What a spontaneous online fundraiser looks like

I’d say last night was YUUUUGE, but others have done the Donald impression much better than I could. Suffice it to say, it was a historic night for ActBlue’s infrastructure.

Yesterday evening, during a 15 minute span, ActBlue processed over 26,000 contributions. That’s equivalent to 104,000 contributions / hour. For context, the biggest hour up to last night saw 13,981 contributions created. That’s how big of a surge it was.

We’re always prepping for the biggest moments, those are our bread and butter. And one of the best parts about a big night like last night is we get to see how our tools hold up to a heavy load, and how we can improve in the future. We processed every contribution that came our way last night, and we’re confident we could have handled 150k / hour (and we’ll be able to handle 200k by later tonight).

We did hit one bump late yesterday though. Last night’s spontaneous fundraiser (the one that raised $5.2 million in less than a day) broke our external processor’s response systems. That’s some amazing grassroots power. Like we said, we over-prepare, so we were ready for that. But the vendor started giving us a previously undocumented error message, which temporarily caused some donors to not move from the “please wait” page to the confirmation page…even though their contributions were already fully processed

It’s not ideal, and it’s not the exceptional donor experience we want to provide people with. And we were sorry for that. We worked quickly to get the issue remedied and to get the donor user flow back to what it should be. In addition to technical solutions, our customer service team was answering donor questions in real-time last night and they’re working hard to talk to every donor today.

And we’re happy to say that we didn’t drop a single contribution, and we didn’t go down. If you saw an error message last night, that was because you were trying to access a non-essential page. We triage those during our busiest times, so we can put all our resources behind handling contributions. That part worked exactly as it should, and it paid off with some pretty eye-popping statistics:

Numbers are fun, but pictures are more fun, so let’s start with a graph:

Want to guess what time Senator Sanders told a national TV audience to go to BernieSanders.com and donate $27?

Those are requests / minute as recorded by our (fabulous) CDN, Fastly. And for the briefest moment in time, we hit 333,000 rpm. Prior to last night, we’d never seen that number go above 40,000 rpm. So it was, in a word, unprecedented.

Internally, we could see those donors giving at a similarly rapid pace:

Isn’t it beautiful how nicely those graphs match up? And yes, this means we topped out at more than 2000 contributions / minute. Our previous record was 781. Here’s the breakdown of our new contribution records:

Minute: 2,689
5 minutes: 11,218
10 minutes: 19,822

But the best part of the contributions per minute graph is the natural decay in rate. By that I mean the gradual downslope as the wave passed. Why is this important? Because if our infrastructure was actually in trouble the graph wouldn’t look as natural — you would be seeing some sharp drop-offs.

Last night was a huge win for small-dollar donors. They once again showed that they are a powerful force to be reckoned with, and we’re committed to providing them with the best experience possible. We know that rock-solid and innovative infrastructure is key to helping Democrats up and down the ballot raise the most money online. But we also know that respecting donors and making sure they have a good experience both technology and customer service-wise is key to growing small-dollar donor participation. We’re expecting a lot more big nights, and we’re ready and excited to empower donors and help candidates build winning campaigns.

If you have questions about a contribution, or want to talk shop, email us at info@actblue.com and a real person will respond, as always.

3 Comments for “What a spontaneous online fundraiser looks like”

says:

This has been the most vigorous and exciting campaign I have ever seen. My first time as a donor! I haven’t been this excited since my first time voting for John F. Kennedy back in the 1960’s. Bernie has worked so hard already and we have a long way to go before November comes around!! Wishing him the honor of being the next ‘President Bernie Sanders’ of the USA!!
Thanks everyone at ACTBLUE for simplifying the donation processes, and for all the wonderful grassroots voters for getting out to vote in the Primaries…even in the bad weather!