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Our mission is to increase participation and transparency in the fundraising process, and we work hard to make sure our features match that goal. No matter how you measure it–3,000,000 donors, more than a quarter billion dollars sent to Democrats–it’s been a success. Here’s one example:

A while back we noticed that mobile web traffic was exploding, so we built a mobile donation form that would make it easy for people to donate with their phone. We also realized that data entry, already a pain on a regular computer, would be even more difficult on a phone. Long story short, we made our mobile form play nice with ActBlue Express, a feature that allows donors to create a profile so they don’t have to retype their info every time they want to give.

The combination proved extremely potent. Today, there are hundreds of thousands of users with an ActBlue Express account, and the mobile conversion rate has grown steadily. ActBlue is hardly the only political entity out there with a quick donate option or a mobile form. But we’re different in one important respect: we provide these tools to every campaign that accepts donations through our site. They’re available to you whether you’re a state senator or a federal candidate, whether you’re a donor who gives $25 or $2,500.

Why does that matter? If you follow politics, you’ve probably seen something about Democratic discomfort with the Citizens United decision. As Republican SuperPACs ramp up for 2012, Democratic campaigns are worried that they won’t be able to keep up with the Adelsons. Donors, meanwhile, are concerned about entrenching a system they dislike. ActBlue is a way out of that dilemma. Candidates don’t have to put themselves at a competitive disadvantage vis a vis Republicans. Donors can give quickly and easily, without embracing GOP tactics.

By taking a settled piece of campaign finance–the ability of individuals to support campaigns–and updating it for the digital age, we’ve massively increased participation and transparency in fundraising. Oh, and sent nearly $100,000,000 to Democrats this cycle.

That’s what we’re here to do.

Sam Stein of the Huffington Post has a well-reported item up on mobile giving and campaigns. The takeaway is that everyone knows mobile giving is the next big thing but the actual "how" of the process as it relates to political donations is still unclear. As I've mentioned before, what we're dealing with is fundamentally an infrastructure problem. Amazon's one-click model works for two reasons: you can buy almost anything on Amazon and people are now broadly comfortable with the idea of purchasing things on the internet (in no small part due to Amazon's work in that area).

In the political world, neither of those conditions hold. For starters, the environment is far more fractured, with most candidates pursuing a la carte solutions. If you take a random sample of 25 campaigns, you'll find ten different vendors are responsible for processing donations, each with a particular set of technical constraints that means they can't play nice with one another. That means that each campaign would have to set up their own mobile donation platform, which in turn would require donors to create a mobile profile for each and every candidate they want to give to. Surprisingly, most people aren't up for that. 

Second, online political donations are a fairly new phenomenon and people's comfort zones are still adjusting. A few years ago, an online fundraising program was an optional part of your campaign plan. Today, it's essential. That change happened very fast, and it's why we regularly receive calls from folks who want to give to a candidate but aren't comfortable doing so over the internet. That's not unusual in circumstances like these. In 1998, Newsweek ran an editorial questioning whether anyone would ever buy books–much less other things–using internet retailers like Amazon. Today, the questions are somewhat different: will Amazon kill off book publishers, for example.

The reason ActBlue Express has succeeded relative to many other approaches to mobile giving is that we provide the same clearinghouse advantages that Amazon enjoys. You can create a single profile and give to every Democrat listed on our site (which is to say: almost every Democrat). Instead of campaigns pursuing endlessly duplicative infrastructure and trying to lure donors to this website or that website, they can come to a single place and connect with a pre-existing community of users. Crucially, the fact that these users have ActBlue Express accounts means they're donors and they have a pretty high level of engagement with politics. 

The fact that we've been around for a while and people know and trust us doesn't hurt either.

But the single greatest advantage we enjoy in here is the fact that we're a political committee, not a business. That means we can innovate in ways that for-profit vendors can't match. Simply put, they have to look after their bottom line. Because margins in this business are thin, if something isn't going to be immediately profitable it tends to land on the back burner. At ActBlue, we're able to get out in front of things like mobile giving because we're not as constrained in that regard. Our constituency of interest is our userbase, not our shareholders. If we can provide value to our users, that's the metric we're interested in.

ActBlue Express is simply one expression of that core tenet. 

As ActBlue has grown over the past seven years, one of the challenges that we have gladly faced is too much demand. Not to pat ourselves on the back too much, but we think we've met this demand pretty well: we've sent money to every state in the country, plus DC and the Marianas Islands. In addition to the federal and state races that we're known for, we regularly get inquiries for every local office imaginable,* including such tiny offices as Clerk of the Court in Charlottesville, VA and Chester County, PA Recorder of Deeds.

I have to admit, these inquiries make my day. Municipal officials are the Democratic bench – countless well-known Democrats started off as city councilors and county commissioners – and they make a real difference in bringing Democratic values to public policy. However, until 2009, we were unable to offer our services to any of them. 

While that may seem crazy (after all, most mayoral races are bigger than state legislative races), it actually gets into the guts of why ActBlue is so different from any other political technology out there. In order for our model as a nonprofit PAC to work, we had to do legal gruntwork in every single state we are active in to make sure we were doing everything by the book. We were founded in 2004 with the goal of helping federal candidates, and by 2008 we were active in all 50 states. No other PAC has been able to function effectively in so many states, and it took a lot of work to do so. 

In 2009, then, we got to start that whole process over for every local jurisdiction we wanted to help. Just like they did with each state, our legal team has to vet every new town, city, or county that we want to offer ActBlue's services in. We started off with six municipalities: Boston, San Francisco, Charlotte, Cleveland, Houston, and Cook County (IL), and by the end of 2009, 21 candidates (including Houston Mayor-elect Annise Parker) had raised over $160,000. Not too shabby, especially given the limited number of candidates running, and more than enough to convince us to continue expanding. 

Since then, we've more than quadrupled the size of our local races project. We are now active in over 40 municipalities nationwide**, easily outpacing our rate of expansion to the various states. Over 90 candidates and committees have raised over $1.2 million, including the mayors of Charlotte, Philadelphia, Houston, and Oakland, and we're still expanding to new cities every month.

In the short run, this means more Democrats can take advantage of our tools for online small-dollar fundraising, which means more elected officials who listen to their constituents and grassroots supporters instead of donors who can buy a seat at the table. In the long run, however, this means something much bigger. By helping this generation of the Democratic bench to realize the power of grassroots fundraising, we will ensure that the next generation of Democratic Representatives, Senators, and Governors do the same. That's the big picture, and that's why we're investing in the next Charlottesville Clerk of the Court now. 

*Not actually including dogcatcher.

** Full list: 
Every city and county in Virginia; Arapahoe County, CO; Austin; Ayer, MA; Boston; Baltimore; Cambridge; Charlotte; Chicago; Cleveland; Columbus, OH; Cook County, IL; Cottage Grove, MN; Dallas; Denver; El Paso County, CO; Franklin County, OH; Houston; Indianapolis and Marion County, IN; Island County, WA; Jacksonville; Jefferson County, CO; King County, WA; Los Angeles; Madison, WI; Malden, MA; Medfield, MA; Memphis; Miami-Dade County, FL; New Bedford, MA; Newton, MA; Oakland; Philadelphia; Phoenix; Pittsburgh; Portland, OR; San Francisco; Scituate, MA; Somerville, MA; Southbridge, MA; Waltham, MA; Washington, DC; Yonkers, NY. If you want us to include your city or town, email us at info@actblue.com.

 

Earlier this year, ActBlue unveiled ActBlue mobile, our interface for those of you who access the web via smartphone. Since then, we've had ample time to take a look at growth patterns and problems with mobile giving.

In my initial post, I talked about ActBlue Mobile as a way to meet donors where they are. That's becoming more and more the case. In May 2010, mobile users made up 2.6% of ActBlue visits. By October 2010, less than half a year later, they'd risen to 5.6%, a 72% increase. Moreover, overall mobile web usage is skyrocketing: according to Cisco Systems, mobile data traffic will double every year between now and 2014. That's a natural outcome of device convergence. It doesn't make sense to buy dedicated devices like a computer and internet connection (~$200+, and monthly fees, plus portability issues for desktops) a cellular phone (~$40+, plus monthly charges or prepaid minutes), and a digital camera (~$100+) when you can get all three of those functions in a $200 smartphone.

(Fun fact: there was more mobile data traffic in 2010 (.pdf, p.2) than there was on the entire internet in 2002 [See p.2].)

In other words, mobile web is accessible–and will become increasingly accessible–to a far broader pool of people. That dovetails nicely with ActBlue's mission of making it easier for people to participate in the Democratic fundraising process. Folks who don't have access to a computer or aren't comfortable making a donation from their work computer will have a way to make their voice heard in the political process.

However, to enable that to happen we need to play nice with mobile web browsers. As our pool of mobile users grew, we noticed that they tended to convert (jargon: not just visit, but actually make a donation) at a far lower rate than non-mobile visitors. The solution was to optimize our donation form for mobile access, making it more intuitive and easier for mobile users to navigate.

That simple fix led to a 160% increase in the conversion rate. That's crucial because as more and more people get smartphones, more and more people will be check their email on their phones. And, since email fundraising is still the gold standard in online politics, and a 160% increase in the conversion rate for mobile users is nothing to sniff at.

There's more to do in this area, and we're hard at work on it. It's just another way we're keeping Democrats ahead of the curve.

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.

As I’ve said before, Facebook and ActBlue have more in common than a shared love of compound words; we’ve both created a space for people to make their passions known. At ActBlue, that means creating an easy way for Americans to participate meaningfully in Democratic politics wherever they may be, and whatever their time constraints. Given that mission, Facebook–with a user community measured in the hundreds of millions–has always been a natural place for us to be.

In February, we built an integration that allows donors to post their donations to their Facebook wall. That was just a first step. Today, we allow donors and campaigns to place a donate tab on their Facebook profiles and fan pages. In doing so, we’ve created another way for Democratic donors to translate their passion into (political) currency, and activate personal networks that candidates could never hope to reach. And we let everybody use it. For free.

ActBlue is the largest source of funds for Democrats, and that inclusiveness is the reason why. When we innovate, every Democrat benefits.

But fundraising is a means, not an end, and the logic behind this integration isn’t just about driving more money to Democratic candidates and committees. It’s about driving Democratic (and democratic) participation. It’s about teaching donors that they don’t have to be bankers or billionaires to have an impact on our political future, and about demonstrating to politicians and the press that those donors can deliver.

In other words, ActBlue is doing for our political lives what Facebook has done for our social lives. We’re working towards a future where political giving is as easy as sharing a link, or reconnecting with an old friend. The $140 million that ActBlue has sent to over 6,000 Democratic candidates and committees speaks to the power of that vision.

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ActBlue and Facebook have more in common than a shared love of compound words: we’ve both created a space for people to make their passions known. With that in mind, it seemed only natural that ActBlue should have a Facebook page.

So take a minute of your Friday afternoon to become a fan of ActBlue on Facebook, and, of course, tell your friends!

We know that you have a lot on your plate, so the ActBlue Facebook page will be the place to read our blog entries and find out about the latest ActBlue news. It has a handy link to our Twitter feed, so you can find out what’s happening in real time.

You’ll also notice a new feature on your ActBlue contribution forms. Effective immediately, you’ll be able to share your donation on Facebook and Twitter. After you donate, just click on the appropriate button (see example below) and you can share your donation with your friends and followers.


ActBlue will automatically generate a wall post or tweet, which you can edit as normal. Furthermore, if you gave through a fundraising page with a thermometer, that thermometer will be appended to your wall post and your friends can join your fundraising effort with a single click:

Just a quick note, since I’m at the Personal Democracy Forum conference today and tomorrow.

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Friday evening, we released new software that connects our fundraising platform with Twitter.  We started with our popular ActBlue Express that allows contributors to save a profile, make contributions to candidates or fundraising pages with just a few clicks, and review their full giving history.  What’s new is connecting that profile to Twitter: now allowing donors to give by just tweeting the candidate’s Twitter screen name and an amount.  We’ll respond with a thank you note and you’ll see the usual email receipt in your inbox.
Lots of candidates have a strong Twitter presence, of course, so this is just another case of ActBlue’s search for how we can best help campaigns and their supporters make deeper connections.  We love how the contribution message serves not just as an instruction to our system, but a built in promotion of the candidate and a public celebration of contributing to the Democratic movement.
We’ve just started loading in campaigns and organizations, so if your campaign uses Twitter, please drop us a line at info@actblue.com and we’ll get you set up right away.
Full details at our Twitter page.  If you use Twitter, try it out this week and us know what you think!

Let me do a little introductory dance here. I’m Adrian, and I work at ActBlue as our Deputy Communications Director. I’ve been a Kos reader for years, but this is my first trip to the big leagues, so to speak. Anyway, let’s get to it: we’re all familiar with what ActBlue can do during election years, I wanted to talk a little bit about what we can do together when it’s an off year.

As you’re all aware, there are a number of tumultuous issues roiling Washington D.C. these days: torture, confirmation battles present and future, and a high-profile party switch, to name just a few. ActBlue allows you to construct a visible narrative of support for the politicians who represent your views, months and even years before an election. Money talks, and the circular handshake of financial support and media attention is how political fortunes are made and broken. You can play a role in that process by supporting politicians who take positions you like, even when it’s not an election year. So how do you construct that narrative?

Well, you’d better believe that the next election is very much on the candidate’s mind, and a concerted fundraising push in response to a particular statement or position sends a message to the campaign that there’s a real support base out there. That encourages them to stick to their guns and adopt similar positions in the future. If you sustain that push via repeat giving or recurring donations, the media attention those numbers garner will amplify your influence.

In the weeks to come, I’m going to be posting entries about the issues of the day and how you can use ActBlue to influence them. And, just in case you don’t believe you can influence politics this way, I’ve included a step-by-step timeline of how your donations forced the NRCC out of the MN-06 race last year and brought the DCCC in, all over the course of a weekend!

Friday October 17th, 2008: Michelle Bachmann decided to channel McCarthy on Hardball. Prior to her comments, El Tinklenberg had raised $2k on ActBlue. Afterwards, the dam broke and as much as $200/minute came pouring through ActBlue.

Saturday October 18th, 2008: The firestorm ignited by Bachmann’s comments continued to grow, producing 120k for Tinklenberg on ActBlue. By late afternoon, Politico had picked up the story, bringing it to a national audience. The hits kept coming with a UPI wire report at 8PM. By 9PM, Tinklenberg’s ActBlue haul stood at $230k and growing.

Sunday October 19th, 2008: By the end of the day, Tinklenberg had brought in $270k through ActBlue, and had planned a major advertising blitz. The Minneapolis Star Tribune, the largest regional paper in the area, had also picked up the story, bringing it to households throughout the district.

Monday October 20th, 2008: In the morning, the DCCC announced that it would jump into the race and run $1mil worth of ads against Bachmann. Later that night, the beleaguered Republican discovered that she had a write-in GOP opponent. Tinklenberg’s end-of-day ActBlue tally stood at $300k.

Over the next couple of days, the NRCC pulled out of MN-06, and Survey USA put out a poll showing Tinklenberg leading Bachmann 47% to 44%. Tinklenberg’s final ActBlue number: 8000 donations amounting to $313k, all over the space of a weekend.

Now, regardless of the ultimate outcome of that race, it was a triumph of broad-based Democratic fundraising. The quick response from outraged Democrats drove a days-long news story and pulled in the major national committee. And all of this while a historic presidential campaign was sucking up a lot of the bandwith and money out there. Underlying all of that was ActBlue’s flexible and responsive technology, which enabled people to open up a new tab in their browser and make their opinion known, not just in Minnesota, but across the country.

Stay tuned over the next few weeks as I take a look at the contentious issues in Washington, and outline ways to use ActBlue to influence them. As always, feel free to drop us an email with any questions. I can promise you that real humans (myself included!) read every email.

You asked for it.

Choose a goal.  Embed your thermometer anywhere.  Make your pitch and watch the mercury rise!

Any fundraising page on ActBlue now has the opportunity to have a goal and an auto-updating thermometer.  Embed it in your diary, in the comments of an open thread, on your blog or in an email.  You can put your thermometer anywhere you can hotlink an image.

Here is how it works:

1. Click "Goal" in the admin tab of your fundraising page

2. Choose whether you would like to shoot for a certain number of donors, or a certain amount of money

3. Click "Save"

4. Use the code to embed your thermometer anywhere.  It is already on your fundraising page.

Don’t have a fundraising page?

Time to get one!  First, think of a candidate you admire.  Don’t worry if you can’t pick just one, having multiple candidates on a single fundraising page is a specialty of ActBlue.  Search for your first candidate in our directory:

http://actblue.com/directory

Once you find your candidate, click on the "Fundraise" button to the right of the candidate’s photo.  If you have an ActBlue login, you can use it here.  If you don’t have a user account, just create one now.

Then, just fill out information for your fundraising page.  Make your pitch and explain why your candidate deserves your friend’s hard-earned dollars.  Click over to the "Goal" tab and get a thermometer or look at the "Add" tab to select more candidates for your page.

Goal ThermometerOnce you have created your page there are two more steps to your chosen candidate’s success.

1. Donate on your page.  It is hard to ask other people to donate to your favorite candidates if you haven’t already.  We all can afford at least $5 for our favorite candidate.

2. Ask your friends, relatives, neighbors and coworkers to donate to your chosen cause.  While this might seem daunting, these people care about you and are interested in your passion.  By making the first donation, they’ll know you are serious about helping your candidate win.

As always, feel free to shoot any questions about Thermometers or ActBlue in general my way.  I’ll be here in the comments, and my email is nate@actblue.com

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