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Last Tuesday was rough. Really rough. As we analyze this election and start to hone in on the things that went really well, one of the brightest spots is the continued rise of the small-dollar donor.

We didn’t just have a big cycle here at ActBlue we had a HUGE one. I’m talking nearly double 2012. Here are the top line numbers:

  2008 Cycle 2010 Cycle 2012 Cycle 2014 Cycle
Contributions 693,515 1,234,837 5,062,849 10,041,823
Volume ($) $62,187,361 $85,814,697 $173,166,827 $315,187,405
Mean Donation $142.86 $114.83 $50.19 $44.54
Committees 2,681 3,564 4,457 4,987

 

The increase in donations (98.3% growth compared to the 2012 cycle!!) is way higher than the growth in the number of number of campaigns and organizations using ActBlue (11.8% increase). Everyone’s raising a lot more grassroots money than ever before. It’s awesome.

Keep in mind, the overall amount of money spent on Congressional elections is actually fairly stable compared to 2012. That means the overall share of money coming from grassroots donors on the left is increasing.

The average contribution continues to drop, but not nearly as dramatically as it has in the past.

Express

The Express user universe is simply massive at 1.2 million people with saved credit cards. It’s been growing at a steady rate all cycle, but has picked up steam since June 2014, averaging more than 67,653 sign-ups a month during the run-up to the election.

Express users accounted for 53% of contributions this cycle, but in October they accounted for 59% of contributions. This is one trend we don’t see stopping any time soon.

Express profiles lead to increased conversion rates and donors absolutely love the convenience of not having to re-enter their information.

Mobile

One of the biggest stories this election was the rise of the mobile giver. Just check out this chart:

You’ll notice a dramatic spike when we rolled out our mobile responsive form in September 2013. We worked incredibly hard to decrease load time, even if we were shaving off mere fractions of a second, to boost mobile conversion rates. Read more here.

These numbers will continue to climb, since more and more people are reading their email on their mobile devices. Smartphone adoption rates may have slowed, but usage is increasing rapidly.

Going forward, it will be even more important to optimize your forms for mobile devices, which means sticking to best practices like keeping the amount of text on your forms down and making sure headers aren’t too lengthy.

Nobody wants to have to type in a sixteen digit credit card number, let alone address/employment information, on a mobile device (no matter how big the phone’s screen is). That’s why Express is so important.

Recurring

All of these stats make us proud, but what’s the thing we’re most excited about? The growth in recurring. Look at these numbers!

Recurring volume was up 241% over 2012. Even more eye-popping is the 461% increase in weekly recurring. That’s way more than the overall increase in volume that we’ve seen this cycle.

We’ve been banging the drum for years about the potential of recurring donations, and this cycle is where we’re really seeing those recurring programs take off. Despite the bad news for Democrats this past week, there are dozens of organizations keeping up the fight and hundreds of candidates who did win. These groups will be around for years to come, and building a sustaining donor program is critical to their long-term success.

And we’re just scratching the surface of potential growth. We saw recurring contributions spike to 13.7% of all money raised in August, which was amazing to see, but typically it’s much lower and it shouldn’t be. Sophisticated email programs should be targeting likely recurring donors and sending them only recurring asks.

Off-years are the perfect time to be asking you list for sustaining money and building that pool of recurring donors. Internally, our team will be basing our 2015 goals on the number of people we sign up for recurring donations, and secondarily on the overall money we want to bring in. We’re optimizing for long-term sustainable growth.

Breaking all the records

Record-breaking is really the only way to refer to this cycle for ActBlue.

The combination of adding more campaigns and organizations, optimizing our features, and promoting grassroots fundraising led to a monster cycle. Here are our top 10 months in terms of total dollar volume. Seven were in 2014:

Date Total Dollar Amount
October 2014 $56,031,512
September 2014 $38,025,565
October 2012 $35,056,897
August 2014 $22,805,106
October 2012 $21,880,341
June 2014 $20,449,848
July 2014 $19,719,378
March 2014 $18,05,8418
October 2010 $16,775,008
May 2014 $13,858,256

And we had nine of our top ten biggest day in terms of dollar volume this year:

Date Total Dollar Amount
9/30/14 $5,624,944
6/30/14 $3,600,311
10/15/14 $3,310,945
9/29/14 $3,235,268
9/30/12 $3,037,231
3/31/14 $2,930,408
10/28/14 $2,902,375
10/31/14 $2,801,009
10/20/14 $2,786,699
10/27/14 $2,596,036

The biggest hour in terms of money was, shockingly (not), right near the end of the third quarter: 9/30/14 at 10 pm, when we processed a whopping $446,812.30. And the biggest hour in terms of the number of contributions processed was also during that end of quarter, when we processed 15,885 recurring contributions in a batch at 5 am. Yeah, that’s a lot.

And really, it speaks volumes about our reliability. We had no significant outages or problems this cycle, and that’s our norm. Our uptime is 99.99%. This past year we had a total of 54 minutes of downtime from 33 instances. And the vast majority of those were planned outages for maintenance.

We spent a ton of engineering time building our infrastructure to be able to handle 15k contributions in an hour, and it paid off. And our team is already at work preparing for 2016 and 50k contributions an hour, because it’s going to be so big that we might run out of superlatives.

We’re excited to see what 2016 brings for Democrats, but until then, we’re going to keep working every day to build tools that uplift small-dollar donors and the campaigns that are powered by them.


Note: We’ve made a change to how we tabulate the number of contributions made via ActBlue. Historically, we’ve only counted the first contribution made in a recurring subscription, mostly just because of how our database records this information. Now we will be counting each subsequent recurring contribution towards the total number of contributions. That’s how your dashboards calculate it already and this will keep things consistent.

Introducing the greatest ActBlue feature ever: the ping.

pingping

Sometimes you want to know every single time you get a contribution, right? I mean, you need more notifications in your life.

Now it’s possible. Just go to your dashboard and append ?pinger=ping to the end of url. Like this: https://secure.actblue.com/dashboard/entity/entityid#?pinger=ping. Just log in and fill in your organization’s entity ID number and listen to the money come in.

And we’ve created a few options for the sound:

?pinger=beep
?pinger=chaching
?pinger=ping
?pinger=melody
?pinger=gong
?pinger=drip
?pinger=boing
?pinger=harp

Happy Friday everyone. 24 days to go!

Have a suggestion of a sound you’d like us to add? Let us know at info@actblue.com.

We’re less than 8 weeks out from Election Day and are now making the weekly recurring feature available to campaigns and organizations. Just drop us a line at info [AT] actblue [DOT] com and we’ll turn it on for you.

Yep, weekly recurring is exactly what it sounds like. You can ask your donors to sign up to make a recurring contribution that processes on that same day of the week every week until Election Day. After Election Day, the recurring contribution automatically ends.

So, if you get someone to sign up today for a weekly recurring contribution, they’d then have 7 more contributions scheduled to process every Friday.

Election Day is getting closer and closer though, so if you’re going to use weekly recurring, we suggest getting started soon.

Once we turn on the feature for you, create a new contribution form and open the “Show recurring options” section in the edit tab. You will see a new option there for weekly recurring. Make sure you also turn off popup recurring if you have it enabled — these two features aren’t compatible (yet!).

It looks like this:

We’ve run a few tests on weekly recurring this week with our own email list and have had a good deal of success. As always, a donor needs to know exactly what amount and for how long they’ll be charged before they click a link. If you’re going to use weekly recurring with Express Lane (and you should!), here is the disclaimer language we used and recommend you use as well:

Based on our testing, certain segments of your list will respond better than others to a weekly recurring ask (not exactly a shocking revelation). We sort our list into those likely to give to a recurring ask and those who are more likely to give a one-time gift. For the recurring pool, the weekly ask has been performing strongly. Unsurprisingly, the same can’t be said for our one-time folks.

Test it out with the portion of your list that is more likely to give recurring gifts. And try fun things like offering a small package of swag like bumper stickers in return for signing up for a weekly recurring gift.

And if you find an angle that’s working really well for weekly recurring, let us know!

If you looked really closely to the Express Lane emails of a number of groups and campaigns recently, you might have noticed a tiny but significant change. Rather than saying: “Because you’ve saved your payment information with ActBlue Express…” the emails now read: “If you’ve saved your payment information with ActBlue Express…”



Why? Well, it turns out that you can raise slightly more money by sending an Express Lane-structured email to your entire membership. Traditionally, list admins send two distinct emails; Express users see Express Lane links, while everyone else gets an email with “regular” links. With Express Lane to all, you can send the same Express Lane email to all of your users, saving you time and opening up the possibilities for groups with smaller lists.

There’s been a lot of testing done both by us and other committees on sending Express Lane emails to everyone. The general consensus is that Express Lane structure to non-Express users does perform slightly better than normal links. We’ve tested sending Express Lane links to non-Express users 4 different times. Consistently, we see more money (the net bump is around 6-7%), but these results aren’t statistically significant. Others are seeing similar gains.

While we’d love to see statistical significance, we think it’s still a great idea because there is a tremendous upside potential for both groups and campaigns that are already using Express Lane and those who have yet to try it out. It’s a time saver for smaller groups and also encourages your members to save their information with ActBlue and become an Express user.

Our recommendation is that groups and campaigns test this with their membership and confirm that they are getting similar results before making this a best practice. There is some reason to believe that we’re seeing a novelty effect, since the new link structure is unusual. We’ll test this again in the future to make sure that the results are still holding, and we urge others do the same.

This tactic works particularly well for groups with smaller lists. We’re confident enough in the testing to tell you that you’re likely to raise more money from sending Express Lane to your entire list, especially with the strong growth in the Express universe (994k users and counting!). However, pay attention to future posts, in case we do find that there is a novelty effect.

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.

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.

Yep, we’re 10 years old. That’s ancient in Internet years.

We’re pretty busy during this last week before the critical end-of-quarter deadline, but we found some time to celebrate this milestone with a special message to the ActBlue community.

Thank you to everyone who has helped make ActBlue what it is today, from our amazing donors to the thousands of campaigns and organizations that have used our software to build a better democracy.

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