Power a grassroots movement with online fundraising

How we helped a political outsider take on a four-decade career politician

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Advertising, Marketing

Beginning in 2017, IMGE supported John James with digital strategy and infrastructure as he built his campaign following and raised enough money to wage a serious 2018 midterm challenge to the strongly-established Senator Debbie Stabenow.

John James appeared on the political scene in July 2017. A 37-year old father of two, political outsider, military combat veteran and successful businessman, James had a unique profile that most first-time candidates could only dream of.

As a black conservative running for statewide office against a four-decade career politician in Michigan (a blue state turned red by Donald Trump in 2016), James had a story to tell that didn’t fit the mold. Focused on national security, economic hope, and faith and family, James persuasively argued that his life experience in these areas made him qualified to upend the status quo in Washington that had failed Michigan families for decades. During the general election campaign, James displayed his independent streak, promising he would not show fealty to D.C. bosses in either party, nor pander to voters based on race or gender, but rather protect the American Dream and the Constitution for all Americans.

As a political outsider, James began his campaign with effectively no name ID and no establishment support. We needed to light a spark to get voters excited about his candidacy and donate to his campaign.

John James Online Fundraising

How we did it

With a dedicated following building every day, we drove traffic to landing pages on James’ website and gathered email addresses for his budding house file, which would become more than 100,000 emails strong. This influx helped create a robust small-dollar fundraising program.

Fundraising content for existing donors was crafted specifically to express gratitude for their past gifts. For house file non-donors, the ask was smaller. By speaking to these different audiences in distinct ways, James was able to build a stronger connection with each while maintaining a coherent overall campaign narrative. Existing donors were asked to increase their efforts through a monthly recurring donation, or alternatively to match their previous highest donation. When donors made a contribution, they were redirected to a page asking to double it.

Additionally, for existing donors who had created Revv payment processing accounts, one-click donations were available in the body of the email. This one-click option increased efficiency and ensured there was one less barrier between opening the email and completing the transaction.

Using peer-to-peer SMS technology later in the cycle, James alerted supporters to upcoming rallies and tv appearances, encouraging them to donate using an embedded link. And if supporters had an existing Revv account, they could donate without even clicking on a link – it required only replying “Yes.” James raised more than $5,000 through SMS during the general election campaign.


James received more than 45,000 small-donor online donations, raising more than $2 million, which allowed him to stay competitive in the race against an establishment politician.

Fine print for the nerds:

What other tactics did we use? When a new poll was released showing James surging, or he was attacked by an opponent, fundraising emails were deployed within hours to alert supporters. When Debbie Stabenow emailed her supporters calling out James in order to gin up engagement, he responded by forwarding this email to his house file, showing his grassroots followers exactly what was being said, and included a donation link to fight back.

While email was responsible for the vast majority of online fundraising, additional marketing channels were used to boost engagement and revenue. Social media and web push functionality ensured that wherever users were, they could be served relevant, timely campaign content.

Although the James campaign fell just short of victory on Election Day, his online fundraising efforts were an overwhelming success. IMGE is proud to have stood with John James, who looks to be a rising star in the Republican Party.