The Secretary of State Project — a case study

One of the initiatives we’re most proud to have been part of in 2006 was the Secretary of State Project, which used ActBlue to raise $415,000 for seven Democratic candidates for Secretary of State in 2008 presidential battlegrounds.

sos_homepage
The result: Democratic victories in Ohio, Minnesota, New Mexico, Nevada, and Iowa, and with them hope for fair 2008 presidential elections in these states.  (One of the project’s common refrains was “No more Ken Blackwells!”)

The Secretary of State Project is a great example of how you can use ActBlue to bring national attention to local candidates.
Normally, raising money for a down-ballot candidate in another state is
a hard sell.  But by simultaneously fundraising for candidates across
the country around a related theme, you create a national cause whose
importance will be readily apparent to your prospective donors.

The SoS project is also a great case study because it
exemplifies one of the most important concepts for using ActBlue effectively:

Make a single, simple pitch

In any fundraising situation, it’s important to keep your pitch simple:
you need one overarching, compelling reason why the person you’re
asking should support your cause.  If you’re just fundraising for a
single campaign this is comparatively straightforward, but when you’re
fundraising for multiple campaigns at once it’s all too easy to fall
into the trap of just talking about each of the different candidates as
if they were unrelated (other than your belief that they are each
worthy of support).
In the case of the SoS project, their pitch was simple: “Support
Secretaries of State in 2006 who will protect voter rights in 2008″.
This one statement made the argument for supporting all of the
candidates all at once.  Of course they had details about each
candidate on the SoS project home page (the big banner at the top rotates through each of the candidates) and also on the main SoS ActBlue page) but think of this as “supporting evidence” that these are actually good folks rather than the main argument.

So what does this mean in practice for your own fundraising effort on ActBlue?

Present a single cause, not a menu of choices

One of ActBlue’s unique features is the ability to fundraise for multiple candidates at once.  But with great power comes great responsibility — in this case, the responsibility to keep things simple for the prospective donor.

When fundraising with ActBlue or in any other setting, you are not trying to give your prospective donor a menu of choices.  This may seem counterintuitive: after all, if you’re going to ask someone to give, you should give them the opportunity to do exactly what they want rather than ramming a single option down their throat, right?

WRONG.

You’re asking your prospective donor to join you in a cause you believe in by making a financial contribution.  The only decision they should need to make is whether to give, and if so, how much.  If you’re asking them to choose from a menu, you’re asking them to spend their time, too — thereby making it harder for them to participate, and decreasing the likelihood that they will give.

To be clear, on ActBlue donors will always have the opportunity to allocate their contributions among candidates according to their particular wishes.  So the donor who wishes to delve deeply into information about each candiate (or who is already well-informed) can act on their preferences.  But if you’re pitching lots of unrelated candidates or causes at once, you are in essence forcing the prospective donor to spend time making choices.  That’s an imposition, not a courtesy.

The Secretary of State Project didn’t force a choice on its prospective donors — donors were invited to help create more Democratic Secretaries of State, and they were advised that these seven candidates were their best investment.  And indeed, most donors trusted the person or organization inviting them to contribute, and gave equally to all the candidates.

The big take-aways here:

    • Only fundraise simultaneously for multiple candidates if you can make a single, compelling pitch that ties them all together.
  • Conversely, if you can’t make a single, unified pitch, put them on different ActBlue pages, so each page has its own theme — and when you’re asking someone to give, pitch just one of those pages.

Your pitch: Make it Important. Make it Simple. Make it Personal.

When you’re preparing to fundraise for a group of candidates, think of your effort as a single campaign. What are you asking people to join you in achieving?

To evaluate whether your pitch is a good one, try asking these three questions:

  1. Is it important?  You need to convince your donors that of all the ways they could spend their money — on a vacation, a charity, a fancy dinner — your cause should rise to the top of their priorities.
  2. Is it simple?  You should be able to summarize your campaign in 5 seconds.  The SoS Project’s argument was simple: we need Democratic Secretaries of State to ensure a fair election in 2008.
  3. Is it personal?  The people that you’re asking need to feel a personal connection with your cause.  The SoS Project was primarily reaching out to people and organizations who invested enormous time and effort in the 2000 and 2004 elections, only to see Democratic victory slip away under shady circumstances in Florida in Ohio — and who wanted to do everything they could to prevent the same in 2008.

For another great example of this principle in action, see Break Through the Republican Firewall, one of Sen. Barbara Boxer’s great ActBlue pages in 2006.  On this page she’s raising for three candidates for Senate (Ford, McCaskill, Webb) — but instead of focusing on each candidate’s individually compelling story, she pushes one big idea: “It’s down to three states…this Republican firewall is the only thing left standing between us and a Democratic Senate”.  Pitches don’t get much more compelling than that.

Other ideas for strong, simple pitches:

There many, many good reasons to advance the Democratic movement — you need to pick your personal passion, and go out there and pitch it!

This is the first of many case studies we’ll be doing to recognize great work people are doing with ActBlue and to give you ideas for how you can be even more successful.  Questions about this one?  Things you’d like to see us talk about in the future?  Let us know in the comments!

2 comments
  1. Karl-T said:

    Ben says thanks, he’s busy working on making things more awesome around here than they already are. That was a very cool project to work on personally last year. Then again, that’s my political geeky side coming through. Secretaries of State manage some of the most critical functions of our elections. It’s about time we treated the position with the respect that voters deserve.

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