Thursday, February 16, 2012

4 Tools Associations and Charitable Foundations Learn from Obama Campaign

As the 2012 Presidential election gears up, stories about the Obama Re-election Campaign suggest tools that could be useful in associations (for membership and/or marketing) and/or charitable foundations (for cultivation and donations).

“The Obama for America analytics department analyzes the campaign’s data to guide election strategy and develop quantitative, actionable insights that drive our decision- making,” according to a report.  “We are a multi-disciplinary team of statisticians, mathematicians, software developers, general analysts and organizers -- all striving for a single goal: re- electing President Obama.”

In a report for The Daily Beast, Andrew Ramano provided a glimpse of the Obama Campaign that illustrates the future needs of associations and nonprofits:
Michael Slaby, Obama’s chief integration and innovation office, and his team are constructing a “micro-listening” and computer modeling program that will comb online and off-line behavior patterns for voter information, then use it to personalize every interaction we have with the campaign: fundraising, volunteering, persuasion, mobilization.

“If my mom, who’s 62, is working off a smartphone and is a supporter of the president, then that’s huge,” Slaby told me. “People can now make calls, canvass, and be engaged on a deeper level from wherever they are.”

Here are four tools that the campaign is using that could/should be in the association/nonprofit tool kit:

Micro Listening
  • Listening to learn more about voters and potential supporters/volunteers.
  • One tool uses Facebook to invite people to “Tell us Your Story.” 
  • The Campaign is using an algorithm that interprets voter’s actual words and sort them into categories might be able to make an educated guess. 
Micro Targeting
  • This involves creating and sending targeted messages designed especially for specific people.
  • For example, the Obama Campaign can send Facebook messages to people concerned about health care and ask them to send a note to their friends in a key congressional district.
  • The campaign's website was redesigned using a "responsive design" format that automatically fits on any device. The emphasis is on one-stop shopping: Volunteers can register voters and take donations on the street. The campaign has its own YouTube page. Click on some of its online ads, and you can send an old-fashioned postcard to a friend.
  • Crowdsourcing taps into the global world of ideas, helping companies work through a rapid design process. You outsource to large crowds (hence the word: crowdsourcing) in an effort to make sure your products or services are right.
  • They invited graphic artists from around the country to develop an official poster. The winners will receive a framed poster signed by the President.
  • The Campaign organized 2,700 house parties to watch the President’s State of the Union speech
Data Mining
  • The Obama Campaign keeps track of everything. At last count, it had about 25 million Facebook friends and 12 million Twitter followers. It passed 1 million donors in October, 46% of whom had not given to the 2008 campaign, and 1 million "conversations" with voters in November.
  • It comes down to data -- collecting voter information, synthesizing it and making use of it most effectively. The data comes from conversations on the ground and behavioral patterns on the website. Analysts may try to determine how to best target a voter who gives $5 to participate in a raffle to have dinner with the president versus $5 during a Republican debate.
  • Aristotle specializes in data mining. John Phillips, Aristotle's CEO, tells Fast Company that Aristotle gathers some 500 attributes on voters, "such as interests and charitable causes, educational level, homeowner/renter, estimated income or presence of children in the household." 
"What's changed is all the tools and channels that we can use," says digital director Teddy Goff. "It's sort of one message, many formats."

What does this mean for associations and nonprofits?

Whether a professional society, a trade association or a charitable foundation, we all have “campaigns.” It might be a membership campaign or an annual fund campaign or a capital campaign.

The tools the Obama Re-election Campaign is using shows the opportunities we have to energize our base (members and donors) and engage with prospects. Most of us don’t have the funds to employ these tools to the extent of a Presidential Campaign but we can find other ways to implement these strategies.

You can begin by gathering and analyzing more information about your members and donors. Most associations and nonprofits have tracked demographic data such as age and location. What the Presidential campaigns are showing us is that we need to go deeper ... to identify and track what they are thinking, what they are reading, what they support and how they interact with us.

One of the key takeaways is to get mobile.  Notice that the Campaign redesigned its website using a "responsive design" format so anyone with a smart phone can easily get and see it.  This is a major benefit most associations and nonprofits lack.

The success of our campaigns depends on digging deeper and using that knowledge to recruit, retain and generate friends and funds.

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