We noticed something curious this week. Mitch McConnell sent an email this week that looked just like an Express Lane email, complete with “Express donate” links denoting specific amounts. And then another strange thing happened…Steve King did the same thing. Check them out:

When we stopped laughing we wrote this nice little note to them:

——————————————————–

Dear Mitch & Steve,

We’re flattered, really, that you want to use our tools in your emails. Mitch — you’re trying to run a “presidential level campaign,” and our tools are the best in the business, after all. And Steve, you’re looking to increase your national name recognition.

And we know you’re learning first hand in Kentucky and Iowa what an empowered small dollar donor base supporting an amazing Democratic candidate means.

So we get it. You’re jealous. But no, you can’t just try and steal or copy what we’ve built this last decade at ActBlue. Frankly, it’s impossible.

That’s because the most powerful thing about ActBlue is the nearly million strong community of committed Express donors. Without that community, those links you used are just links, not money makers, not flashy technology, and no use to you.

Imitations, however pale, are still flattering, so thanks. But you’re doing it wrong.

Best,

ActBlue

——————————————————–

Hilariously, if you clicked on any of Steve or Mitch’s links, they took you to a contribution form for just that amount, which is a recipe for a lot of lost money. It’s not just that they tried to copy us, it’s that they did it so badly. And they completely missed the point of why so many candidates and organizations around the country are asking people to give specific amounts right in the email.

There are over 950,000 ActBlue Express users that have saved their credit cards with us. With just one click, Express donors are powering campaigns and organizations. These days, 62% of all donations made through ActBlue are from people giving with an Express account!! That means more contributions and more funds because the less information people have to enter in, the more likely they are to give.

Mitch and Steve thought they could get that from just copying the style of Express Lane emails. Yeah, no.

First, try investing a decade in building a base of grassroots donors (unfortunately that means getting your party to actually care about people besides the Koch brothers), and then maybe your copy and paste efforts will be effective.

BTW we tested a version of this letter as a fundraising email to our list. It was a classic case of “you are not your list.” It was an email our staff really loved and had fun crafting, but our list didn’t respond as well to it as more traditional email talking about the momentum Democrats are gaining across the country. It’s not surprising, but it is a bit sad for us email writing nerds. And it’s a good reminder why it’s so important to test email copy.

In this post, part of our testing blog series, I’ll talk a bit about some things you might consider testing, and—probably even more importantly—some things you might not want to test. This is all the more relevant if you’re managing a smaller list (say, fewer than 100k active members). As we’ll discuss in future posts, it takes huge sample sizes to reliably detect relatively small differences in two testing segments, so you’ll want to reserve your testing for factors that are likely to have larger effects on your goals, like subject lines, for example.

But to begin, we should be on the same page regarding why we test. It’s pretty simple. We tend to be pretty bad at guessing what will happen, so it’s often better to let data inform our decision making. For instance, when sending an email, should you go with a negative subject line like “This Republican is the worst!”, or a positive one like “Sally Jane is a great Democrat!”?

This trivial example allows us to demonstrate an important testing concept. Testing is only a tool; it’s not the final judge, nor does it say anything about the appropriateness of your content. If “This Republican is the worst!” isn’t in congruence with your campaign/organization’s messaging and mission, then you shouldn’t test that subject line, let alone use it for an email to your entire list.

So, then, assuming the subject matter is in-line with your messaging and mission, what’s something you should test, even with a small list? Subject lines could be one, but there are other things that could have a big impact on your action rates. What comes to mind first and foremost is email content.

By this I mean writing two completely different emails, whether they’re about the same thing or completely different concepts. The varied factor could be anything from your topic and theory of change to your tone and word choice. Even ostensibly similar emails—let alone drastically different ones—can yield very large differences in results. We at ActBlue, for example, regularly test at least three different fundraising emails for every one that we end up sending to our full list.

For one of our most recent email blasts, we sent four different email drafts, a couple of which were quite similar. The results? The best-performing draft brought in over triple the number of donations as the worst-performing drafts! So, here’s a clear case in which performing a simple test can lead to much higher action rates, whether you’re looking for signatures on a petition or donations to your cause.

content_testing_11

It might seem that writing three or more email drafts for every send is a bit much for a resource-constrained organizer. If that’s the case, you should still be message testing periodically, say, once a month or so. The goal here is to ascertain the biggest button-pushers for your list members. A standard example is testing the performance of an email highlighting the negative characteristics of your opponent against the performance of an email highlighting the endorsement of your candidate by a local community leader. This is a less resource-intensive way to gauge the temperature of your list and see what resonates with your list members.

So if the content of an email is something that is definitely worth testing, what are some things that small campaigns shouldn’t test? Well, anything that you expect won’t result in a large percentage difference between your test segments. For example, you certainly could test four differently colored donate buttons, but you shouldn’t.

Chances are, you won’t see a significant advantage in one of them over the others. How do I know this? Well, I can’t claim 100% certainty (nor can any honest analyst), but whenever we at ActBlue or some of our larger partners have tested something very small like this, we’ve seen that result.

For example, we wanted to run an A/B test1 on our contribution form to find out whether we could increase the conversion rate by removing the header, “Employment Information” above two of the FEC-required fields. To see what that looked like (and for some more A/B test examples), check out this blog post. We knew that it would take us close to 150,000 page views to reliably detect the small percentage difference in the two segments of the test we required to make a permanent change to our contribution form. I’ll talk more about determining required sample size in a later post, but for now, the point is that it took a lot to get a little.2 If you manage a smaller list, that means sending dozens of emails for a relatively minor gain, and that’s not worth your time.

Of course, context matters a lot, and in this case, context is your email program and your members. So, the final word is that if you really, really want to know, you should indeed test something for yourself instead of taking someone else’s word for it. But you’re much better off focusing on testing more meaningful factors (like your messaging) that are likely to result in clear and large differences. For the small things, you can learn from the organizations that have the resources to test small nuances. If you subscribe to numerous email lists, you’ll get a good gauge of what community best practices are at a given time.

Testing one email draft against another tells you exactly one thing: which (if either) is better. It doesn’t, however, tell you some things that can be quite valuable: Do members of your list tend to prefer positive emails or scare-to-action emails? Do they tend to respond well to fun, edgy language or slightly more formal language?

One A/B test won’t provide much of an answer to questions like that, but repeatedly testing two different email styles—like short, punchy emails against longer, more descriptive emails—over time can help you understand the style of communication your list members prefer, and therefore help you write emails with better action rates.

As you go on and develop your testing program, examining other questions like how much money to ask for in a fundraising email, how to best segment your list, and so on becomes more important and makes more sense from a cost-benefit perspective, too.

But to start, remember: make sure what you’re testing fits in with your organization’s messaging, plan a test that has a plausible chance of realizing big gains, and, more than anything else, work on honing your messaging. You’ll need to start out with bigger questions—and, therefore, more general tests—about your list members and eventually narrow down to the specifics.

The next post in our series about testing will talk about some essential factors involved in setting up a test, like setting up your groups and determining your required sample size. Expect that one to be published next week, after Netroots Nation.

Footnotes:

1 “A/B test” is an informal term for statistically testing two variations of some singular factor against each other in order to determine which, if either, is better for your desired outcome.

2We have millions of people land on our contribution forms each month, so for us, there’s a huge payoff to testing minor details that result in small percentage-point gains. It’s thousands of tests like this one over the years that make our contribution forms so successful. But this is our context— running a testing program with a small list is a totally different game.

Recurring pledges are like gold. There’s a reason why they’re often called sustaining contributions. Building a base of recurring donors can have a huge impact on the sustainability of any organization, including campaigns.

And now we’re making it easier for you to raise more long-term recurring contributions. Introducing: infinite recurring!

You’ve got a choice: ask people for a recurring contribution for a defined number or months (old standard), or ask them for one with no expiration date (new!). You can also choose not to have a recurring option, but we don’t recommend it (I’ll explain later.)

Here’s how you do it: Go to the edit page of any contribution form. Scroll down till you see this:

recurring toggle

Click on it to expand. It’ll look like this:

recurring options expanded

Select your radio button and then scroll down and hit submit. Yep, that’s it.

ActBlue got it’s start helping candidates raise money for their campaigns, which are built in two year cycles, so we allowed folks to set up recurring contributions for up to 48 months. The assumption was that donors would feel more comfortable signing up for a recurring contribution that would be sure to end at some point. These days, more and more organizations, who are around cycle after cycle, are using ActBlue. Plus, the way people use credit cards has changed and we have a whole system to let you extend/edit/add a new card to your recurring contribution, complete with prompts from us. It doesn’t make a ton of sense to have time-limited recurring contributions anymore.

So we tested it. Would forms with an infinite recurring ask perform the same (or better) as forms with a set number of months? AND would you raise more money if you didn’t have a recurring ask on the form, but asked people with a pop-up recurring box after their contribution was submitted?

We’ve got some answers. Several committees have run tests, confirming that conversion rates on time-limited forms and infinite recurring forms are similar. So if you’re around longer than election day, go ahead and turn on infinite recurring.

Generally speaking, making a form shorter and giving people fewer options leads to higher conversion rates. So theoretically, taking the recurring option off of a form should lead to more donations. We have a pop-up recurring box that campaigns can turn on to try and persuade a one-time donor to make their donation recurring, and there seemed to be a reasonable chance that having no recurring ask on the form would raise more money.

Nope! Turns out that we got a statistical tie on conversion rates between having the recurring option on the form or off. Just having pop-up recurring turned on did not generate as many recurring contributions as having it both on the form and as a post-donation action.

There were slightly more contributions processed on forms without a recurring option, but not enough to generate a statistically significant result. And then add to that the lost revenue from having fewer recurring donations, you end up with a pretty clear take-way: leave the recurring option on the form. Sure, you can turn off the recurring option, but you’ll likely lose money. And nobody wants that.

That’s why recurring contributions have been on every ActBlue contribution form since the beginning. These days we run anywhere from 8-14% recurring, and over $11 million is pledged to thousands of campaigns and organizations.

There is one big question we haven’t answered yet: will you raise more money overall from an infinite recurring contribution than say one with a 48 month expiration date? We’re currently working on a long-term experiment to test exactly that.

The answer might seem self-apparent, but the truth is nobody really knows. Credit cards expire and people cancel their pledges. You never know for sure how much money you’ll raise from a recurring contribution, but if you pay attention to your long-term data, you’ll be able to figure out your pledge completion rate.

If you’re interesting in figuring out a recurring donor strategy, we’re more than happy to give you some (free) advice. Just drop us a line at info@actblue.com.

We on the left have done a great job cultivating a “test, test, test” ethos, and while testing can result in big gains, it takes time and resources that digital organizers often don’t have. And for those working with a smaller list (say, fewer than 100k members or so), the challenges are even greater.

Don’t be discouraged, though; anyone can run an effective testing program, you just need to be aware of your organization’s specific circumstances. For instance, if you have a small list, it’s important to know that there are actually a lot of things that you shouldn’t test (more on this to come in future posts).

To help you get on track toward developing a strong testing program, we’re going to publish a series of blog posts, each focused on a particular aspect of digital testing for small organizations. We’ll be talking about anything from tools and techniques to case studies and getting buy-in from your supervisor.

If there are any specific issues you’d like to see addressed in this series of testing blog posts, please reach out! An email to info@actblue.com with a subject line “ActBlue Blog: Testing” will be directed my way.

Our mission has been to make your lives easier this campaign season, so you can spend more time connecting with supporters. We rolled out a new refund feature that will do just that. Now you can issue your own refunds for your campaign or organization, as long as we haven’t sent you a check with that money yet.

As always, we’re ready and willing to handle your donors’ questions and refunds in a timely manner, but this feature gives you the option to issue the refund yourself if it suits your needs.

Now, if someone contacts you directly for a refund, you can feel free to take care of that while you’re on the phone with them. If you know a particular donor is over their contribution limit, or ran a donor card incorrectly, you can handle that refund right away in-house.

Making a refund

One of our other favorite new features, the search function, makes the whole refund tool possible. Navigate to the search tab of your Dashboard, fill in the donor information that you have available, and click search. Once you’ve found the right contribution, you can click on the associated date to open up all the contribution information.

If the contribution is eligible for a refund, you’ll find a drop-down menu at the bottom of the screen where you can choose the reason for your refund and process the refund.

If the contribution has already been disbursed in a check, you’ll see a message prompting you to contact ActBlue Customer Service to obtain a refund.

You have a contribution you can’t refund yourself? Have a question for us? Would like us to handle a refund? Let us know!

Just drop us a line at info [at] actblue [dot] com and we’d be happy to help.

The biggest day in ActBlue history…by over half a million dollars!

The last day of June started off a bit slow compared to other monster end of quarter days. The question—is $3 million possible?—loomed in the office.

But then in a 3 hour period, from 1 to 4 PM EDT, we handled almost a quarter (23.5%) of the day’s total volume of $3.7 million(!!). Campaigns were waiting on the two major Supreme Court decisions to be announced before sending emails. The day’s narrative switched from a typical, EoQ rush to the deadline to a more politicized one.

That $3.7 million came from over 85K contributions. On a single, gigantic last day of Q2 2014, we broke our own records for total dollar amount and number of contributions!

And those aren’t the only record shattering numbers from yesterday:

  • Of our all-time 15 busiest hours, 10 were on 6/30/14
  • Most contributions in an hour (7,046) from 10 to 11 PM
  • Most contributions in a minute (153) at 10:30 PM

We’re constantly upgrading our powerful tools to handle a ton of traffic, which makes days like these possible. At one point, we handled 655 contributions in 5 minutes! Our technical team works incredibly hard so we can offer Democrats the most reliable and secure software available. We’re ready for the surge of donations this fall.

You’ll notice in the graph above that there’s a massive spike in contributions at 4AM for each day. As you’d expect, it’s not because lots of people check their emails at that time. We get recurring contributions processed during the morning’s quiet hours, so campaigns wake up to bigger balances, ready to start the day. Overall, the number of recurring contributions has steadily increased as organizations are realizing the value of a steady stream of money.

June’s final tally? $20,513,475, our third biggest month ever. 541,427 contributions were made to 2,153 candidates, committees, and organizations, with an average donation of $37.89. Impressively, mobile donations accounted for more than a quarter (25.2%) of contributions this month.

June ’11 June ’12 June ’13 June ’14
Contributions 57,664 268,794 186,139 541,431
Volume ($) $3,850,081 $11,624,120 $9,052,454 $20,513,558
Mean Donation $66.77 $43.25 $48.63 $37.89
Committees 862 1,866 1,219 2,153

Compared to June 2012, the total number of contributions more than doubled, while the volume increased by more than 40%. The difference there is the decrease in the average donation size ($43.25 in 2012 to $37.89 in 2014). Chalk that up to growth in small dollar donations, which means campaigns and organizations are expanding their base. Nothing like an increase in grassroots support for Democrats!

Just a quick glance at a graph of this month’s contributions day by day shows how productive the final days of a quarter can be. Five out of the last seven days of June were over $1 million. Even the significant fundraising bump from Cantor’s defeat on June 10 could not compare to the high-stakes pressure of an EoQ week.


This was an important quarter for candidates and organizations gearing up for November, and the ActBlue donor community came out in full force: they gave over 1.1M contributions, totaling $46M, to 2,810 different candidates, committees, and organizations. Despite the busiest months of the election cycle lying ahead of us, we’ve already raised more money than any previous cycle! There’s still 4 months and 2 days left until the November elections, and all signs are pointing to a massive final push.

Part of what’s driving the push is that more and more campaigns and organizations are using ActBlue’s Express Lane program, our one-click donation system. They’re already seeing results: Express users were responsible for 59.9% of June’s contributions.

We’ve now got over 933K Express users. And thanks to the madness of EoQ, there were 45K new sign ups over this past week alone.

Looking at our numbers from June and 2014’s second quarter, it’s clear that this election year is going to get even busier. What dog days of summer? This cycle doesn’t look like it’ll slow down.

We just introduced a new feature that will save you time when you want to update the look and feel of your contribution forms.

A consistent brand identity is critical for committees of all sizes. But what happens when you update your ‘look’ midway through a campaign? We know time is at a premium, so we decided to save you a big step and make it easy to swap a sharp, new branding for an old one.

After you create your new branding and check the box beneath the display name to make it the default, just delete the old default branding. All of your contribution forms with the outdated default branding will automatically update to your new, flashy identity.

This way you won’t have to assign an intern the tedious task of updating previous contribution forms one by one.

Don’t worry about accidentally deleting a default branding identity. You’ll get this handy warning message if you try to delete one:

This feature won’t affect contribution forms that were not created with the default branding. For instance, if you have a “Women for [Insert Candidate’s Name]” contribution form that used a unique logo and branding, it won’t change when you subsitute a new default branding for the old one.

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