New Path Plan for the Libertarian Party: Recruiting Members

Via email from George Phillies. New Path for the LP is a slate of candidates for the Libertarian National Committee, and George Phillies is their candidate for Chair. This is Step 6 of Part Three of the 63-page New Path plan for the LP. IPR is not endorsing any LNC candidates, and is interested in articles from all the different campaigns.

Step Six — How to Reach Sarah and Mike
The Practice of Scientific Membership Acquisition

No bones about it: We Need Growth, or We Will Die.

Fine. How do we return to days gone by when our membership was growing?

The first answer is to revive the LNC’s credibility. We need to be seen as doing real politics. We need to put resources where they will have the biggest bang for the buck. Nobody wants to give time or money just to pay overhead. Yes, people understand there has to be *some* overhead. But nobody (except the dominant coalition on the LNC, who voted for the current overhead level) considers our current overhead level to be acceptable.

Activists need and deserve activity. We need to show a lot of it, soon, or we will fail to justify being supported. Activity may start slowly, but there must be more as time passes.
People need to be given a good reason to give time and money. When people see effective activity, they will be more open with their wallets. The New Path plan will give that effective activity. As a result, membership will start to grow.

The next way to expand the membership is to stop the bleeding. In the last five years we saw two massive spikes in the membership lapse rate: first from mid-2005 to early 2007; then from early 2008 to late 2009.

What happened in that timeframe that led longtime members to give up on the LP?

Main reasons were:
In the first spike, multiple changes from $25 Dues to Zero Dues to $50 dues to $25 donations.
Dilution of the historical LP message and wholesale scrapping of the platform in 2006.
Recruitment (by members of the current LNC dominant faction) and nomination of former conservative Republicans Barr and Root in 2008, along with the adoption of a watered down, nuanced platform document.
Failure to engage in effective political activity, so the LP appeared to drop from sight.

People fled for the exits. We’ve now had a shocking loss of institutional memory in the LP. As late as 2005, more than half the LP’s members had been members for at least five years. Now, the majority of the members have belonged for less than two years.

A change in direction and increased activity will staunch the loss of members. But that is not all we must do.

There are several obvious ways to gain more members. The mechanism we chose must be evaluated scientifically. Fortunately, we have the tools and information needed for that analysis.

We explained in the Section on Raising and Spending Money why we don’t plan to do cold-call direct mail. Under present conditions, it’s just money down the drain. However, we have other ways to recruit new members.

First, we’ll make maximum use of the marketing tools of 2010: blogs, podcasting, social media like Facebook and Twitter, You Tube, and other means.

Second, we will increase our membership by improving our Web presence. At present we spend in excess of $100,000 per year on electronic communications – the

website, email and the like.

We are not getting nearly our money’s worth. Outside experts generally agree our website could be improved a great deal, and is not optimized for the tasks we want it to fulfill.

The New Path team will do a complete redesign of

. We will improve it dramatically and at a much lower cost as well. The new website will be a destination for all interested in liberty. Rather than engage in the “interruption marketing” of days gone by, we will pull people in to our message and then get their permission to communicate with them again. Establishing communication with a “warm” contact – someone who has interacted with us and given permission to us to reciprocate – has a very high success rate.

Pursuing warm contacts, people who have asked to hear from us, is Marketing 2010.

However, there is a third way to increase our membership. We’ve saved the best for last.

Our best customers – our best prospects by far for membership – are the people we know, and the people they know.

Our first line of new member sources is our own membership.

Why not say to all existing members: Bring a Friend. When you do, we will give you a benefit. After all, a new member is typically worth $125 to our party. When you bring in a friend, you just gave the party $125 at no cost to us. Potential benefits could include:
one year’s membership extension,
gift certificates to libertarian book companies, or
outright cash awards.

If every member brings in a new member every year, by 2016 we would have one million members. We aren’t counting on that happening, but it certainly points in the right direction.

To recruit members, we also need to make better use of the media and public relations tools.

One of the current LNC chair candidates has been very vocal in his desire to use the media. On that score he is right. But here is where he is wrong: He is targeting media outlets that are highly unlikely to produce converts for us.

In fact, he has been focusing 100 percent on the area on the Nolan Chart opposite to where Libertarians live! That’s the authoritarian Republican area where Fox News and Neocons dwell.

Furthermore, he is using the wrong success metrics. The proper metrics are not how many times he has been on conservative talk radio or on Fox News. The right metrics are the ones the New Path team recognizes, including:

number of party members,
monthly and annual revenue for the LNC,
membership lapse rates,
average member cash contribution,
number of identified Libertarians seeking contested public offices,
– cash on hand (in number of days expenses),
– visits to our web site,
– earned media: mentions by the regular press, and
– growth of state and local parties.
Of course, to advance those metrics you need to emphasize the Libertarian Party, not the Republican Tea Party.

Finally, some words about direct mail… and a pledge from James Oaksun.

We aren’t fundamentally hostile to direct mail, no matter what the incumbent treasurer or his claque may say. Direct mail can, under certain circumstances, “work”. We may find unusual opportunities. Certainly a mailing to Ron Paul donors, if we had legal list access, might be very rewarding. However, we must note some challenges.

We will never have any success at direct mail if our response rates are 0.3-0.5 percent, not unless the responders are giving us big money. At present, they are not.

If we do decide that we need to do direct mail, we have ways to increase the response rate.

We need to use better lists and write better letters. Historically, we have largely mailed to far-right-wing and financial mailing lists. Those people were remote from us in 1998, and are far more remote from us now.

Probably the most sensitive variable in any direct mail effort is the response rate. In direct mail parlance, the increase in the response rate is called the “lift”. Organizations that do significant amounts of direct mail devote substantial resources to improving the lift through better copy writing and better list selection.

We can illustrate the importance of lift with an example. Let’s go back to that example earlier of obtaining 15,000 new members. What happens if the response rate is different, but all other rates are the same? If the response rate is different, so are the financial consequences. The sensitivity of the cash return to the response rate is staggering.

Response Rate Net Present Value at 8%
0.3% (697,000)
0.4% (172,000)
0.5% 143,000
0.75% 563,000
1.0% 773,000

Move the response rate from 0.3% to 1.0%, and the net return on recruiting 15,000 members goes from a $700,000 loss to a nearly $800,000 profit.

13 thoughts on “New Path Plan for the Libertarian Party: Recruiting Members

  1. Shane

    Man, who’s writing this stuff?

    First, to deal with about the only “scientific” thing in this article about scientific membership acquisition, the lapsed member spikes mentioned correspond to actual events — not assumptions.

    The only “massive” spike occurred in October of 2005 and that was a direct result of zero dues. We stopped sending lapsed appeals as we had to throw out all of our pre-printed letters, create new appeals and rebuild the process without using “dues” in the appeal. That was back on track by January after testing.

    In 2007, that “spike” was a result of a prospecting/reacquisition drive 12 months prior. When you have big gains in any month, you’ll have higher lapsed 12 months later.

    Sure, you can pump up the rhetoric meter by blaming it on messaging, people, etc., but the truth is the truth.

    As for the rest of the article, there’s nothing really scientific there at all. You’re going to boost membership through Social Networking and by building a prettier web site? Okay, let me know how that one works out for you.

    Now this article is negative on direct-response prospecting and insinuates that it hasn’t worked for us in the past. Well, for the last decade, very little prospecting has taken place — that’s why we have a problem.

    Writing better letters and choosing better lists? No letters have been written in ages that were for prospecting.

    The last true prospect piece we sent out was a test to registered libertarians back in 2006 or so. All other mailings have been reacquisition and house.

    Dasbach (widely criticized by Phillies I believe) did the most prospecting, and as a result had the largest membership gains. That was shut down around ’99 and we suffered six straight years of membership losses.

    In 2006, even after Zero Dues, we were able to stop the slide and bring it back up by 25%. Using that momentum, we got out of a quarter million in debt and built up a $200k reserve but then had to use just about all of it for ballot access.

    Wes now has a head start as he took the helm with very little debt and a good operation with Robert. The LP’s reserve is now high enough to resume prospecting in 50k test batches.

    Politics aside, if Wes resumes prospecting and reacquisition in a professional manner (and I see no reason why he won’t) then the LP will be on the right path for the future.

    But it only takes a group of LNC members who lack non-profit marketing knowledge to screw that up. The article above is a perfect example of how that scenario can happen.

  2. Chuck Moulton

    Great points, Shane!

    I’ve been advocating real prospecting for years. Attrition has been slowly bleeding our party dry of members.

    I agree with Phillies that we need to give people a reason to donate by having political, outreach, and activism successes we can point at. His plan suffers however from revisionist history misunderstanding the reasons for past problems, such as the above points Shane articulated.

    It seems pretty crazy to me that Phillies is on record as vocally criticizing Project Archimedes and other prospecting efforts from a decade ago, yet now he is trying to point to the membership numbers that resulted as a benchmark and to get elected on a platform of badmouthing the lack of prospecting of the past few years.

    He can’t have it both ways.

    The more I hear from Phillies, Root, and Hancock, the more I am leaning towards NOTA as my second choice after Hinkle.

  3. Brian Holtz

    I agree with Chuck’s identification of an apparent inconsistency between George’s past diagnoses and current prescriptions. However, I’ll point out that the “loss of institutional memory” mentioned above is how George can in fact have it both ways.

    If the New Path slate could tell us on the PlatCom what Libertarian principles are missing from the Platform and are allegedly contributing to non-retention of dues-payers, we still have time to add them for St. Louis.

    But having asked this question repeatedly, I’m beginning to doubt that we’ll get an actionable answer.

    As for Fox News being in the authoritarian Nolan quadrant, the most imposing libertarian media presence on the landscape right now isn’t Wayne Root, it’s John Stossel. What TV or radio show generates more audience-minutes of attention to libertarian principles than his issue-driven weekly hour on Fox News? His work with top talent from Reason and Cato and GMU is exactly what the LP should be showing to people.

  4. paulie Post author

    The more I hear from Phillies, Root, and Hancock, the more I am leaning towards NOTA as my second choice after Hinkle.

    I’m thinking Myers is a good second choice. He seems to have his head on straight.

  5. Chuck Moulton

    Myers seems solid, but has too little experience on the national stage for my liking. (e.g., How many LNC meetings has he attended?) I hope he will run and wins At-Large.

  6. George Phillies

    @3 If you did not realize that there were a bunch of people who did not like the 2006 platform, and therefore went over to the Boston Tea Party, I probably can’t convince you.

    Mind you, I do not at all blame @3 for appearing to come to his conclusion. We do in our list of causes for the party’s membership losses have: “Dilution of the historical LP message and wholesale scrapping of the platform in 2006. Recruitment (by members of the current LNC dominant faction) and nomination of former conservative Republicans Barr and Root in 2008, along with the adoption of a watered down, nuanced platform document.”

    There are people who think that if changing the platform to the 2006 platform caused membership loss, then changing back to the 2004 platform would invert the loss. New Path did not come to that conclusion. What happened in 2006 was a one-way street. We are not proposing platform changes as part of our plan.

    Let me say that again. We are not proposing platform changes as part of our plan.

    If @3 wants suggestions for changing his platform, he will have to speak to people who are interested in making changes.

    @1 Are electronic media election winners? There was the Obama ’08 campaign. Less successfully, but doing better than the LNC was doing, there was Ron Paul and his money bombs.

    It is my understanding from Mary Ruwart that we have recently done direct mail to cold lists, and it has lost money hand over fist. The direction that works really well is following up on people who are warm contacts..people who hit our web site and ask for information.

  7. Brian Holtz

    George, I wasn’t asking about the 2006 platform. Nobody liked that platform. That’s why we fixed it.

    I was asking about the clause “along with the adoption of a watered down, nuanced platform document”, which appears in a sentence talking about 2008.

    That clearly suggests that the 2008 platform was “watered down”. If that’s not what you were attempting to say — or if you now say that no fix for the alleged watering-down is possible/worthwhile — then the only thing we might be disagreeing about is how to interpret the past, rather than what to do in the future.

    For all of its scores of pages of output, I just can’t figure out the New Path’s attitude toward the Platform. In one breath it says that the only thing Libertarians agree on is how to spell “libertarian”. In the next breath it seems to say that the 2008 platform is “watered down” and has lost us members. And in yet another breath it says “For all these issues we have Libertarian answers from our platform that resonate well with the American people”, and that the party’s purpose is to “put its platform into place”.

    I happen to like the Platform, so I’m glad that the New Path says it has no plan to change it. But given how central the New Path says the Platform is to the LP’s present problems and future destination, I’d like to understand why the New Path apparently thinks the Platform either 1) doesn’t need improving or 2) isn’t worth fixing.

  8. George Phillies

    Let me try this some more. There were people who did not like the 2008 platform and therefore quit. They are gone, and changing the platform is unlikely to bring them all back. That change was _a_ problem, which is not the same as saying the change was _the central problem_.

    Your effort to give us a better platform is appreciated, as is the effort of everyone else who has worked on the platform.

    We are saying that *changing* the platform so drastically has caused certain groups of people to have dropped from the party. If Restore ’04 had won in ’08, the opposite of what occurred, groups of people would have dropped from the party. That’s the same as what happened in ’08 except the list people who bailed out would be different. However, if there is a phrasing of some platform plank that is going to solve our problems, we have not heard about it.

    The New Path position on the platform is that we should try to move forward, not in circles, and that if there are improvements to be made in the platform they should be made in the platform we have.

    However, our list of fixes are in completely different directions.

    Speaking for myself, I expect that at the end of the convention there will be some platform amended and approved by the delegates, and if elected Chair I will be using that platform to put forth our message.

  9. Brian Holtz

    there were a bunch of people who did not like the 2006 platform, and therefore went over to the Boston Tea Party

    Yes. These would be the people who were so upset that the 14,000-word 2004 Platform was cut to 5000 words, that they went over to a party whose permanent immutable platform is 36 words long, and defines only a direction and not a destination. A party whose 2006 program was all of 117 words long. A party whose 2008 program was so hardcore and principled that it was endorsed by Ralph Nader and Cynthia McKinney and Chuck Baldwin.

    Of the BTP’s ~1500 members, how many would you guess were LP members who actually quit the LP over the 2006 platform and never came back? The ones I’ve heard of I can count on one hand, so I’d guess 100 or 200 at most.

    Note that the founder of the BTP (and author of its perpetual Platform) never quit the LP, and says he is generally happy with the current LP platform.

  10. Brian Holtz

    There were people who did not like the 2008 platform and therefore quit.

    I’ve never heard of a single one. I’d like to hear from anybody who says they quit the LP because of the Denver platform and not because of the Denver nominee.

  11. George Phillies

    You didn’t here from anyone who quit because Restore ’04 failed in ’08? OK, I believe you. There was no reason for them to be impolite, after all, especially when the Restore ’04 people manifestly did not have the votes.

  12. Brian Holtz

    Well, there would have been nothing impolite about them letting remaining LPers know that the reason they were quitting was not because of Barr, but rather because Restore04 failed.

    Until I hear the name of somebody who says this is why they quit, I’m going to assume that no such person exists.

  13. Shane

    George, regarding prospecting, no Mary’s incorrect. The last prospecting was done years ago when she was inactive.

    The good news is that I just received word that we’re about to drop a small test here soon. That’s actually great news.

    Those who don’t have experience with non-profit marketing get a bit disappointed after the first test rolls out and losses money. It’s wildly frustrating but the trick is to keep testing until you have a successful control package. It takes patience and a ton of money.

    The LP has never created that control package and if we did, we lost it.

    As for Obama and Paul on electronic fundraising, Paul is the exception. Obama is not. His campaign pulled in funds from all streams.

    Online fundraising will not surpass postal results for a good twenty years in my opinion. Why? Because email prospecting is in its infancy.

    Only a handful of firms specialize in this. Also, very few opt-in lists are on the market for rental in comparison to the postal rental industry.

    If any new chair is going to put his or her eggs solely in online fundraising – that person will be forced to change their mind fairly quickly.

    Sure you can mail to qualified leads – about 2,500 per month – or you can prospect to 100k+ a month and generate $$ and another 5k+ leads.

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