Archive

Case Studies

This week we officially announced Express Lane, and I’m guessing the fact that it can more than triple your money caught your eye. It can, and the way to raise more money is to learn Express Lane best practices and do your own optimization. We’re here to help you with both.

We’ve done a significant amount of Express Lane testing in our email blasts over the past few months to help you get started on what works– and what doesn’t– with Express Lane. Each email list, of course, is different, so you should probably test and expand upon the the takeaways below with your own list. And definitely let us know the results; we’d love to hear about them. It’d be especially great if you wanted to share your results here on the blog– just like the fantastic folks at CREDO Action were happy to do for this post– so that others can learn from your test results.

Here’s a little bit of background: our own email list consists entirely of donors, therefore it’s a pretty diverse group of folks. Also, we always fundraise to support our own infrastructure, not specific issues or candidates. Further, we spend most of our time optimizing for recurring donations because we’ve found them to be best for our organization, but much of what we say here also applies to one-time donation asks. We are, by the way, totally interested in collaborating with you on testing and optimization efforts– just give us a shout.

For this post, we’re going to discuss the gains you can expect from using Express Lane, results from some of the tests we’ve run on our Express Lane askblocks, and touch on stylistic concerns. Then, we’ll finish up with a summary of our recommendations and where you can go from here.

What to Expect

So, you probably expect to raise a lot more money using Express Lane, but what’s a typical increase? We’ve tested Express Lane vs. non-Express Lane on both recurring and one-time asks among randomly sampled Express users and seen Express Lane bring in more than triple the money for one-time1 asks, and 37.7% more for recurring asks (measured by money donated plus pledged recurring).

That’s quite a big boost, but other partners have seen significant gains, too. For example, here’s a test that was run by our friends at CREDO Action, some of our most sophisticated users. They tested a $5 control ask against a $5, $10, $25 Express Lane askblock. Their Express Lane version brought in 37.4% more donations than the control version. If you don’t see a noticeable increase in your testing, you should definitely reach out.

exp_lane_test_graph

Results from ActBlue’s April 2013 Express Lane test

Askblock Structure

We have an awesome Express Lane Link Creator tool for you, which you can find by clicking the “Express Lane” tab of your fundraising page. It’s really important that you use the language we provide there so that donors know that they’ll be charged instantly and why that’s possible– if you want to deviate from this, you’ll have to get our approval first. We do think, though, that you should stick with this language since it’s clear and concise.

But, how many Express Lane links should you include in the body of your email, and for what amounts? Should the intervals between amounts be equal? The answer to such questions will depend on your email list members but here are some suggestions, based on tests we’ve run, that should help get you on your way to optimizing your own Express Lane askblock structures!

One approach we’ve seen used by organizations in different contexts is what we refer to as a jump structure. The basic idea is that you set a large interval between the lowest link amount (which should be a low amount relative to your list’s average donation amount) and second-lowest link amount. Here’s an example we’ve used:

jump_example_image

Example jump structure

This relatively low-dollar link could encourage a much higher number of donations (if your jump structure amount is, for example, $4 instead of the $5 you’d usually use). This is because it’s a lower absolute dollar amount, but also a lower amount relative to the rest of the structure. Basically, the large jump between the lowest amount and the second-lowest amount makes the first one look small.

We’ve found that in general, this type of jump structure does indeed lead to a higher number of donations, but a lower overall amount of money, than the common structures which we used as controls. While it led to more donations, we didn’t see enough extra donations to outweigh the “cost” of the lower dollar amount and bring in more overall money. If you’re looking to bring in more low-dollar donations in the hopes of larger-dollar donations in the future, however, this might be a good strategy to try.

We’ve also looked at the effect of changing the lowest dollar amount in your ask block. In July, we tested the the following three askblock structures against each other:

Structure "A"

Structure “A”

Structure "B"

Structure “B”

Structure "C"

Structure “C”

Obviously, we were trying to see whether we could increase the total money we raised by increasing the amount of the bottom link2. The risk of this approach is that you might lose a certain number of donations by setting the lowest ask amount to be a little bit higher3.

We found that the by number of donations, A>B>C, but by overall money raised, C>B>A. The askblock labelled “C”, in fact, raised 21.1% more money than “A” (“B” raised 12.1% more than “A”), even though “A” brought in 15.3% more donations than “C”!

structure_test_graph

The “other amount” Link

A great thing about Express Lane is that users’ donations are processed once they click the link in your email body. However, as much as we try to structure our links perfectly, some donors are always going to want to do their own thing, and that’s okay. Enter the “other amount” link.

An “other amount” link doesn’t process the donation right away, it’s simply a normal ActBlue link that takes the user to your contribution page and allows them to choose a custom donation amount and/or recurring length. This is included as a default in our Express Lane Link Creator tool.

We at ActBlue focus on recurring donation asks because over the long run– and our goal is to be the best technology both today and years into the future– they bring in more money than one-time donation asks, even taking into account imperfect pledge completion rates. So, we worried at first that adding an “other amount” link might draw too many people toward giving one-time donations instead of more valuable recurring donations. But, we also know that it’s important to give people the option to choose their own donation amount, lest they not donate at all. This is why every ActBlue contribution page allows people to easily choose between a one-time donation and a recurring donation.

So we decided to test two things. First, we wanted to know whether the presence of an “other amount” link in our email body would lead to more/fewer donations. Actually, we were almost positive that getting rid of the “other amount” link would be a big loss, but we wanted to run the test anyway. That way, we could confirm this and make sure no one else has to lose money on the test. The result: don’t try this at home. The version which included the “other amount” link brought in 88.3% more money (90.6% more donations) than the version which did not. We’ll accept your thanks in the form of chocolate or wine. Just kidding! Our lawyers won’t allow that.

Second, we’ve performed several tests (and several variations thereof) of whether an “other amount” link which indicated that users could instead give a one-time donation would lead to more/fewer donations than an “other amount” link that made no mention of one-time donations. This matters to us because, as we mentioned, we focus mostly on recurring donation asks, and wanted to see whether we could retain people who would give a one-time donation, but might not know that it was possible.

Typically, an “other amount” link which mentions one-time contributions leads to a statistically significantly higher number of donations, but less overall money raised. While this setup might draw in some people who otherwise wouldn’t have given, it also pulls some would-be recurring donors into giving one-time donations, which bring in less money. This doesn’t mean that such language is a bad thing, but you should consider your fundraiser’s goals and organizational priorities while choosing your link language. If, for example your goal is to increase participation rather than raise as much money as possible, then mentioning one-time donations in your “other link” might be a good idea during a fundraiser focused on recurring donations.

No mention of one-time donations

No mention of one-time donations

With mention of one-time donations

With mention of one-time donations

Style

Stylistic elements of an email can often have a huge impact on your ask, and since Express Lane links are new, the presentation of them hasn’t yet been set in stone. We started sending emails with our Express Lane askblock simply as an HTML <blockquote> element. We wanted the Express Lane askblock to stand out and to be easily identified, though, so we devised a simple design to make it pop. We put our Express Lane askblock in a gray box and center-aligned the text4. It looked like this:

We tested this against our original structure among several different link structures, and the results were pretty interesting. Among link structures with 4 or 5 links (including “other amount”), the gray box boosted the amount of money raised by up to 37.7%.

Subtle Express Lane askblock styling

Subtle Express Lane askblock styling

The obvious concern is that some stylistic elements are really subject to novelty effects, and the initial boost in action rate will decline or disappear altogether in time. We think the gray box may be an exception, though. First, the gray box is pretty subtle, almost to the point of being too dull, so I doubt that it caused the fervor of a “Hey” subject line or manic yellow highlighting. Second, the box serves a legitimate function, i.e., to identify this new set of links that’s now appearing in emails as a single entity that stands out from the email content.

Where to go from here

You’ve seen how some slight changes– the link amounts, the intervals between them, the number of links, etc.– can seriously affect the performance of your Express Lane email ask. Hopefully, you’ve picked up some tips about how to structure your asks, as well as picked up a few ideas for testing that might prove fruitful for your own organization.

As progressive organizers, we all know how important participation and collaboration are. In this light, I encourage you to get in touch with us if you’d like to work together on running a test. Moreover, if you run a test with interesting results, we would love to hear from you so that we can share them with the larger ActBlue community.

Footnotes:

1N.B.: some of this money came from people giving recurring donations from the “other amount” link in our one-time ask.

2There could be an additional effect from having one fewer link in “C”, but our other testing indicates that this isn’t a particularly important factor.

3Think about it as if it’s a variation of the classic revenue maximizing problem, where Revenue = Quantity * Donation Amount. Of course, donors can still choose their amount by clicking the “other” link, but the suggested amounts do indeed impact behavior.

4style="background-color:#ECEDF0; padding:1.0em 1.5em; text-align:center;"

On August 24, the AK-Sen primary was a forgone conclusion. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R), a 1.5 term incumbent–in 2002 her father appointed her to his Senate seat when he won the governorship, the very definition of nepotism–would win her primary battle against Joe Miller and cruise to victory in the general.

By August 25, 2010, the race had completely changed. Murkowski trailed the insurgent Miller by several thousand votes, and a recount looked imminent. There was talk of a libertarian ticket run for Murkowski, and then a write-in campaign. And while the GOP fumbled and fulminated, Scott McAdams, the Democratic nominee, quietly started fundraising. Two weeks later, McAdams has raised over $150k on ActBlue, and is halfway to Sen. Begich's 2008 total. Several members of Sen. Begich's staff have also joined the McAdams campaign, and the Senator told TPM he isn't bashful about helping McAdams raise money.

The point being, infrastructure matters, and it matters most when the calendar is compressed and the difference between victory and defeat lies in how quickly candidates adapt to unexpected events (See: Allen, George). Sen. Begich was considered a long shot to win as late as November 5, 2008–the day after election day–and today he's helping another dark horse make a competitive run at Alaska's other senate seat.

In short, ActBlue performs two crucial functions in the political world. First, we allow candidates to demonstrate their fundraising prowess to the powers-that-be in real time, helping them build legitimacy both inside and outside the Democratic Party.

But arguably more important in a world of 24-hour news cycles, we help candidates "win the morning," as it were. ActBlue enables candidates to capitalize on missteps by their opponents or changes in the political terrain at unmatched speed (Rob Miller's $800k+ "You Lie" haul, a year ago today). We do that by minimizing one of the less-covered aspects of political fundraising: transit time. Getting money from the donor to the campaign takes time, be it direct mail or online fundraising. Then, since political campaigns can rarely get anything on credit, it takes yet more time to pay the media buyers and film the advertisements. Cumulatively, that adds up to a significant delay between the donation and the realization of its political potential.

At ActBlue, we've reduced that delay to almost nothing by wiring major federal campaigns–McAdams among them–their ActBlue money. With ActBlue wires, the money that a campaign raises on ActBlue today is in their bank account and ready to be spent tomorrow. They can translate late money–or any money, for that matter–into media and ground presence almost instantaneously. That leads to more agile campaigns, timely advertisements, and eventually victory. It's another Democratic advantage that the GOP can't replicate, and in today's political climate we can use each and every one.

Guest post by Steve Gold, General Counsel, ActBlue

Commenting in a post on Facebook recently about Target shareholders' demands for a review of the company's political contributions policy, CREDO wrote:

This is really promising. If we can bring BOTH shareholder and consumer pressure on corporations that use their deep pockets to support right wing candidates, there is a chance to limit the damage of corporate influence in elections. And then we can pass a constitutional amendment making it clear that corporations do not have the rights of persons.

This is a great story, and there has been plenty of great work done on this issue, by CREDO as well as MoveOn.org and others. As everyone interested in politics knows by now, Target's contribution to an anti-gay Republican candidate for governor of Minnesota was made possible by the Supreme Court's decision in Citizen's United v. FEC. The Brennan Center in particular has done amazing work on the issue of corporate political speech and warned specifically about the dangers of corporations spending political money without shareholder approval.

CREDO is right on the money when they call for shareholder pressure
on top of the consumer pressure that has been making Target pay the
price for supporting an anti-gay right-wing candidate. There is a
divergence of opinion, however, with regard to the feasibility of
pushing for a constitutional amendment.* Drafting the right
constitutional amendment to address this problem and then getting it
passed in three quarters of the states is a monumental task.

Thankfully, it's not the only tool we have to fight back with.

We–individuals–can
speak out, too, and raise money for candidates and committees that are
speaking out. You raised over $18,000 on ActBlue to help elect Annise Parker the
first openly gay mayor of any U.S. city in 2009. And although the fight
continues, your contributions totaling over $1 million to Equality for
All
were a major factor in the battle for marriage equality in
California, just as they were in Maine and Kalamazoo, MI and
elsewhere. The scale of the fundraising around these issues on ActBlue
made the intangible quantifiable; because of those efforts, there is now
a national conversation taking place about gay rights.

We can do something similar about Target. Reducing Target's effect on elections—if it's possible—would no doubt
improve our democracy. Just as effective (and arguably more satisfying)
would be to make sure the pile of cash they're spending in Minnesota
not only gets them into hot water, but is entirely wasted to boot.
ActBlue makes it possible for every one of us to be a part of that.
Together, our voices are louder than Target's. The attention we've
brought to Target's donation, and a similar donation by News Corp., the
parent company of Fox News, has re-focused attention on Citizens United
and the effects it has on our political system. In short, we've already
beaten them on the airwaves; all that remains is to defeat the
candidates they're propping up.

More speech. More money. The right money. It's an imperfect
system our Founders created for us—as are all human institutions—but as
we at ActBlue have been showing for six years, it's a pretty good system
for fighting back against entrenched interests until we have a more
perfect system. We just have to be willing to use the rules to our
advantage.

*On a personal note, as a longtime CREDO member—from over a decade ago
when it was just Working Assets and they only sold long distance
service—I worry about curtailing the free speech rights of corporations.
CREDO is a corporation, and for years I've been signing their citizen
letters to protect the environment, stop the war, hold Dick Cheney
accountable, and myriad other public policy concerns that matter to me.
It would be a tragedy if the goverment could tell CREDO that it has no
first amendment right to free speech or to petition the government for a
redress of greivances.

Yesterday, Nancy Scola asked whether the Netroots could affect the legislative process, and I pointed out that transparent, online fundraising is critical to, in her words, "[pushing] Democrats out in favor of a progressive priority, and then make
the experience a pleasant one for the senator or representative." On the heels of that conversation comes Brian Beutler's TPMDC piece, How Outside Groups And Vulnerable Dems Gave The Public Option A New Pulse. Read it. The story is aptly summarized by a Senate aide, who said:

I would credit a lot the Netroots and then working with members who
had already been previously supportive, and members who have been in
tough positions for re-election.

According to Beutler's sources, the public option was revived by organizations like the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) and Democracy for America (DfA), in concert with with Sen. Bennet and Sen. Gillibrand, and Reps. Pingree and Polis.

ActBlue has helped knit that diverse coalition together. The PCCC, DfA, and Sens. Gillibrand and Bennet are at the top of ActBlue's hot candidates and committees list, with Bennet banking nearly 1.5M on ActBlue. The PCCC and DfA were #1 and 3 on ActBlue's list of top 10 committees of 2009, separated only by the overnight (literally) success of Rob Miller. Rep. Pingree raised $730,000 on ActBlue for her 2008 election, while Rep. Polis came in at $510,000.

Now, I don't mean to shortchange the tremendous work that PCCC and DfA have done around this issue. But their ability to convince vulnerable legislators to work the inside game has a lot to do with their demonstrated fundraising power. In other words, their persuasive power is rooted in the idea that there is a cash constituency out there for progressive ideas, an idea that ActBlue has helped make clear, time and time again.

On TPM's editor's blog, Josh Marshall mused

Just a couple weeks ago, not only did reform seem pretty much dead but
any thought that a public option would be included in a deal seemed
pretty much crazy. And yet, out of the blue, through a pretty organic
and somewhat fortuitous process, it's back.

I think you have to give ActBlue credit for helping make that process possible.

The 2008 elections offer us a chance to elect a governing Democratic majority and crucial to that task is increasing our numbers in the U.S. Senate. While the number of potential targets for Democrats to challenge incumbent Republicans keeps growing, we can work to limit our own losses- preferably to zero for a second cycle in a row. This past week saw a online fundraising campaign launched towards that very effort.

Enter www.welcomebacktim.com

To celebrate Senator Johnson’s return to the U.S. Senate, his Senate colleagues have united to raise funds for him in a virtual fundraiser to aid his re-election efforts. Launched this week as Sen. Johnson returned back to Washington to rejoin Senate business, Senators Harry Reid, Dick Durbin, Barbara Boxer, Ted Kennedy, Amy Klobuchar, Patrick Leahy, Carl Levin, Bill Nelson, Barack Obama, Jon Tester, and Jim Webb have solicited contributions via e-mail from their separate lists through www.welcomebacktim.com.

What’s really cool is that ActBlue is at the heart of this effort which has raised over $70,000 so far.

If you click through to donate, you’ll see that ActBlue is the engine running to make this effort possible. Each Senator was given a single link with their own unique referral code to direct their donors to and as a result they have each been credited with how much they’ve raised for Sen. Johnson. Since various Senators are sending emails through separate systems, they can take advantage of the flexibility, simplicity, and transparency offered by ActBlue handling the technical component. That takes the most troublesome burden off of the shoulders of any one Senate staff and allows them to focus on refining the content of their message rather than the delivery of it or the processing of funds.

The www.welcomebacktim.com effort is more than just multiple incumbent US Senators coming together to raise funds for a colleague through their own email lists. It’s about a shared community and a shared investment in our success in 2008. It’s about bringing together colleagues in support of one another and bringing together their separate supporters in a common cause that is irrespective of their states. They (and the donors) are invested in making the protection and expansion of the Senate majority a nationalized priority. That benefits all Democrats if we hope to build a governing majority in 2008.

One of the fundraising methods that I have explored before here on the ActBlue Blog is integrating online video into your fundraising appeals. This works best with a pre-existing community with whom you have a relationship, but is by no means the only way in which the medium can be used to leverage an appeal for campaign contributions.

Today, I’d like to promote the work of Hank and John Green who have quite the following on the Internet with their Brotherhood 2.0 website in which John and Hank swore off all textual communication with each other for 2007. Instead, they are making public video blogs back and forth every weekday for the entire year. You can read their FAQ to learn more but to really get a flavor of their style and their devoted community of viewers I’d suggest viewing a few shows.

Below, I’ve provided a condensed 2 minute version of one of the shows where John makes his pitch for their friend Daniel Biss who is running for the 17th State House District in Illinois. It’s quite humorous so watch it below.

Pretty cool right? Here are some things this video ask does right.

 

  1. Present the Problem- John introduces the segment talking about the current state of affairs in Illinois and certain problems that exist which need fixing.
  2. Present a Solution- He then goes on to talk about how supporting Daniel Biss will help solve this problem. Electing him will install someone with progressive values which would improve Illinois.
  3. Be Specific- John focuses on one candidate to support as part of this effort. By narrowing the focus, he’s able to increase the power of his ask. The more direct the solution to the problem, the more effective the fundraising effort will be. (This is not to say that multi-candidate asks are bad- some of them are highly effective- but the slate of candidates must have a specific point of commonality to encourage donors to give to an entire slate.)
  4. Make it Personal- John is asking his own readers to donate as part of a very humorous challenge. There is an existing relationship and a degree of trust built up. Potential donors are more likely to give when asked by someone they know.
  5. Make it a Narrative- Through the week, John followed up on this initial post with this spot and this one where he carried through some of the actions as a result of the number of donors.

This is a perfect case of leveraging existing personal connections to make a fundraising ask and because the medium of communication for the ask (video) is the same medium through which readers are used to being entertained, it’s that much more effective.

By the way, the brothers have raised $3,273 from 213 donors which puts John in the "find a cat, lick it, wax two limbs of your choice, while drinking a throughly blenderized happy meal from McDonald’s category" level.

One of the initiatives we’re most proud to have been part of in 2006 was the Secretary of State Project, which used ActBlue to raise $415,000 for seven Democratic candidates for Secretary of State in 2008 presidential battlegrounds.

sos_homepage
The result: Democratic victories in Ohio, Minnesota, New Mexico, Nevada, and Iowa, and with them hope for fair 2008 presidential elections in these states.  (One of the project’s common refrains was “No more Ken Blackwells!”)

The Secretary of State Project is a great example of how you can use ActBlue to bring national attention to local candidates.
Normally, raising money for a down-ballot candidate in another state is
a hard sell.  But by simultaneously fundraising for candidates across
the country around a related theme, you create a national cause whose
importance will be readily apparent to your prospective donors.

The SoS project is also a great case study because it
exemplifies one of the most important concepts for using ActBlue effectively:

Make a single, simple pitch

In any fundraising situation, it’s important to keep your pitch simple:
you need one overarching, compelling reason why the person you’re
asking should support your cause.  If you’re just fundraising for a
single campaign this is comparatively straightforward, but when you’re
fundraising for multiple campaigns at once it’s all too easy to fall
into the trap of just talking about each of the different candidates as
if they were unrelated (other than your belief that they are each
worthy of support).
In the case of the SoS project, their pitch was simple: “Support
Secretaries of State in 2006 who will protect voter rights in 2008″.
This one statement made the argument for supporting all of the
candidates all at once.  Of course they had details about each
candidate on the SoS project home page (the big banner at the top rotates through each of the candidates) and also on the main SoS ActBlue page) but think of this as “supporting evidence” that these are actually good folks rather than the main argument.

So what does this mean in practice for your own fundraising effort on ActBlue?

Read More

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 44 other followers