Small Donors Rising

Before heading out for the weekend (and in the midst of ActBlue’s move to new offices) I wanted to briefly touch on some presidential fundraising numbers compiled this week by OpenSecrets.org and the Center for Responsive Politics.

From April through June, donors who gave $200 or less [to presidential campaigns] accounted for 26 percent of the contributions the candidates collected from individuals. Compared to the first three months of this 2008 election cycle, small donors increased their giving to the candidates 84 percent and just about doubled their share of the money raised from individuals. In January through March, donors contributing $200 or less accounted for 14 percent of individual money.

The trend from Q1 to Q2 fundraising in 2007 has clearly been in favor of small donors. I see two factors at work here. The first is the natural pattern of presidential fundraising, where the first fundraising period consists of a high number of $2300 checks, the maximum contribution level. This ‘big money’ is tapped first to jump start campaigns but of course, results in an inability to re-solicit donors as they have already given the max amount. The second pattern is an actual increase in small dollar contributions resulting in increased total Q2 fundraising numbers (compared to the percentages shifting just because one area of revenue has declined). Clearly, those who have given small contributions before are giving again in addition to the new small donors being added to the pool of givers.

In our training materials and fundraising calls, we at ActBlue point out this benefit to campaigns. Small donors (often correlated to online donors) can be re-solicited throughout a campaign. Having a strong small donor base is equally important to contacting those who can give the maximum amount as it can sustain a campaign longterm. It distributes power to more individuals and diversifies the audience to whom campaigns are accountable. The following section from the aforementioned press release puts this in context.

Among corporate contributors in all industries based on contributions from employees, their families and political action committees, no company has invested more in these candidates than Goldman Sachs, the Wall Street firm. Goldman’s executives and employees have donated about $930,000 in the last six months. Investment firms Citigroup, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan Chase round out the overall top donors. 
      

But the biggest "contributor" of all at this point is the progressive group ActBlue, which facilitates individual donors pooling their money to finance Democratic candidates. By collecting mostly donations of $200 or less, ActBlue has directed more than $1.5 million to the presidential candidates, the bulk of it to Edwards.

In this case the aggregate of contributions through ActBlue represent no specific industry or collection of people other than an aggregate of donors to presidential candidates. Still, this expresses the shift in the distribution of giving from Q1 to Q2. (To note, the $1.5 million is figured from donations $200 or more- a couple million more exists in contributions less than $200 which are not required to be itemized.)
      

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