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October.

It’s the month of costumes, leaf-peeping, and worst to first Sox victories (we are from Boston, after all). But mostly it’s the make-or-break month for countless campaigns. That means Saturday morning door knocking and Monday night phone banking and the last big fundraising pushes.

Unfortunately, this October was also tainted by a government shutdown. While we can’t say there’s a silver lining to it all, we did see some of the anger and frustration we all felt towards Republicans channeled into getting more Democrats and progressives elected in 2014.

Take a look at the September and October daily fundraising numbers. September was a typical month in that the daily totals build gradually. October, on the other hand, started with strong numbers due to the shutdown. The numbers mostly held steady for the rest of the month until the normal uptick during the end of month fundraising push.

sept 2013

oct 2013

In an odd twist of fate, we hit 6,666,666 contributors on Halloween. Spooky, but awesome! We’re happy to be seeing more people participate in democracy every day. Our witching hours on October 31st were spent guiding campaigns with their end of month fundraising and obsessively checking the ActBlue Dashboard, watching the contributions come in. We ended the month with a bang, raising $377,040 from 5pm-midnight on that last day, which put us over $10 million raised for October.

**We also may have spent some time looking at corgis in costumes.

corgi

Here’s how the numbers broke down compared with the past few years:

  Oct ’10 Oct ’11 Oct ’12 Oct ’13
Contributions 169,670 61,438 825,893 289,808
Volume ($) $16,774,943.27 $3,857,573.91 $35,055,118.28 $10,055,290.31
Mean Donation $98.87 $62.79 $42.45 $34.70
Committees 1,796 1,140 2,183 1,576

That $10 million total for October is huge when you compare it to the $3.8 million we raised in October ’11, the last off-year. What’s even better is that the number of people donating nearly quintupled (!), going from 61,438 to 289,808. That also means the average contribution size came way down–from $62.79 in 2011 to $34.70 last month. Even in October ’12, when we processed a whopping 825,893 donations, we still had an average contribution size of $42.24, almost $10 higher than in October ’13. Nothing makes us happier than to see that number free fall while the total amount of money coming in continues to go up.

We’re happy the $10 million we helped raise was powered by so many more people because it reflects our mission–to facilitate grassroots movements–but also because it means that campaigns are getting an early jump on fundraising. $4,656,448 of the total that we raised was for candidates with elections in 2014, and that’s not including committees or organizations who will put resources toward those campaigns. The money these candidates are raising now is going towards building field infrastructure, hiring great staff, and mobilizing supporters. Those tasks are all crucial to running a successful campaign, and they can’t be done in a day or a month.

Internally, we spent a lot of time working on new projects and infrastructure so we’ll be ready come next October (it’s poised to be a big one–we raised $35 million in October ’12, and we expect to beat that number). We launched the ActBlue Tutorial, where we teach you how to use all the ActBlue tools and how to do online fundraising the right way. We’re hoping it will be a great resource for campaigns in the coming year, especially when their fundraising efforts really ramp up.

mobile pie chart

Last month we told you about mobile responsive forms, and we’ve been checking the stats every day since. Sitewide, we saw 20% of contributions made on mobile devices, compared with 8.1% in October ’12. If it wasn’t already clear, mobile is most definitely the future of online fundraising, and we’re happy that we can make it easier for donors by adapting to where they are.

Finally, our compliance team has been working day in and day out to report all of your contributions (seriously, our end of quarter report was so big it broke the FEC servers), and to roll out Express Lane in even more states. That means up to 3x more money for campaigns across the country, and significantly less hassle for donors. We’ll give ourselves a pat on the back for that one.

red sox pat on back

It was pretty clear that September 30th would be a monster fundraising day as the end of quarter deadline approached, with a government shutdown looming and our daily fundraising totals regularly reaching $500k.

The day did not disappoint – it was our third biggest day ever in terms of the number of donors who gave (61,414 – our favorite stat!) and sixth biggest in terms of overall dollars given ($2,173,118). The impending government shutdown and Republican obstructionism highlighted the reasons that we all need to work to put Democrats in office, and supporters channeled their anger and frustration into support and donations. We’re hoping for a speedy and reasonable resolution, but this mess is evidence of how important it is to ensure Democrats win in 2014.

Take a look at our September volume chart. You can see the huge spike on the last day of the month:

Last minute chaos aside, our campaigns, non-profits, and committees put up impressive third quarter fundraising numbers. We helped process $22,629,582.57 from 589,204 donors, which works out to an average donation of $38.40. That’s significantly lower than our 2011 and 2010 averages – $51.22 and $119.28, respectively. It was a true grassroots, groundswell effort.

The money went to 1,831 campaigns and committees, compared with just 1,388 in 2011. This is a testament to the fact that more campaigns are jump-starting their fundraising programs earlier this cycle. That fact, plus the dwindling average contribution amount, are important because they show that campaigns will have better organizational foundations and wider supporter bases, meaning they’ll be more prepared to take on Republicans next fall. You can dig into the numbers more here:

  Q3 ’10 Q3 ’11 Q3 ’12 Q3 ’13
Contributions 138,970 199,553 900,953 589,204
Volume ($) $16,576,728.52 $10,222,043.76 $42,997,590.05 $22,629,582.57
Mean Donation $119.28 $51.22 $47.72 $38.41
Committees 2,093 1,388 2,681 1,831

  Sept ’10 Sept ’11 Sept ’12 Sept ’13
Contributions 93,024 70,156 463,044 319,890
Volume ($) $9,892,076.04 $4,492,068.94 $21,881,384.20 $11,222,121,43
Mean Donation $106.34 $64.03 $47.26 $35.08
Committees 1,683 1,068 2,113 1,439

We’ve been working on a few of our own projects here in order to make the donation process easier. That’s great for campaigns, who see the benefits in their conversion rates and dollars raised. In the end though, it’s all of our donors who made this amazing end of quarter possible.

Our stellar tech team launched mobile-responsive forms this month (you can read more about that feature here) and saw a huge uptick in percentage of mobile contributions. A fifth – 20.5% of new contributions in September ’13 were made via mobile, compared to 9.6% in August ’13 and a meager 7.1% in September ’12. Keep in mind that we launched mobile responsive about halfway through the month, so we didn’t even get to see it’s full effect. We can’t wait to watch that number grow and help campaigns and groups raise more money on mobile.

This month we also released Express Lane, our one-click donation system for donors who have saved their payment information, to the first round of campaigns just in time for #eoqmadness. It’s a pretty big deal for us, and the fact that the number of donors in September ’13 (319,890) was more than triple the number in September ’11 (70,156) shows that we’ve made the donation process incredibly simple for supporters.

Express Lane has just started to roll out, but we know it’ll grow bigger and bigger going forward. We increased Express users by 36,639 in September alone, bringing our total to 644,910. As more campaigns use ActBlue for their fundraising, more users convert to Express accounts, meaning the Express donor pool increases for all Democrats and progressives. Together, we’re building a stronger movement.

The new and improved features, engaged campaigns and committees, and dramatically increased participation give us hope for 2014. It’s sure to be a tough electoral season – especially when we’re all dealing with Koch money and Republican stubbornness – but if this month was any indication, early planning is going to pay off.

A couple of weeks ago, Julia unveiled our new mobile-responsive contribution forms to the world. Since we’ve rolled out mobile-responsive forms, our mobile contribution numbers have been through the roof, so we’re really excited to share them with you.

Check out this graph, in which the red line represents the release date. Notice anything?

ActBlue mobile donation trends

ActBlue mobile donation trends

As we’ve mentioned, our initial A/B test yielded some excellent results: our new mobile-responsive forms led to a 49% boost in conversions (a statistically significant improvement at p< .01). And these forms are already making a marked difference.

Since the release, 21.9% of sitewide donations have been made by supporters using a mobile device. For ActBlue Express users– those who have saved their credit card information with us– the number’s even higher at a full 25.9% mobile. According to the stats textbooks I keep on my desk for reference, that number is “insanely high”.1 Seriously though, from the beginning of the year to the day our mobile-responsive contribution forms were released, 9.0% of donations were made via mobile devices (12.3% for Express users). It’s pretty tough to exaggerate how prodigious this jump is, and there’s clearly more growth to come.

The importance of mobile donations is increasing inexorably; we all know that. But, on one of the busiest days of the year, we topped over 30% mobile donations among ActBlue Express users. It’s a whole new world.

Footnotes:
1Just kidding, of course :-)

We’ve been crossing milestones left and right this summer. Earlier this month we topped 600,000 ActBlue Express donors. These are folks who have saved their credit card information with us, and let me tell you these people are awesome.

Keep in mind that when a donor signs up for ActBlue Express and gives to one entity (our word for a candidate, committee or non-profit listed on ActBlue), they can use their account to give to any other entity listed on ActBlue. It’s one of the biggest examples of ActBlue’s strength as a fundraising platform. We’re growing the pie, not eating it.

If you manage a sizable email list, a healthy percentage of your list members will be ActBlue Express donors, whether you’ve used ActBlue in the past or not. We’ve even seen groups start out fundraising on ActBlue receiving 40% of their donations from Express users.

Here’s why ActBlue Express donors are so incredible. They give 72.9% more frequently than non-Express donors. Yeah, that’s a pretty eye-popping number. These donors also give more money than other donors. The median amount of their lifetime giving is $84 (mean $284). Our site wide median is $50 (mean $237).

50.3% of Express donors have donated to more than one entity. That’s significantly more than the 39.3% of average donors. ActBlue Express donors can and indeed do save their credit card information while donating to one entity and then are able to donate to another group or candidate with fewer clicks.

Not surprisingly, these folks convert at a much better rate: 5.7 times higher on regular forms. It’s even better on mobile, where they convert 14.5 times higher than non-Express visitors. That makes a lot of sense: who really wants to pull out their credit card and type it into phone? With more and more emails being read on some sort of mobile device it’s crucial that we remove the barriers to donating on mobile. (Stay tuned for some new exciting new info about our mobile optimization efforts!)

The growth of Express users has been fairly cyclical–check out that huge spike around the election last year.

express growth chart

Still, we’ve seen solid growth each month, even this off year, as candidates reach out to donors early in the cycle. Plus, more and more organizations are using ActBlue these days and building a base of Express donors.

For a little fun, go into the way back machine and look at this post from 2011, when we changed the sign-up process for Express. Removing one click caused a five-fold conversion rate increase.

And that’s sorta the whole point. The easier it is for donors to give, the more likely they are to contribute to you and all of the other candidates, non-profits and committees listed on ActBlue.

Here’s a crazy fact for you: 70.37% of the money raised on ActBlue has come from donors who give to more than one candidate or committee. Yep, you read that right (and we triple checked it).

We’ve long known that one of the greatest strengths of ActBlue is a huge community of grassroots donors that give not just to their local representative, but to organizations and candidates across the country. But that stat really brings it home. And here’s some more:

Over 1.6 million distinct donors have contributed via ActBlue, but 39.33% have donated to more than one Democratic committee, candidate or non-profit, which we call entities for short. In fact, those who have donated to more than one committee or candidate on ActBlue average over six distinct entities overall. That’s why we’ve ended up with a large percentage of money coming from a core group of donors. There are a large number of donors that give to lots of different candidates, committees and non-profit organizations, big and small. These donors are the lifeblood of the left.

Here’s the breakdown of how many entities these donors gave to.

multiple entity pie chart

(Yep, you’re seeing a bit of a difference between mean and median in terms of number of entities these multiple entity donors are giving to.)

ActBlue donors tend not to be transient, but rather long-term community members who come together on ActBlue to connect with organizations and causes which they support. And 600,000 of them have saved their credit card information with us to become ActBlue Express donors.

ActBlue donors who give to multiple entities don’t just contribute more money, they also contribute at the most important times. The percentage of dollars given by supporters who donate to multiple candidates/organizations/committees increases in election years, meaning that these ActBlue users turn out to support candidates and committees with even greater commitment when it really counts.

Now, just because these dedicated ActBlue donors give more money doesn’t mean that they are just max-out donors who crowd out the grassroots. The most common donation amount (median) among multiple-entity donors is exactly the same as single-entity donors: $25. This pattern of donating perfectly reflects our ethos here at ActBlue — a community of grassroots donors who will be there to chip in to support a recall election in Wisconsin and support a campaign to expand Social Security a year later.

These folks are positive proof that fundraising is not a zero-sum game, and the biggest reason why the left keeps outpacing the Republicans online.

But these donors didn’t manifest overnight. They’re part of this community because of the commitment thousands of campaigns and organizations have made to reaching out to donors via email and social media. At ActBlue, we’ve made it easier for donors to give by streamlining and centralizing the contribution process with projects like ActBlue Express and mobile forms. And nothing would make us happier than seeing these numbers grow every single year.

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.

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