July is typically the slowest month in politics with donors and staffers alike heading out of town. But this month was anything but dull. We processed $5.75 million in contributions from 162,935 donations, which helped us top $400 million and six million contributions!

Check out our how July stacked up against the last few years:

  July ’10 July ’11 July ’12 July ’13
Contributions 21,078 66,746 200,193 162,935
Volume ($) $2,424,679.54 $2,678,159.69 $8,342,134.24 $5,750,964.28
Mean Donation $115.03 $40.12 $41.67 $35.30
Committees 1,376 861 1,836 1,232

That money went to 1,232 candidates and organizations this month, and about 10,181 since we founded ActBlue in 2004. That’s a pretty big increase over 2011, the last off year, which means incumbents and organizations that were around last cycle are getting an earlier and stronger start to their fundraising.

The average donation size was down to just $35.30, compared with $40.12 in 2011 and $115.03 in 2010, meaning more and more small dollar donors are becoming part of the political process. ActBlue’s volume – the total amount donors like you gave – was up 115% from 2011, while the number of committees raising was up 43%. As we mentioned in May, this is a really good sign for Democratic candidates in 2014 and shows the strength of progressive non-profits.

We’re always trying to foster more community between donors and organizations, which is why we’ve been advising campaigns to ask for recurring donations for years. Despite the fact that recurring contributions raise a whole lot more money (you can check out this blog post for details), they also help campaigns build a relationship with donors and provide a steady income. That means smarter budgeting and strategic planning for campaigns and organizations.

We checked out the numbers across ActBlue and found out that 497,411, or 8.54% of all donations this past month were part of a recurring commitment, compared with just 6.66% in 2011. While that’s really good progress, our goal is to see that number grow even more!

When we hit big milestones here we get pretty excited, and sometimes break out the bubbly for oh about a minute, and then rush to share the news with you. While we put in a lot of work to make the system function, it’s really you – our donors, campaigns, and organizations – who have built ActBlue. That’s why we want to give a shootout to the person who gave the 400 millionth dollar via ActBlue.

Turns out it was a pretty typical ActBlue donor; someone who uses ActBlue to connect with and support the candidates and causes that are meaningful to them through small dollar donations. Her name is Joan and she’s given between $3 and $25 to Democratic committees every couple of months since the beginning of 2012. Her latest donation, $10 to Democracy for America (DFA), was in support of a campaign to expand Social Security. While we’ve been counting down the days until we hit $400 million, we’re equally excited the fact that it came from over 6 million contributions. That’s a lot of democratic participation!

The best part about hitting that $400 million dollar mark is that half a billion dollars for Democratic candidates and progressive causes is now in our sights. The only question is when. We’re taking bets on it at our office, but as donors you’ll be determining the answer with your dollars. I’d say it’ll happen early next October…followed by a resounding victory for Democrats.

If you had hundreds of millions of lines of contribution data, what would you want to know? Well here at ActBlue, we have an insane amount of data, and we’re always looking to learn more about our donors and how they use our site.

So we recently recently posed the question:

Who donates more…men or women?

The answer turns out to be women, but only if you approach things from the right perspective.

Before I go on, I’d like to say that I by no means want to perpetuate the gender binary; everyone at ActBlue respects and values people all across the gender spectrum.

We all know some of the basic election gender data – more women went for Obama, more men for Romney. But, political contributions involve personal investment, so I wanted to see how it breaks down on our site, which is obviously exclusive to Democrats. There was just one hiccup in my data-nerd fantasy: we don’t collect any information on our donors’ gender identification.

The easiest way to get around this problem is to use approximate name-gender matching. While many databases available for this purpose are either costly, unreliable, or both, I did eventually find a source which I felt comfortable using (an academic paper available for free in which the authors explained their methodology). So after digging into our database and crunching the numbers, I came out with some answers. I’ll give an overview of my results first and then explain my methodology and some statistical issues I want to highlight in a bit more detail further down.

I found that for individual contributions, women give about 15.0% smaller dollar amounts than men do. I also found, however, that women are 12.4% more likely to make a recurring contribution than men are. (Assume all of these values are statistically significant, but if you’re interested read more on that below.)

So the obvious question was: what happens once you factor in future installments of a recurring contribution, and not just the initial dollar amount? I crunched the numbers again, but it turned out not to change anything — women still donated about 16.6% smaller dollar donations than men. This was a big surprise, so I started racking my brain for possible explanations.

You’ve probably already figured it out, but I made quite an oversight in my initial assumptions. It’s well documented that the gender wage gap still persists; 77 cents is a popular estimate for how much a woman earns for doing the same amount of work a man is payed one dollar to do. This is incredibly unjust, but it is also directly relevant to my project — women are unfairly earning less income than men, so it makes sense that they’d have less disposable income from which they are willing and able to make political contributions, all else equal.

So I did what every progressive has always dreamed of. I punched a few computer keys and voilà– the gender wage gap disappeared! After this adjustment for equality, women turned out to make about 12.9% higher dollar contributions than men, and when factoring in the entirety of recurring donations, they donated 11.4% more than men. Quite the change from my initial findings, indeed. (This kind of broad and general adjustment is bound to be approximate, but in my opinion it was actually a fairly conservative change. But, see below for some discussion of that.)

Given ActBlue’s focus on grassroots donors, I wondered what would happen if I trimmed my dataset to include only donations that were $100 or less. Well, I did that and was left with about 95% of my original sample, which really does demonstrate the extent to which ActBlue is all about small-dollar donations. After trimming the dataset (and continuing to use adjusted donation amounts), I found that women were donating higher dollar amounts than men to an even greater extent than before, at 21.1%!

As many of you know, ActBlue Express Accounts allow donors to securely store their payment information with us and donate with just one click. I found that women and men in my sample donated using an ActBlue Express Account at a remarkably similar rate– within 1 percentage point. This just goes to show how egalitarian ActBlue Express Accounts are!

Now there are several important takeaways here. It looks like on ActBlue, for example, women tend to donate higher dollar amounts than men (after adjusting for the gender wage gap), and also tend to give recurring contributions more often than men. But for me, the biggest lesson was to be vigilant about understanding what outside factors might be affecting the internal nature of your data.

Before I move on to some nitty-gritty technical comments, I want to say that I really did mean the question that opened this blog post. So, readers, what would you want to know if you had that much data? I really enjoyed sharing these results with you, so please shoot me a note at martin [at] actblue [dot] com to let me know what you’d like our team to dig into for the next post!

My discussion below is a bit more technical and intended for other practitioners or very curious general readers.

As I mentioned above, name-to-gender matching is difficult for several reasons. In “A Name-Centric Approach to Gender Inference in Online Social Networks”, C. Tang et al. combed Facebook pages of users in New York City and, after using some interesting techniques, came up with a list of about 23k names, each of which was associated with the number of times a user with that name identified as male and female. I definitely recommend reading through their study– you might not think it’s perfect, but it could provide some inspiration for the aspiring data miners among you. In any case, I then did some further pruning of their list for suitability reasons, the effects of which were minimal. I combined their name-gender list with a n=500k random sample of contributions made on ActBlue since 2010, matching only names that appear on both lists for obvious reasons.

At that point, I had a dataset that included, on a contribution-basis, the donor’s name, estimated gender (the authors of the study pegged their matching accuracy at about 95%), and some other information about the contribution. Of the 500k sample, the matching spat out about 50.4% females.

When I say “other information”, I’m specifically referring to factors that I know from past analyses directly affect contribution amount (for instance, whether the donor is an ActBlue Express User or not). I took this extra information since I knew I’d need to control for these factors when evaluating the effect of gender on donation amount. This is a good reminder of why it’s super important to know your data really well by staying current with trends and performing frequent tests– otherwise you might end up omitting important explanatory variables, choosing a misspecified model, or making other common mistakes.

With my dataset ready, I tried a few different types of models, but landed on one in which the dependent variable (contribution amount) was in logarithmic form, so it looked like:

ln(contribution_amount) = β0 + β1female + some other stuff + u

This model was best for a few different, yet boring (even for practitioners) reasons, so I’ll spare you the discussion :)

As I noted in my general discussion, all of the results I found were “statistically significant”, but there was an issue I wanted to address. In my case, yes, beta coefficients were significant at p<.0001, as was the overall significance of the regression and joint significance of groups of regressors I thought it important to test. But with n=500k, I think saying certain things were “statistically significant” can be a bit insincere or misleading if not explained properly, unless you’re talking to someone fairly comfortable with statistics. What I mean is pretty obvious if you just think about how a t statistic is actually computed, why it’s done that way, and what that means.

At huge sample sizes, very small differences can be “significant” at very high confidence levels, and lead to misinterpreting your results. Moreover, just because something is statistically significant doesn’t mean that it is practically significant. There are a few different ways to deal with this, none of which are perfect, though. In my case, I saw that 95% CIs of the regressor coefficients were really tight, and would certainly consider 10%-14% differences practically significant (don’t get me wrong—of course there are times when small differences like 0.3% can be practically significant, but this isn’t one of them). I’m not bashing large sample sizes here or saying that hypothesis testing is unimportant (it is!), but rather emphasizing caution and clarity in our reporting.

Further, there’s another important lesson here. Sometimes, no matter how cleverly we choose our models or carefully we conduct our analysis, the explanatory power of a regression is going to be limited because you simply don’t have enough data. I don’t mean depth of data (i.e. sample size), but rather the breadth of the data (i.e. categories of information). For instance, personal income is clearly going to be an important factor in determining the dollar amount of a given political contribution. We don’t, however, have that kind of information about donors. Does that mean I should have just thrown away the regression and called it a day? Of course not, because obviously partial effects can be estimated fairly precisely with very large sample sizes, even with relatively large error variance. Again, the lesson is to be judicious in your interpretation and reporting of results.

I also noted that I thought my gender wage gap adjustment was fairly conservative. What I did was simple; for all contributions in the dataset made by females, I calculated an “adjusted” contribution amount by dividing the actual contribution amount by 0.77. This implicitly assumes that if women were paid equally for equal work, they would contribute more overall dollars, but at their current ratio of donations/income. In other words, their marginal propensity to donate would be constant as income increases. In fact, I think this is probably false in reality, and women (and men, for that matter) would instead demonstrate an increasing marginal propensity to donate with increased income, and therefore I should have increased the contribution amounts by even more than I did. I haven’t, however, read any study that provides a reliable estimate of a marginal propensity to donate, and therefore decided it best to keep things simple.

I already asked you to reach out and tell me what you’re interested in knowing, but I’ll double down here: I would love to hear from you and get your input so that the next blog post will reflect our community members’ input! So shoot me an email me at martin [at] actblue [dot] com.

A million dollars in one day, on a Sunday in June. Who would have thought that was possible? But man the last week in June was crazy, wasn’t it? And it turned into a huge day for thousands of campaigns and organizations on Sunday thanks to 26,285 donors. It was our first million dollar day of the year and somehow we don’t think it’ll be our last.

Our team was busy working all weekend, but frankly they’re happy to. It’s our little part to help keep this country moving forward.

Here are the toplines for the month, and it was our biggest one of the year!

The amazing ActBlue donor community chipped in (an understatement) $9,052,454.81 from 186,139 individual donations in June, bringing the total for the quarter up to $21.8 million and our grand total up to $395 million. That means that $400 million – and a celebration – is right around the corner!!!

This is how it compares to previous Junes:


The first thing we noticed was that the average donation amount actually went up, bucking our historical trend. So we dug into our numbers. It turns out that federal max-out donors in Q2, those folks giving $2,600 for a primary or $5,200 for the cycle, increased 75% from Q1. What’s that mean? Well, it looks like a bunch of federal candidates and committees are getting an early start building small dollar communities and reaching out to their early max out donors 17 months out. Frankly that should scare the crap out of the Republicans.

Donors contributed to 1,219 different committees last month, which is way up from 862 committees during June of the last off-year (2011). More candidates are starting to fundraise earlier from more donors. More. More. More! No seriously, it’s great to see and our team has been working hard adding dozens of newly declared candidates each month.

A full $4.2 million of the money you gave came in during the last week, in part because of the political events like Wendy Davis’s brave filibuster, the historic Supreme Court rulings and the End of Quarter deadline that mobilized and inspired all of you. Here are our day by day totals for the month. Check out that spike at the end!


Half of all contributions in June (51.5%) were made by ActBlue Express users! That’s definitely something to celebrate. That puts the count of our amazing ActBlue Express users up to 582,132 and growing.

By giving to candidates and organizations early in the election cycle, you’re helping them to build the foundation for 2014. With your support they’ll have the resources they need to mount strong campaigns and mobilize supporters. So thanks for doing your part to build a Democratic momentum for 2014!

We set internal goals for ourselves here – just like we encourage campaigns to do with our fundraising thermometers – and we take a lot of pride in beating them. But this month we didn’t just beat them, we crushed them. Seriously. Kate from our compliance team tried to run some models to predict our future growth pattern, and she couldn’t find one because our growth is literally off the charts.

But this isn’t some kind of humble brag. We may have put in some work behind the scenes, but it’s all of you – our donors – that made it possible.

Take a look at the top line numbers below.

  May ’10 May ’11 May ’12 May ’13
Contributions 40,124 45,783 234,065 173,665
Volume ($) $4,110,305.20 $2,679,278.73 $10,041,334.35 $6,355,241.33
Mean Donation $102.44 $58.52 $42.90 $36.59
Committees 1,303 728 1,854 1,072

The month started off with the tail end of the Sandford vs. Colbert-Busch election, and although Democrats didn’t pull ahead this time, we saw a huge uptick in donations. Organizations and candidates helped to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars every day before the election. As a result, we more than doubled our volume goal for the month. Our other big spike came at the end of the month, which is typical since that’s when many of our candidates and committees make a big fundraising push. May was no exception, with a string of four strong days culminating in $584,502 in contributions on the final day.

Screen Shot 2013-06-04 at 4.34.35 PM

Our other major goal was to bring in 52,651 contributions by the end of the month. We surpassed that number before the SC special election was laid to rest on May 7th, which was great. But things only got better from there – we more than tripled our goal for the month.

One of the biggest reasons that number is increasing at such a crazy pace? Express users. 55.1% of our site wide donors used Express Accounts to give this month. That means that over half of the people donating were repeat donors. We make it easier for them to give (just one click!), but they choose to keep coming back. They’re more dedicated than ever, and they’re not just single candidate supporters. If you’re working on a campaign, give us a call, because they’re likely on your supporter list too.

Screen Shot 2013-06-04 at 4.33.35 PM

All of those contributions went to 1,072 different candidates, committees, and causes. So while there may have been a tabloid worthy special election, we certainly saw a  lot of activity from folks across the country, giving to candidates up and down the ballot.

We’re particularly proud that the average donation size was just $36.59 this month. That amount is $65.85 lower than it was just 3 years ago. It shows that while our numbers have been growing (right off the charts) in these past three years, we’re still committed to – and succeeding at – the mission we started with. And that’s to help make fundraising more democratic by opening it up to all and breaking down the technology barriers.

ActBlue helped candidates, committees and organizations raise almost a million dollars more this month than we did in April 2012, when the presidential election was really ramping up. That’s awesome.

What does that mean? It means that more people are donating more often. And beyond that it means that the amount of people engaged and connected with the electoral process is going up. People are fighting to have their voice heard and standing up for what they believe in now that they have the tools to do so.

We’re pretty proud of that. Take a look at how the numbers stack up:

  April ’10 April ’11 April ’12 April ’13
Contributions 31,000 51,727 122,619 170,090
Volume ($) $2,767,800.98 $2,580,800.91 $5,485,860.74 $6,382,236.67
Mean Donation $89.28 $49.89 $44.74 $37.52
Committees 1,235 677 1,651 1,031


Our average contribution rate is dwindling – it’s now $37.52. That’s the one metric we’re thrilled to see going down. It’s less than half of what it was 3 years ago during the midterm elections and $12 lower than in April 2011 when we were in the midst of the grassroots movement in Wisconsin. Even with smaller contributions, our overall volume is growing, which means that people are more engaged than ever. In April alone, we processed 170,000 contributions, an increase of 50,000 compared to April 2012. This growth is driven by an increasing number of small dollar donors who are becoming active and pooling their resources together to make a big impact.

Another interesting fact? 621 fewer committees raised money in April 2013 than in April 2012. We don’t like seeing numbers go down, but that difference is understandable as there are always more races during a big election year. Knowing that a smaller pool of campaigns and organizations pulled off these impressive fundraising numbers makes it even sweeter. These groups are building truly grassroots efforts and we’re excited to see them grow.

The South Carolina special election between Elizabeth Colbert Busch and Mark Sanford is a prime example. Sanford recently called us an “ultra liberal money funnel” and tried to discredit Colbert Busch’s hard-earned grassroots donations. No wonder he was nervous: she raised an impressive $731,100 from 19,328 donors this month and helped drive lots of traffic. That’s a whole lot of engaged folks for a spring election in an off year.

Our biggest tool for building online grassroots programs has been ActBlue Express, which allows returning donors to give with just one click every time they get served up an ActBlue donation page. That means all Express users are valuable for any campaign or organization who decides to use us. Last month over half (52.1%) of our site wide contributors were ActBlue Express users and we brought our total Express users up to 552,188. We know that these users are our most dedicated donors, so we’re happy to see that number growing!

The first quarter after an election year – especially after an expensive presidential election – can be a time of transition for political fundraising, but other than a short break during the holiday season, we saw campaigns and committees getting right back to work. And boy did they ever!

Here are our top line numbers compared with Q1 numbers in past post-election years. The ActBlue staff obsessively looks at these numbers every day, but then again we’re big dorks, and if you are reading this, you probably are too.

Q1 ’07 Q1 ’09 Q1 ’11 Q1 ’13
Contributions 31,441 24,361 180,537 436,726
Volume ($) $3,141,038.27 $5,343,772.20 $8,712,756.77 $16,478,580.31
Mean Donation $99.90 $219.36 $48.26 $37.73
Committees 235 651 881 1,246


Notice that the average donation amount has dropped quite a bit, while the number of donations made has gone up. This is a fairly common phenomenon, but one we actually ascribe a bit of meaning too. It used to be that electoral campaigns didn’t do a lot of work in the off year, let alone trying to engage small dollar donors, figuring that it was too far from an election for anyone to care/respond. Instead, finance directors would spend quite a bit of time talking to major donors during that period, and often not have anyone on staff tasked with building an email list and bringing supporters on board. That lead to a disproportionate number of large donations being processed via ActBlue, rather than the small dollar donors that are more typical.

But we’re thrilled to see people starting earlier and investing in a grassroots fundraising program, thus increasing the number of people that have a stake in the outcome of the election and ensuring it’s not just the few people blessed enough to be able to give max-out donations. It’s something we’ve long urged campaigns to do. Engaging small dollar donors throughout the length of campaigns has a ton of benefits: A) It makes campaigns more small D democratic because there are more voices being brought in and kept in, B) It makes campaigns stronger because there’s more money and a bigger pool to work with for field and votes and C) It makes the whole left stronger as more voices come in and stay active.

We sent checks to 1,246 different organizations, campaigns and committees this quarter and we can’t wait to see what that number looks like in March ’15!

The final day of the quarter happened to coincide with Easter, and we weren’t sure what that would mean for donations. Traditionally, we see big spikes at the end of each month and a huge one at the end of the quarter. The number of fundraising emails that show up in your inbox around that time usually corresponds with a big uptick in donations. But we didn’t see a huge spike at the end of the quarter on Sunday. Instead, it was more of a steady climb during the last week, which meant that candidates and committees still did well overall, but didn’t see those huge last minute increases.

Take a look at the chart below to see the volume and number of contributions for each day:

Screen Shot 2013-04-03 at 2.26.56 PM

Our assumption is that it was just bad luck that the end of the quarter fell on not just any Sunday, but Easter Sunday. This year it just so happens that every end of quarter day is on a weekend, and it will be interesting to see if this pattern continues, but not so fun for all of those hard working finance and digital directors out there. Those spikes get the adrenaline going, especially when we’re so far from election day. No matter how big the spikes grow, the ActBlue team will be hard at work even on a weekend, responding to questions and keeping the site zippy.

We’ve seen some pretty big numbers on ActBlue in 2013 so far, and if we’re helping to raise this much money while campaigns are just ramping up, we can only imagine what this cycle will bring. That means more work for us internally to make sure we’re ready for what all you – our users – bring. Really, it’s about the work you’ve been doing as supporters and organizers, and your dedication to starting your fundraising programs early means a bright future for 2014 in races up and down the ballot!

Note: This is the first in what we hope will be a regular series on the ActBlue blog sharing our lessons learned from our email program with our larger community of practitioners.

Have you ever wondered if you’d raise more money if you asked your email list for recurring contributions instead of a one-time ask? Yeah, us too.

We’ve tested this from time to time, and usually find for ActBlue and our community members that recurring asks perform better. But we know that the email copy can influence the results, so we decided to test it again. Last Thursday we sent out nearly identical emails to our members, but with two different asks. Here’s an example:

1-time ask

The only way we can do it is if we hit our big goal of raising $75,000 for ActBlue, by the end of the quarter on Sunday. Can you contribute $5, or whatever you can afford, right now to ActBlue, and ensure we’re prepared to help thousands of candidates and organizations raise millions of dollars next fall?

Recurring ask

The only way we can do it is if we hit our big goal of 1,000 donors to ActBlue giving $3 a month, or whatever they can afford, by the end of the quarter on Sunday. Can you contribute $3 a month right now to ActBlue, and ensure we’re prepared to help thousands of candidates and organizations raise millions of dollars next fall?

Each email was sent to 100k random members. We let the test roll for 24 hours before making a call on Friday morning, but it was pretty apparent early on that we were going to have a winner.

One critical piece of important information that we had was the ability to calculate with confidence how much money the recurring contributions would bring in. Recurring donors on ActBlue pick the amount of months they’d like to make their contribution – the maximum is 24 months and we set that as the default when people land on the page through the email parameters. ActBlue Page Dashboards (which are in beta) do the math for you and display exactly how much money your members have signed up to contribute. They’re a tad hidden at the moment due to the beta status, but just add /dashboard/list before your specific page name when you are logged in to see it. For example: Here’s how it looks for this fundraising page:

But we know that for one reason or another some people don’t complete their pledge. Their credit cards expire and they never updated them with us (even though we ask) or they simply cancel their recurring contribution. That’s why we recently analyzed our pledge completion rate. Since November 2010 the percentage of money that was pledged to ActBlue’s own PAC and received is 88.97% for all recurring contribution pledges that have completed. We did not include people who are still contributing monthly.

Across all the different committees who use ActBlue, we find a sitewide completion rate of 80%, so ActBlue is a bit higher than the average. And our completion rate has grown from where it used to be. All-time we are at a 77.78% pledge completion rate, so clearly we’ve gotten better at getting our folks to finish out their pledges.

Since we had the pledge completion rate, we could calculate how much we could reasonably expect to get in from both the one-time contribution ask and the recurring contribution ask. And here are our results after 24 hours.

One time ask : $2,557 projected
Recurring ask: $4,365.70 projected

We had more contributions on the one-time page than the recurring page, but clearly we were going to end up bringing in more money if we asked the remaining portion of our list to make a recurring contribution. Thus on Friday we sent out the recurring contribution ask to the remaining members of our list, and followed it with a kicker on Sunday, the last day of the quarter.

Our assumption is that ActBlue is viewed by our members as long-term infrastructure that should be supported as such. We’re not a candidate that’s trying to post a great end-of-quarter number, and we’re not trying to raise funds for a specific project like other non-profits. So while our members dig the recurring contributions, your members may not. So test it and find out!

We know people often make different assumptions about recurring revenue, but as you see with this test, the recurring ask is worth significantly more even though fewer people participate. Plus, at this point – 18 months from election day – you’re building a recurring pool so that you’ll have all sorts of money coming in via recurring. That adds up! And it’s a chance to create a long-term bond with your contributors.

We’ll likely run this test again in the not too distant future to ensure that a) our member’s interests/behavior hasn’t changed b) the results were not due to the specific email copy being more suited for a recurring ask. But until then, you’re likely to just be getting recurring contribution asks from ActBlue.


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