It’s one of the most common questions I’m asked about online fundraising. Should we rent an email list? The question usually comes when a big moment happens for your campaign and you want to make the most of your opportunity.
It’s the right instinct to have, but unless you’ve invested in building your relationships with supporters, you won’t see the results you’re expecting.
Speaking of results, you first need to understand what your goals are. Never take action without a clear objective. Are you trying to raise money and you expect to break even or possibly come ahead? Are you trying to prospect for new donors? Are you trying to grow your email list?
Renting an email list can certainly help you with all of these goals, but it may not be the best course of action.
When you rent an email list, you’re borrowing someone else’s audience at a premium. Email list rentals are typically priced on a cost per thousand emails basis and the price varies greatly depending on the size and quality of the underlying list.
Campaigns can pursue a traditional rental agreement, where you pay an upfront cost to send an email to the list, but there are two alternatives to consider if they’re available to you. The first is a “no risk” rental. In this instance, you won’t pay more than what you raise from the email, until you break even. At that point anything raised above and beyond the rental cost is “profit.”
The second, more attractive option, is a revenue sharing rental (commonly referred to as a “revshare”). Every dollar you raise will be split along a percentage with some going to you and some going to the list owner, after the list broker and credit card processing fees have been paid.
These options will likely be unavailable to you unless you’re working for a nationally known candidate or hot-button race.
Email rentals are perfect for the instance where you’ve got email copy that is already performing well – either because of the timing, the importance of your campaign, or the notoriety of the signer – and now you’re ready to scale quickly.
You should always test your email fundraising copy before you pay to send it to a rented list. It’s a lesson I’ve personally learned the hard way. Never pay to send an email you don’t already know is going to work.
If you’re able to get a surrogate like a nationally recognized politician or well-known celebrity to sign a fundraising email for your campaign – and it performs well on your list – you should consider sending it to a list rental.
Finally, if you can’t afford a rental or it’s not yet the right circumstance, email list sharing is an excellent way to grow your email list and it helps your fellow Republicans.
Otherwise, you should focus on the slow, steady hard work of building an email list through driving traffic to your website with petitions and surveys.