David Karpf’s chapters brought a perspective to organizational membership that I hadn’t ever thought about critically. What struck me the most about our class discussion and his text was the concept of quantity being more significant than quality when it comes to these email direct mailing campaigns. Karpf would argue that by sending such an abundance of emails, you will end up locating that small group that will actually feel moved to donate to your cause. I wanted to pursue this idea a bit further because the competition of quantity versus quality is more complicated than I originally thought. The next question for me seeing how a direct mailing campaign outside of the organizational context would compare in the “quantity is greater than quality” equation.
I looked at a study done by Alan Gerber and Donald Green out of Yale University entitled “The Effects of Canvassing, Telephone Calls, and Direct Mail on Voter Turnout: A Field Experiment”(Sept. 2000). Using direct mail was meant to “measure the turnout effect of both the number of mailings received and the message conveyed.” This is comparable to the idea of measuring the thousands of emails sent out to a listserv with content that may not apply to all receiving it. They both hold the same idea in analyzing the effects of direct mail and the impact that they have on the end result, be it receiving money for an organization or convincing voters to go to the polls.
What the Gerber and Green study found was that there was a small effect with direct mail, implying that this impersonal type of communication “may offset some of the decline in personal mobilization.” One of the things that came up in class was that perhaps this aggressive emailing campaign that MoveOn has adopted is a result of not being able to mobilize people to knock on doors and follow through with extensive interpersonal communication. There is a time restraint for volunteers, and so the direct mailing in both cases helped to fill a void that was left when a need was not being met.
Another interesting observation in the article was that the authors notes specifically that, “Direct mail vendors informed us that a regiment of 4 to 9 mailing is common…if this practice is grounded in a correct assessment of how mailings stimulate turnout, we might have drawn even more voters to the polls with additional mailings.” The reference to the importance of the number of mailings was pertinent to my thinking because of the quantity versus quality argument. There are differences in complexity and thought behind the text of the emails and the copy on the mailings, but the observation that they would have increased the number of mailings in the experiment if they had known it would fill that gap left my a lack of face-to-face voter motivation, then they would have sent out more. This is the same sentiment behind the thousands of emails sent out by MoveOn. The more that are sent out, the more likely you’ll get the desired response. The difference is in the content. Direct mailings for campaigns can’t be done cheaply like an easily deleted email can. I would argue that quality still matters in campaigns where it doesn’t, as Karpf indicates, in organizational fundraising.
The ultimate effect of membership is the same in both. By getting on the email listserv, you are meant to feel like you are a part of something, and by receiving the mailings, potential voters are welcomed into a community of people striving for a similar goal. The many external factors that go into this of course play a significant part in the effectiveness of any campaign, but the relationship between quantity and success is irrefutable. The quantity versus quality argument, however, is dependent on situation, campaign and resources.
Alan S. Gerber and Donald P. Green (2000). The Effects of Canvassing, Telephone Calls, and Direct Mail on Voter Turnout: A Field Experiment . American Political Science Review, 94, pp 653-663. doi:10.2307/2585837.