples from grassroots marketing:

Phil Gordon for Mayor 2007:

Voter Activation Network:

Republican National Committee Voter Vault:




RIESTER: Integrated Web strategy:

See Also:

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