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Guest Post by Karl-Thomas Musselman

In the midst of a very busy start this year in the online fundraising and campaign finance worlds, we thought we'd take a step back and look at how things are going halfway through the 2010 election cycle. For that, I've pulled together some numbers and charts that put into perspective the activity at ActBlue.com in all of 2009 as compared to 2007, the most recent similar mid-cycle year.

[Ed--I pulled this graph out of the body of the post because, in KT's words, "When the 'worst' quarter of 2009 is on par with the 'best' quarter of 2007 you have to be impressed." But keep reading, there's plenty of great data below.]

Year | Total Raised | Contributions | Avg Contribution Size

2007   $16,781,745    125,601         $133.61
2009   $30,811,495    241,267         $127.71

Those are some impressive numbers. That's 84% growth in total dollars raised for Democrats, 92% growth in individual contributions, while seeing just under a 5% decline in the average contribution size. But in addition to the dollar and donors, what's even more exciting is this next batch of numbers which reflect ActBlue's mission to assist all Democratic candidates and causes and allow anyone to create personal fundraising pages. 

Year | # Unique Recipients | # Personal Pages w/Donors

2007   1017                  1233 
2009   1942                  3286

This is where we're democratizing the process of financing campaigns. The 91% increase in unique recipients means that in 2009 nearly twice as many Democratic candidates received a check for funds raised through ActBlue- which is impressive because the raw number of elected offices is a fairly static. Even more amazing is the 167% increase in successful personal ActBlue fundraising pages- skyrocketing to over 3,000 in 2009, a year when just a handful of states held their statewide elections (most notable being New Jersey & Virginia) and a greater number held municipal elections as part of ActBlue trial program. We'll be looking in more detail at this growth at the state and local level in future analysis.

Now for some charts. These compare a number of 2007 v. 2009 metrics on the quarter by quarter level.

That huge surge of contributions in the last half of 2009 was due in part to the upswing in the health care debate, the Joe "You Lie" Wilson effect on fundraising for Democrat Rob Miller, the No on One / Protect Marriage Equality campaign in Maine, and Netroots based fundraising flowing into the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Democracy for America, FDL Action PAC, and Blue America's PAC.

The drop in the average contribution size in late 2009 goes hand in hand with the increase in small dollar giving noted by a number of the committees in the prior graph.

That's just beautiful- don't you think?

This last graph is the best in my opinion- you can see the democratization of fundraising and empowerment of the average donor to raise small dollar contributions for the candidates or causes of their choice. That's what this is all about.

Have you noticed something new on some of our contribution pages? That's today's $4,800 question.

If you were browsing through the 2010 federal candidates and officeholders listed in the ActBlue directory for the U.S. Senate or House of Representatives you might have noticed that the maximum contribution level has changed to $4,800 for candidates. This is due to new increased contribution limits laid out by the Federal Elections Commission, as expected after each 2-year cycle begins at the federal level.

Federal candidates may now receive a maximum contribution of $2,400 per individual for any primary election and up to another $2,400 per individual for the general election. Prior to a primary, candidates are allowed to raise general election funds (as some may remember being noted in news stories surrounding presidential fundraising in 2007-2008). ActBlue allows campaigns to collect the full $4,800 from individuals prior the the conclusion of a primary. After a candidate's primary has passed, the highest contribution level listed on ActBlue will automatically drop to $2,400 which will be the maximum per individual for just the general election. Note- It is incumbent upon campaigns, however, not only to properly report these funds but also to refund any general election designated monies they have received should they not be successful in becoming the Democratic nominee.

Changes were made to other levels of giving as well as has been noted by The Hill.

Individual donors will now be able to give up to $2,400 per election, or $4,800 for both a primary and a general, according to the new guidelines. That's up from the $2,300 per-election limit during the 2008 cycle. Donors are also able to fork over $30,400 to national parties, higher than the $28,500 they were allowed to give last cycle. A single donor is limited to $115,500 — including $45,600 to candidates — per cycle. National parties and their affiliated senatorial committees can aid their Senate candidates with up to $42,600 per election, $2,700 more than they could give during the last cycle. Political action committee donations, which are not indexed for inflation, remain at $5,000 per candidate per election.

That can be a lot of money to keep track of, as total spending caps could potentially limit the amount you are able to give a candidate if they are close to hitting their total federal limit. That's why we encourage regular donors to sign up for an ActBlue Express Account which allows them not only to make one-click contributions that speed up the donor process, but also allows individuals to track the total amount of money they have donated, which campaigns they gave it to, and when they gave it.

ActBlue is pleased to announce that we’re now active for state races in New York.  You can now contribute to Democrats running in state elections through ActBlue.  Better yet, set up your own page and start fundraising!

Everyone here at ActBlue is very excited about this development.  To mark the occasion we’ll be livebloging on The Albany Project tonight, 1/31/08 starting at 7PM.  Political Director Erin Hill, Deputy Political Director Nate Thames, and Netroots Coordinator Melissa Ryan will be on hand to answer you questions.

To learn more about this exciting development here’s our press release:

ACTBLUE GOES LIVE IN NEW YORK STATE

CAMBRIDGE, MA, JANUARY 31,
2008? ActBlue, the online platform that allows Democrats to raise funds
for the candidates of their choice, is now active in New York State.
With the launch, ActBlue puts a new tool into the hands of Democrats
across the state, allowing them for the first time to support not only
federal candidates but statewide candidates, party committees and
Democrats running for State Senate and State Assembly.

State party co-chairman David Pollak heralded ActBlue’s arrival in
New York today.  "ActBlue has proven to be an invaluable resource for
Democratic candidates across the country," says Pollak. "By adding
functionality for state legislative candidates, ActBlue will play a
critical role in helping Democrats at the grassroots level get involved
in the effort to take back the New York State Senate."

Beyond party activity, the entry of ActBlue into New York will make
it possible for individuals in New York State to start mobilizing
friends and colleagues in support of Democratic candidates at all
levels.  Much as in Virginia, where a broad coalition of activists and
bloggers joined hands through ActBlue with Governor Kaine and the state
party to take back the Virginia Senate for the first time in a decade,
ActBlue will facilitate cooperation between New York Democratic
institutions and communities of Democrats from upstate to Manhattan.

"This is something that those of us focused on state level races in
New York have been wanting for at least two years, and we are beyond
excited that this day has finally come," says Phillip Anderson,
editor-in-chief of the Albany Project, a prominent blog devoted to
Democratic victories in New York State. "I think that we may look back
on this day a year from now and see this as a real game-changing event
in the effort to take our state government back."

ActBlue has enabled individuals and groups across the country to
raise more than $36 million for Democratic candidates and committees
since 2004. More important, says executive director Jonathan Zucker,
ActBlue has built a new kind of infrastructure capable not only of
raising untapped millions at unprecedented speed but also of mobilizing
support for Democrats in the closest races. "Building infrastructure is
the most important thing we can be doing as a party," says Zucker. "We
ran wheezing behind Republicans for years when it came to
infrastructure, but ActBlue’s $36 million is proof positive that we’re
not only catching up but on course to win."  Zucker is expecting
ActBlue’s funding total to top $100 million this cycle.

ActBlue will be live blogging from their headquarters tonight from 7 to 8 at the Albany Project, online at http://thealbanyproject.com.

We’ve talked a lot about how you can use ActBlue effectively, where you can run into us at trainings and events, and what’s coming next.  Today’s topic is a little different, but no less important.

I want to start talking about how it all works.  In particular, I want to talk about sustainability: how we built ActBlue to last forever.

Some quick history to start.  Ben and I launched ActBlue in June 2004 and shepherded just shy of $1 million to 150 Democrats that year — a success in its own right.  We always treated 2004 as a two-front experiment, though: one, will the ActBlue model for funding candidates work (yes!); and two, can we build the organization itself in a sustainable fashion.

Raising funds for infrastructure like ActBlue instead of campaigns is always a challenge.  Some of the best advice Ben and I got in the early going was to create a *sustainable* organization — one whose operations provide all the necessary internal funding.  (Companies that aren’t sustainable go bankrupt and are considered failures or Internet startups, and yet this is all too common in the political world.)  Our answer was the tip request that we ask of each contributor using the website.  What excited us about 2004 is that over half our donors left a tip for ActBlue.  We thought we were on to something.

There was only one problem.  We were still broke.

§

I suspect every new organization goes through a rough period.  Ours was the start of 2005.  With so little happening on the website at that time of year, we didn’t have any operating capital.  And yet, bursts of activity around Howard Dean’s election to the DNC and Paul Hackett’s run in Ohio stressed our system to the breaking point.  Without a bigger technology budget, we were on the verge of collapse.

Prodded by some excellent advice from many advisors, we adopted a novel solution to the challenge.

Friends, meet Auburn Quad.

Those of you who work with campaigns have seen AQ on your finance reports for a while, but we’re probably news to most of our readers.  In 2005, Ben and I formed a company called Auburn Quad to develop and operate the technology that powers the ActBlue service and established an independent ActBlue board to eliminate conflicts of interest.

AQ’s product is called "Indigo" — it’s the software you employ as you contribute and fundraise with ActBlue.  Indigo processes online contributions, bills credit cards, tracks progress on fundraising pages, prints each week’s checks, provides financial statements to campaigns and fundraisers, and reports every last penny to Uncle Sam.  It may sound simple, but the story becomes interesting when millions of dollars flow to thousands of candidates in 22 states, each governed by a different set of rules.

Ben and I had two motivations for forming Auburn Quad.  First, ActBlue’s focus lies squarely in our political mission.  We empower individuals, informal groups, and established organizations to raise money for Democrats.  We have already helped to raise over $24 million online and aided in Democratic gains both in the House and Senate as well as in state chambers across the country.  In short, ActBlue’s staff is dedicated to political matters.  Under ActBlue’s roof, technology priorities would compete with political priorities, and usually lose. Auburn Quad can do a far better job running technology than ActBlue can in-house.

I know you saw it coming: the second reason is sustainability.

Moving political money properly takes a lot of gear ($) and staff ($$).  As ActBlue grows into the premier fundraising platform for Democrats up and down the ballot, Auburn Quad’s responsiblity to maintain and scale the system grows as well.  These things are anything but cheap.

Here’s how it all works.  Auburn Quad charges a service fee of 3.95% against gross contributions.  Most of that fee ends up going to the credit card companies; about 1.5% stays at AQ.  That 1 1/2 cents on the dollar pays for pretty much everything behind the website: computers, the programmers, and the coffee; or in specific terms, all the additional transactional costs borne by AQ to receive and remit contributions on your behalf.

Meanwhile, the real action still lies inside ActBlue.  Your tips and other generous contributions to the PAC allow us to extend our operations into new states, assist thousands of campaigns with their online fundraising, hold training events across the country, share best practices with our partners, and most importantly, offer these tools and top-flight customer service *for free to everyone*.  ActBlue is working to empower a new class of active Democrats who can reshape the country’s political dynamic and grow our party for generations to come.  Every last bit of this work is funded with your contributions.  Freed from the financial responsibilities of the payment platform, ActBlue spends every last political dollar on politics.

§

There’s one more reason to talk about our structure, though.  We believe *this model itself* is a strategic advantage to our political movement, and we offer it as a template for how to build a future generation of Democratic organizations.  We want to promote the model in its own right, and indeed you’ll see me and others call out its benefits here on this blog.

Our approach isn’t without its challenges.  There can be a real tension between ActBlue and AQ, whose goals are certainly similar but not precisely the same.  This is good.  It keeps us moving forward and honest to our mission.  ActBlue has a phenomenal Board of Directors (a majority of whom have no role in Auburn Quad) who help us negotiate the natural conflicts of interest and make sure that ActBlue’s political goals are never compromised.

As I said, we’ll be writing much more about ActBlue and Auburn Quad over the next months.  In the meantime, there’s more information in ActBlue’s FAQ, and don’t shy away from asking questions here.

Today ActBlue marks its 3rd Anniversary. Seriously, 3 years? I know- time flies.

Back in 2004, our founders Matt DeBergalis and Benjamin Rahn thought they could build something that would change Democratic fundraising- making it, well, more democratic. The two of them, living off of savings and limited investment, set out to build a platform that would end up changing our Party. Working out of their homes, they built the first generation of ActBlue.

This innovative, secure, and groundbreaking way to give money to Democrats was launched in June of 2004 before the end of the fundraising quarter. The earliest adopters, the blogosphere, helped push $250,000 into federal campaigns that summer. Printing $1 million in checks out of Matt’s living room by the end of 2004 was an accomplishment for the start-up. ActBlue caught the eye of Democratic campaigns, organizations, and establishment investors and it was time to grow.

And grow ActBlue did. You can see it for yourself in the numbers.

Total Raised for Democrats through ActBlue: $24,167,741

# of fundraising pages on ActBlue: 4,204

# of people contacted in just 3 weeks via ActBlue’s new Spread the Word tool: 3,751

# of active entities in ActBlue’s directory: 3,739 (will grow towards 10,000 this cycle)

# of candidates and committees receiving funds to date: 1,725

# of states where ActBlue is active for state level activity: 23 (soon to be 24)

# of people behind the ActBlue curtain: 6

# of months until ActBlue outgrows its 600 sq foot office: 1
  (that’s over $40,000/sq.ft. of productivity!)

There a lot of talk about investing in lasting infrastructure for the Democratic Party. ActBlue returns over $20 in aid for Democratic candidates for every $1 in investment. We have more ideas under the hood than you can shake a stick at, limited not by our creativity, but by time and investment.

ActBlue is an investment in our Party. ActBlue is an investment in a Democratic future.

So, in honor of our 3rd Anniversary, will you invest in ActBlue?

http://www.actblue.com/page/investinactblue

With your help, the future will be more than just bright- it will be Blue.

So I offer a toast: the undiscovered country . . . the future. Here’s to turning 3.

If you are already reading the ActBlue Blog via RSS or e-mail, you can skip this entry.

We haven’t reminded folks about this option in a while, but for casual visitors to the site you may not know that you can get every ActBlue Blog post without missing out!

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