Built to Last

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.

ActBlue Turns 3 Years Old Today

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?


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.

Subscribe to the ActBlue Blog

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!

If you like e-mail, just to the right of this post at the top of the column you can sign up to receive each new post as they are written. They will be delivered right to your inbox and you can opt-out at any time (though we’d hate to see you go ever so much!)

Another option is to subscribe to our RSS feed. It’s a popular new way to keep track of reading all of the sites you want to each day without missing any great content- even if you take a week’s vacation. Whether you use Google Reader like me or other readers such as Bloglines or NetNewsWire, there are plenty of options out there that help make reading blogs more efficient.

22 States Where You Can ActBlue

So you may have noticed that we’re running some new code here on ActBlue as of yesterday evening. I’ll tour you through some of these features in upcoming posts.

As part of this upgrade, we’ve removed the page that gave recognition to all the groups that helped make ActBlue active on the state level. I’ve posted this archive for historical purposes in the extended entry as their support should be noted for all to see.

We’re looking forward to expanding to even more states after our successful launch of Virginia and Mississippi a few months ago. Thanks to some conversations this past week we might have an extra state or two to add to this list soon. If you’d like to discuss getting ActBlue active in your state and have some ideas, suggestions, or funding don’t hesitate to contact us.

Keep reading →

Sneak Peek of the New Fundraising Pages

Fundraising pages are the most important component of ActBlue: the vast majority of visitors to the site arrive directly on a fundraising page because a friend, an organization, or a campaign has channeled them there.  We pride ourselves on these pages’ simplicity: donors can show up, immediately understand what’s going on, and contribute with no distracting bells and whistles.

But we harbor a dirty secret (or, not-so-secret if you’ve been with us a while).

Over the past three years, $22 million raised, and 200,000+ donors, these pages haven’t actually changed all that much.  For a bit of nostalgia, check out the DailyKos dozen page as it looked back at the end of 2004 (compare to the same page with today’s look).  Yeah, the site framework has changed a little, but the makeup of the fundraising pages is remarkably similar.

Next week, all that is about to change.


Motivated by a strong sense that we could do better (and by a desire to burn down HTML code approaching its second anniversary), a few weeks ago we got to work putting together a new design with the help of the excellent Steve Ofner of Liberal Art.  The result is the new design that that you see at right.  (Click the image for a full-size mockup.)

In putting the new design together we had several aims:

  • A sharper, more dynamic look & feel
  • A simpler user experience
  • A clearer presentation of the dollar and donor numbers
  • A more attention-grabbing “contribute” button at the top

The result is an improved page design that looks good with long candidate blurbs, short candidate blurbs, no candidate blurbs, or all of the above.

We’ll be rolling out this design next week, and will continue to refine it in the coming months — so please let us know what you think!

$20 Million Served by ActBlue

At around 8 PM tonight, ActBlue passed the $20,000,000 milestone. Needless to say, there was lots of refreshing of the homepage as we watched this very important milestone roll by.

November 2004: $850,000

February 2005: $1 million

May 2006: $5 million

September 2006: $10 million

and on March 26, 2007: We watched this…


turn into this…entirely fitting for 2007 don’t you think?


After a toast around the office, I took some time to bring you the following delightful photoshop which expresses our office’s excitement over this amazing milestone. I’ve stashed it in the extended entry…

Keep reading →

Online Fundraising in the News

Apparently Online Fundraising is becoming a hot topic when talking about the 2008 Presidential race- not that we can blame anyone!  It’s something we’ve believed from back before the 2004 elections and see as being one of the defining characteristics of this next election cycle. While physical contributions from folks writing checks or passing the hat at fundraising dinners are not going to disappear, the amount of money and the bond that candidates have with their donors is changing big time. With a Presidential contest that could exceed $1 billon, we’re aware that online donations scale more easily than whipping up a couple thousand more plates of roast beef!

This weekend the topic of online contributions highlighted two major articles, one of which from the LA Times focused in on our efforts here at ActBlue directly. While I’m posting some clips below, be sure to click through and read the rest of these articles.

Keep reading →

Welcome to The ActBlue Blog!

With as many friends as ActBlue has in the Democratic blogging community, it’s about time we joined the party with a blog of our own. So today we are launching our official ActBlue Blog where we look forward to bringing our donors, candidates, campaigns, fundraisers, and bloggers interesting resources, analysis, tips, and other information to more effectively raise funds to elect Democrats!

Here’s just a sampling of things you can expect to see here-

  • Case Studies on some of the most creative ways ActBlue has been used
  • Analysis on how and why people donate
  • State Reports that highlight successful state level campaigns
  • Tips & Tricks about ways to use ActBlue you may not have known about
  • Page of the Week where we will highlight our favorite fundraising strategies
  • Monthly ActBlue Zeitgeist to explore trends, patterns, and other cool stuff
  • Major Series where we will explore how we are most relevant to your efforts in fundraising

Our posts will strive to be informative and useful while maintaining the Democratic grassroots values which have driven us for the last two and a half years. We encourage you to subscribe to our RSS feed or sign up to receive new posts via e-mail to keep up with our latest posts (both available in the right sidebar). Otherwise keep checking http://blog.actblue.com for the latest!