Twenty-nine years is used to raise $29 from each supporter. An election in a 20th congressional district means a $20 donation. And April 28? That date was translated into a $280,000 fundraising goal. In recent years, political campaigns have employed an approach that seems to work: pick a number that has some significance to an election – or can be made to seem to have significance – and ask for a related amount of money from donors.
The latest example has GOP candidate for Governor of New York, Rick Lazio, running Web ads asking supporters for $29. The catch: Democratic candidate Andrew Cuomo has been involved in politics and government for 29 years. “29 years of the Status Cuomo – $29 to Break the Cycle,” state the ads. The campaign launched Google network and Facebook display ads earlier this week, and is also promoting use of a #29fail hash tag on Twitter.
Political campaigns have begged for donations from supporters through high-priced fundraising dinners and direct mail for years, but online ads are being used to seek out and generate funds from new donors, as well as remind previous supporters to give. That’s forced digital political campaigners to rethink their approach. If the increased frequency with which the tactic is being used is any indication, the numbers game seems to be working, particularly for Republicans.
“You have to find the community as well as convert it, whereas with direct mail, they’ve already taken an action – they’ve given before,” said Zac Moffatt, partner at Targeted Victory, the digital consulting firm behind the Lazio ads.
Mitt Romney’s campaign for the Republican presidential primary may have been the first to use the approach in online ads. “Project 44” ads urged supporters to “Donate $44 for the Future 44th President.”
In 2009, the campaign for Jim Tedisco, Republican candidate for New York’s 20th U.S. congressional district, took the concept to an even more direct level. They asked for $20 donations from supporters and readers of conservative blogs where customizable fundraising widgets were featured. The goal was to raise $20,000 in the hopes of funding get-out-the-vote efforts in the final 20 days of the campaign.
According to Mindy Finn, a partner at Engage, a digital consulting firm that worked with the campaign, the fundraiser raked in $120,000 in less than two weeks. “If you assign a specific deadline or specific dollar amount, that’s something that supporters can digest,” said Finn, who had also served as Romney for President’s e-strategy director.
The idea seems to be taking off. Scott Brown’s campaign to fill Ted Kennedy’s seat representing Massachusetts in the Senate asked for $41 for the 41st vote – a reference to the fact that a Brown win would end the Democratic supermajority in the chamber, threatening to unravel healthcare reform.
Earlier this year as the Pennsylvania primaries approached, SpecterSwitch.com told supporters to “Help Flip The Switch Back To Republican” in the state’s Senate race. It used April 28, 2009 (as the site puts it, the date Democratic Senator Arlen Specter “broke the trust of Pennsylvania voters and switched political parties in order to save his political career”) as a prompt to raise “$280,000 on the anniversary of Specter’s betrayal” to fund Republican Pat Toomey’s campaign. Specter lost the Democratic primary in May, and today SpecterSwitch.com redirects to ToomeyForSenate.com.
The Republican Governors Association has equated 37 gubernatorial races in 2010 with a $37 donation. “Help us end the year on a strong note! Please consider giving $37 – just $1 for each of the governors’ races next year – so we can keep the GOP Comeback going strong,” wrote the RGA on its Facebook wall in December 2009.
That year-end urgency has long been used as a fundraising ploy by political campaigns. Supporters are accustomed to receiving last-minute requests for money just before a state or federal campaign finance reporting deadline hits.
“You’re not going to have the kind of success that you will right before a deadline,” said Finn. “There’s a desire to create urgency.”
The sense of urgency has also helped propel money-bomb campaigns, which challenge supporters to give a lot in a short period of time – such as 24 or hours or a few days. Florida gubernatorial hopeful, Republican Marco Rubio, paired the contrived-urgency of the money bomb with the significant number approach to devise the “Stimulus Bomb,” a 10-day fundraising campaign with a goal to raise $787,000. The connection was the Obama administration’s $787 billion stimulus package, and the one-year anniversary of a rally held by Florida Governor and Rubio opponent Charlie Crist in support of the legislation.
“Obviously you have to have an audience that’s receptive to it,” said Finn, adding, “In a very simple way, you’re taking a salient message point and assigning a fundraising goal to it.
As for the $29 Lazio fundraiser, it’s too soon to determine success, said Moffatt. The fundraiser has no goal in terms of a total amount to be raised, but his firm does expect it to help set ROI benchmarks when it comes to donations from new givers as opposed to return supporters.
Follow Kate Kaye on Twitter at @LowbrowKate.
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