Topics: House File, Small-Dollar Fundraising, SMS, Email Fundraising, Advertising, Expert Advice, Text Messaging

The House File: A Small-Dollar Fundraiser's Guide

How Republicans Win at Small-Dollar Fundraising

Kurt Luidhardt's House File Guide
Kurt Luidhardt's House File Guide

One of the most crucial small-dollar fundraising assets of any Republican campaign is often the most overlooked — your email house file.

Your campaign is a club (or movement) built around certain ideals. Your supporters are the members of that club. And for your club to grow and thrive, you should always be looking to add new members.

Definition of House File

In broad terms, a house file is a list of leads, donors, subscribers, and supporters who have signed up to receive solicitations from your campaign via email or text messaging.

Whether you are an incumbent or a first-time candidate, you should continuously invest in your movement – recruiting supporters to the cause and growing your house file.

Table of Contents

Sharpen Your Saw

If you're familiar with the expression "sharpening your saw," this is what building a strong email list is for campaigns. The phrase comes from the story of two lumberjacks who have to cut down a tree in a set amount of time. The first lumberjack gets right to work, sawing down the tree. The second lumberjack takes time to sharpen his saw before he touches the tree.

At the end of the allotted amount of time, the first lumberjack hasn't completed the job, but by taking the time to sharpen his saw, the second lumberjack finished with time to spare.

CASE STUDY: Fundraising Through Change

Coach Tuberville’s $185,289 March Blitz
In Alabama, Tommy Tuberville had March 2020 circled on his calendar after announcing for U.S. Senate the April before. [Read More]

For your campaign, devoting time to lead acquisition and nurturing your house file is "sharpening your saw." Your small-dollar fundraising will see MUCH better results from investing wisely in acquiring and warming up new supporters.

Small-Dollar Fundraising Math

Let's take a brief look at the math. At some point or another, you have probably read a report about how much money Republican Candidate R and Democrat Candidate D reported raising that included the average donation to each campaign.

Finance reports demonstrating strong fundraising with a low average donation send powerful signals. For Republican party insiders, competition, and supporters, this signals grassroots support and untapped fundraising potential.

You can determine your average donation with two simple Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). These KPIs are total donations and the number of donations.

MATH: Average Donation

Avg. Donation ($) = Total Donations ($) / No. of Donations

Consider the impact a robust small-dollar fundraising program can have on these KPIs. Internally, you can use the same math to determine the average donation for your small-dollar fundraising.

Moving forward, we can increase small-dollar fundraising by either increasing the number of donations or the average donation amount.

MATH: Donation Forecasting

No. of Donations * Avg. Donation ($) = Estimated Total Donations ($)

Why is this important? If you can increase the size of your house file by some factor (i.e., 20%) while maintaining the same response, the total donations from small-dollar fundraising increase by the same factor. As a result, the campaign's overall average donation amount will decrease as the donation total and number of donations increase.*

Republican candidates who focus on house file growth through the entire election cycle create a competitive advantage – increasing fundraising potential while deterring challengers.

*Assumption: Small-dollar fundraising average donation is less than the avgerage donation for all other sources.

Grow Your House File

After establishing what a house file is and emphasizing its importance, let's get to the nitty-gritty of starting and GROWING your house file.

The good news is that everybody has a house file. It may only be your spouse, your extended family, and the friends who encouraged you to run for office. Everyone has to begin somewhere, so invite all the contacts from your iPhone and build from there.

Acquisition advertising and prospecting are the two primary tactics for house file acquisition used by Republican small-dollar fundraisers.

Acquisition Advertising

A great way to build your house file is with digital ads focusing on email acquisition and SMS subscribers. Digital advertising is a great way to grow your list and a worthwhile investment.

Example of Facebook Acquisition Ad
Example of Facebook Acquisition Ad

Your house file acquisition ads shouldn't ask for an immediate donation. A typical call to action is to sign a petition or a basic sign-up – either capturing the subscriber's email address and some basic information or opting-in to your SMS short code.

Pro Tip: Leverage Current Events for Lead Acquisition

Get more from your acquisition ads by capitalizing on current events<.strong> relevant to you and your campaign.


Prospecting is a form of affiliate marketing used for small-dollar fundraising by both Republicans and Democrats.

Pro Tip: Plan Prospecting Around Your Earned Media

Maximize planned earned media from events like campaign announcements, big endorsements, and national media appearances with a prospecting blitz to expand your house file.

Email Prospecting

Email prospecting involves purchasing a send to someone else's house file with responses generally directed to your campaign.

List rentals, revenue sharing, and P2P texting are the most common affiliate prospecting techniques. New supporters you gain from these sends become part of your house file.

List Rentals & Revenue Shares

List brokers have relationships with conservative list owners and negotiate list rental for prospecting sends. If you are looking for a list broker, check out Mustard Seed Interactive.

Example of List Rental Email
Example of List Rental Email

With revenue shares, list owners benefit by taking the lion's share of the donation. You benefit by expanding your house file, leading to future fundraising opportunities, and earning contributions without the risk of losing money on a list rental.

P2P Text Prospecting

Peer-to-Peer or P2P messaging is a live text messaging process used for prospecting. Individuals communicate via SMS or MMS messages to people who fit your campaign's target audience. People who respond join your house file in response to specific calls to action.

Example of Peer-to-Peer Text Prospcecting
Example of Peer-to-Peer Text Prospcecting

List Swaps

An additional option for candidates and campaigns who have grown a sizeable house file of their own is to coordinate a list swap with another campaign committee. The two campaigns work together to send email blasts on each other's behalf. Leads and donors that come in from the campaign you trade with become part of your house file.

Maintaining good relationships with other elected officials and their campaigns is key to benefiting from list swaps. Campaigns with sizeable house files can also use list swaps as an opportunity to help candidates they endorse or support.

Ensure your list swap agreements are in writing, so everyone is on the same page.

Warm Up Your House File

You have done the hard work of acquiring new supporters. Now you must work on establishing the relationship between your campaign and your supporters.

It is essential to nurture both new and existing house file subscribers. Regularly sending out content to your house file helps strengthen your relationships by keeping people engaged and up-to-date with relevant campaign information and news.

Do you enjoy spending time with people who do nothing but ask you for money, no matter how good the cause maybe? People are less likely even to OPEN an email if every single one is soliciting donations.

Constantly sending out donation solicitations is the quickest way to burn your list to the ground, as it causes donor fatigue.

Pro Tip: Send Welcome Series Emails to New Supporters

It is a best practice to incorporate a series of introductory messages to your new subscribers.

The same goes for text messaging; while your messages are more likely to be read, you will find that your opt-ins are quickly deciding to opt out.

Information is a currency you can freely share with supporters to build rapport, keep your house file engaged, and your members invested in the movement. As a result, when you do ask for contributions, supporters will give more freely and invest back in you.

Segment Your House File

One way to nurture your list and keep supporters interested is to segment your list.

Two common segmentations are:

  • Donors vs. Non-donors
  • In-state Contacts vs. National Contacts

These segments provide opportunities for you to tailor messaging and content to audiences with different interests, improving engagement.

For example, if you're sending to a list of previous donors, take the time to THANK them for their past donation, and explain why an additional contribution is vital to the campaign. You might also ask people who have made multiple previous donations to sign up for a recurring monthly donation.

If you're sending to a list of non-donors, start small, focusing on small-dollar donations. You're much more likely to get a $5 contribution from a first-time donor than $50. Remember that $5 is a financial investment in your movement and opens the door to future donations!

Build Equity in Your House File

House file is a fitting name for your supporter list because it is like a home. A home's value changes over time – getting worse from neglect and better with improvements.

Investing in your house file is a winning strategy for candidates and campaigns of all levels. The good news is, it's never too late to invest. And, by building equity in your house file, your campaign's small-dollar fundraising will benefit from the dividends.

Suppose you are a Republican elected official or candidate, and you aren't taking steps to grow your house file right now. In that case, you are missing out on opportunities to grow the movement.

Expert digital consultants from The Prosper Group are here to help you grow your house file and take your small-dollar fundraising to the next level.

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The Prosper Group is an internationally-recognized, award-winning digital marketing agency headquartered in Indianapolis. The firm specializes in online media, strategy, and fundraising for Republican political candidates, advocacy organizations, associations, and non-profits. The Prosper Group's best-in-industry work has been recognized for awards dozens of times by prestigious organizations such as the American Association of Political Consultants and Campaigns & Elections.

The firm has worked in tandem with Trump for President 2016, Vice President Mike Pence, Senator Ted Cruz, Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, Congressman John Katko, the National Association of Manufacturers, Fox News, and many other candidates and organizations.

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