Effective e-mails

Campaign e-mails can be an effective way to motivate volunteers, solicit donors and inform voters and there are a lot of things to think about before sending one!


  • Know your audience -campaign volunteers? Donors? Voters? Make sure your message and call to action are appropriate for the recipients.
  • Know how to frame messages! Use our words and avoid conservative frames and code words -example: “Investment” is our word. “Tax relief” is theirs. Google “George Lakoff” for more on framing.
  • Plan ahead: What is the target date? Is there a bad time or good time to send this e-mail? Do you have an e-mail service lined up to send it?
  • Are staff trained in composing e-mails and using e-mail services?
  • Note that most of your e-mails will be tied to events. This means 1) there should be a tie in to your online calendar. Google Calendar is very powerful and has invite/RSVP functions. 2) Bigger/better recipient lists will draw more people. But do not expect amazing resulkts -a 10% open rate is not uncommon with an even smaller percentage responding in any way; 1500-2000 addresses may draw 50-75 people, 500 addresses only 15-20.
  • The likelihood that people will open an email depends on how busy they are. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are considered by experts to be better days for sending an e-mail.


  • Effective e-mailing is the art of giving things up. The more you put in, the less will get read. Resist the temptation to tell the recipient everything about your candidate in an e-mail.
  • Put a short version of your well framed message into the subject line.
  • Make the From: address consistent across all e-mails. You can create a generic address such as “Info@me4esenate.com” for this purpose. This way your readers can then “find” or filter their inbox by that name to quickly find all your e-mails . Using Bob@mef4senate. com and Sally@me4senate.com will divide your e-mails up in their inbox sort.
  • Always use the candidate’s first and last name in your text, not “our candidate”. Avoid Mr. or Ms., however affixes such as Dr. or Senator, etc. should be used.
  • Get to the Point! Compose a single concise message you want the recipient to come away with. People have short attention spans when skimming e-mail; keep your message short and do not have more than one message unless it is specifically a talking points memo.
  • Include a clear and concise call to action if possible -donate, volunteer, come to an event, visit the website, “like” on Facebook, etc.
  • Text should be conversational rather than formal. Remember, you are talking to a person -stay in the first and second person as you do in conversation. Use I, me, you, us and first names; these draw the reader in. Humor is fine!
  • Tell a very short story. People like stories!
  • Using sense modalities in your text – “Can you see how trickle down’s failurte has impacted your life?” “This sounds like my opponent doesn’t understand the challenges facing seniors. ” “William felt like his medical bills would bankrupt his family”. Sense words command attention and have sustaining power. Sense modalities in stories are even better as people vicariously experience what the subject of the story does: Bob, a management consultant and father of two, felt panic when he heard his unemployment would be cut by Republican filibustering -he saw the possibility that he and his family might lose their home. He heard the fear when his kids asked, “Daddy will we have to move?”.
  • Bullet points, numbered lists (if kept to no more than four items), and bolding of key concepts help skimming readers (and face it, that’s everyone!).
  • Always edit for brevity. Over and over. Think Twitter short. Do not defend and preserve that wonderful line you wrote if it’s getting in the way!
  • Don’t get too wonky; add links for readers who want more info.
  • Most people do not not bother to open attachments. The worst e-mail you can send says “See the attached file for our candidate’s important message”!


  • Always head campaign e-mails with the candidate’s logo.
  • The message and call to action should be up top (“above the fold” as newspaper people say) so recipients do not have to scroll down to find your message. Many people read e-mails in the message pane of their e-mail client, which is often only about 20-30 lines of text deep. And remember -your logo and greeting takes seven to ten of those!
  • Put pictures in the e-mail and always one of your candidate’s face; clear and almost full frame. Pictures, if strategically placed, can also get readers to scroll down the page.
  • Reinforce the images associated with your candidate (logo, face) at every opportunity -emails, website, lit pieces, event announcements, etc.
  • Avoid flashy fonts, mixed colors, multiple fonts and sizes and all-caps. When in doubt use sans-serif fonts like Arial/Helvetica 12pt. for text. Use larger sans-serif fonts for headlines. Logos have a little more latitude but should still use simpler “display” fonts. A good graphic designer should do your website, lawn signs and e-mail template.
  • White space is your friend! It makes the e-mail far more readable and appealing to the eye and forces you to tighten up your message. Less is more!
  • Include clear date, time, address and a map link for any event. Ask for an RSVP, but do not require it -you don’t want to give recipients any excuse not to show up!
  • Always include clear contact info including names, address, e-mail, website, facebook, twitter, etc. Use the signature feature of your e-mail client so this is automatically added to every e-mail. Your disclaimer can go there too.
  • Include any required disclaimers -that’s the part that says “Paid for by (candidate) for (office), (so and so) Treasurer, address.” Know the rules in your locale.
  • If you are asking for donations, be sure to provide prominent donation buttons or instructions as to how the reader can complete a donation. Try the links yourself and make sure the payment processes is clear and above all short so they don’t bail out.


  1. Proofread -especially for the information your readers will use to respond to your call for action (time, date, location, donate button, etc.) and for legal requirements such as disclaimers.
  2. Now ask someone else to proofread!
  3. Proofread again.
  4. Send a test e-mail and read it. What you see in the e-mail editoris not always what you get!


  • Make sure your candidate reviews and approves all communication from the campaign.

Your E-mail List

  • Build your e-mail list -constantly. The biggest mistake we see is when organizations don’t ask for or collect e-mails when they could easily do so. This is especially true of party units in caucus states (see below). Ask for e-mail addresses at every event. Have a mailing list sign-up link on your website, in lit pieces and in every e-mail. Include a forward this e-mail link in your e-mail (provided by your for-fee mailing service).
  • Your list should be opt-in; recipients should choose to sign up. Paper sign up sheets can say somewhere that you’ll be adding them to your newsletter list. Your e-mails should include a “forward this e-mail” and a sign up link so your fans can help build your list.
  • Keep a quality list. E-mails you collect one-on-one from people are always better than ones you find here and there. The best qualified recipients are ones that have actually demonstrated an interest in your message. In states that caucus, caucus goers are highly qualified to be on your list. Make sure you collect this info before turning it in to your party as once it hits the state database you may not be able to download it!
  • You can upload delimited (.csv) files of e-mail addresses to e-mail services to quickly get started. Be sure to download all this data and cancel your service after the campaign is over!
  • A quality email list doesn’t do much good unless you use it. Regularly scheduled events or news items give you a reason to keep in contact.
  • Small recipient lists may be sent as regular e-mail but be aware that e-mails with more than ten recipient addresses are routinely filtered and trashed by ISP spam filters.
  • Free e-mailing programs offered by your website’s hosting provider can be used to send mail but may require a web savvy operator, can be unreliable, and offer little in the way of reliable reporting. In addition, e-mails sent this way may not make it to recipients -and you won’t even know it. These programs are best for your internal staff communication where you can verify that everyone is getting your emails.
  • A for-fee mailing service such as Constant Contact, Mail Chimp, NGP, The Databank and others get a higher percentage of e-mails delivered and offer composition, formatting, database and reporting tools for between $15 and 30 per month. If you have a large list you should use one of these services.
  • Be sure to read and abide by the e-mail service or the VAN’s usage policies.
  • Many for-fee companies have free accounts for lists under 500 addresses. Some offer discounts for non-profits -you’ll need to provide documentation.
  • E-mail services provide extensive reporting including how many e-mails were opened, who opened them and what links they clicked on. You can learn a lot about what works from reviewing these reports. Note: only email opened while a person is connected to the internet is counted; email opened offline may not get counted in total opens unless a person clicks a link in your e-mail when they are back online.
  • The VAN is also a fee service but with many extra advantages including the ability to search and filter the database to refine your recipient list. The VAN is best used when contacting voters, not necessarily your fellow volunteers. The fact that an e-mail is sent from the VAN actually adds info to the voter’s record and provides overall data to party strategists. Campaigns should strongly consider using the VAN as their primary e-mail service.
  • Not everyone will open your e-mails every time. Do not assume that a 15% open rate means that you are only reaching the same 15% of your list over time.
  • Contact a fellow candidate who uses a for-fee service and ask if they are “affiliates” and sign up through them -they may get a finder’s fee! Any admin of an blast e-mail account -including you- can be an affiliate, which means that if you sign someone up you get a bonus too -just another way to bring money in! (FYI, the same holds true for some website hosting.)
  • If your campaign is using the VAN (and you should!), be sure to also procure the e-mail feature and learn to use the powerful filtering features to narrow your audience. Be sure to add collected e-mail addresses to voter records!

OPE: Other People’s E-mail List

  • If your event or message goes beyond your organization, have other organizations promote your event through their e-mail list.
  • While some list purchasing is legitimate, copying someone else’s e-mail list into your own will definitely run afoul of your for-fee service provider’s terms of service and is also not considered proper e-mail etiquette. In general, e-mail lists should be “opt in” meaning the recipient has agreed to get your e-mail.


  • Regular emails make many people feel much more connected to your organization, and some people say they feel cut off if for some reason the email stops coming.
  • Caution: think of the all e-mails you receive; avoid over-saturation! Experts say you should send an email at least once a month and at most once a week. You know your audience though; if you get complaints or unsubscribes you are probably sending too many.
  • Separate your fundraising e-mails from your informational and event e-mails. If you mail without a service, use different From and Reply to addresses. If you use a service you may want two accounts as most services will allow users to permanently unsubscribe from getting any e-mails from an account.
  • Three emails sent over a period of three to four weeks results in twice as many attendees as one email sent a week ahead of time. Don’t send the same one each time; vary the content to keep up interest.
  • For events, campaign workers and marketers say that making followup phone calls between the emails will easily double attendance.

*Thanks to Former Minneapolis Star Tribune Reporter Jeremy Powers for his insight into editorial boards!