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We noticed something curious this week. Mitch McConnell sent an email this week that looked just like an Express Lane email, complete with “Express donate” links denoting specific amounts. And then another strange thing happened…Steve King did the same thing. Check them out:

When we stopped laughing we wrote this nice little note to them:

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Dear Mitch & Steve,

We’re flattered, really, that you want to use our tools in your emails. Mitch — you’re trying to run a “presidential level campaign,” and our tools are the best in the business, after all. And Steve, you’re looking to increase your national name recognition.

And we know you’re learning first hand in Kentucky and Iowa what an empowered small dollar donor base supporting an amazing Democratic candidate means.

So we get it. You’re jealous. But no, you can’t just try and steal or copy what we’ve built this last decade at ActBlue. Frankly, it’s impossible.

That’s because the most powerful thing about ActBlue is the nearly million strong community of committed Express donors. Without that community, those links you used are just links, not money makers, not flashy technology, and no use to you.

Imitations, however pale, are still flattering, so thanks. But you’re doing it wrong.

Best,

ActBlue

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Hilariously, if you clicked on any of Steve or Mitch’s links, they took you to a contribution form for just that amount, which is a recipe for a lot of lost money. It’s not just that they tried to copy us, it’s that they did it so badly. And they completely missed the point of why so many candidates and organizations around the country are asking people to give specific amounts right in the email.

There are over 950,000 ActBlue Express users that have saved their credit cards with us. With just one click, Express donors are powering campaigns and organizations. These days, 62% of all donations made through ActBlue are from people giving with an Express account!! That means more contributions and more funds because the less information people have to enter in, the more likely they are to give.

Mitch and Steve thought they could get that from just copying the style of Express Lane emails. Yeah, no.

First, try investing a decade in building a base of grassroots donors (unfortunately that means getting your party to actually care about people besides the Koch brothers), and then maybe your copy and paste efforts will be effective.

BTW we tested a version of this letter as a fundraising email to our list. It was a classic case of “you are not your list.” It was an email our staff really loved and had fun crafting, but our list didn’t respond as well to it as more traditional email talking about the momentum Democrats are gaining across the country. It’s not surprising, but it is a bit sad for us email writing nerds. And it’s a good reminder why it’s so important to test email copy.

We’ll forgive you for not noticing that anything big was happening (after all, your contribution forms loaded faster than ever), but this relatively calm February was the 10th biggest month in ActBlue history. What’s even bigger is the fact that this was the only month in the top 10 that wasn’t at the end of a quarter or during the fall of an election season. If a random February can make ActBlue history, we can’t wait to see what’s in store for 2014.

Our last day of the month was our biggest as usual. We helped bring in $1.38 million dollars on February 28th. That was our second biggest day between any election day and June 30th of the next year. And if February’s $10.2 million fundraising total (double our February ‘12 total of $5 million!) is any indication, it will be a very busy March indeed.

Check out the numbers below:

  Feb ’11 Feb ’12 Feb ’13 Feb ’14
Contributions 34,496 110,323 162,791 259,464
Volume ($) $2,228,051.55 $5,076,973.20 $5,661,971.23 $10,263,484.93
Mean Donation $64.59 $46.02 $34.78 $39.56
Committees 561 1,340 801 1,684


We had a quarter of a million contributions in February, more than double the number of contributions we saw in February 2012. Our average contribution size dropped from $46.02 in February ‘12 to $39.56 in February ‘14. That means that we’re scaling and even increasing participation from small-dollar donors as our candidates and organizations raise more money.

February’s fundraising was boosted by a few factors. The competitive special election race in Florida’s 13th District (Go Alex Sink!) and the rise of the Koch brothers as a foil to grassroots funded campaigns made fundraising appeals more urgent. But the biggest driver of growth was the sheer number of campaigns and organizations raising money early. We sent checks to 1,684 different candidates, committees, and organizations, which is up 26% from February ‘12. We also had 242 new committees sign up to fundraise on our site last month, which only means bigger fundraising totals and more donors to come.

On February 28th, we came in to the office and saw we’d raised over 200k already, which mostly came from the monthly contributions scheduled for the end of the month. 7.9% of all donations sitewide were recurring donations, compared with 5.91% in February ‘13. The number of recurring donors has grown substantially over the years, and we couldn’t be happier because recurring money helps campaigns and organizations make realistic plans for the future. Recurring donors also give more money over time than one-time donors, which means that recurring donors can be incredibly important to a group’s success.

It wouldn’t be a monthly numbers blog post if we didn’t remind you all just how important mobile donations have become. They accounted for 19.2% of all traffic sitewide for the month and 22.6% of all traffic on the last day of the month. Additionally, 23% of all Express contributions were made via mobile.

If you missed our recent Express blog post, we’ll catch you up on why Express users are so important. We’ve got over three quarters of a million Express users who give to an average of 2.57 entities. In addition, 40% of all unique donors on ActBlue (since we started back in 2004!) have signed up for Express accounts. If someone has made a donation via ActBlue, there’s a good chance they’ve saved their payment information with us. That translates to a streamlined experience for donors and more money for campaigns and organizations.

The fact that we’ve been doubling our 2012 totals this year (and our internal goals!) indicates that 2014 will be one heck of an election year. And when you think about the fact that we brought in $35 million in October ‘12, it becomes clear just how big 2014 will be. Since then, online fundraising has grown rapidly, and we’re already working on scaling our tools to handle the huge growth spurt we’re seeing. Will we see a $100 million month? It’s not out of the question. But no matter what our volume numbers are in October ‘14, we’ll be ready.

Hopefully, those of you who made it to NN12 are rested and recovered a week later. If you managed to swing by the ActBlue booth and pick up a sticker or bottle opener, so much the better. 

It's an important conference for ActBlue, because it allows us to connect with the people who make this engine run. This year, the conference was dominated by talk about Citizens United and all the undisclosed cash that decision has allowed into our political system. With that discussion in mind, it was nice to see all the regular folks who thanked us for doing what we do. 

We should be thanking you. We built ActBlue, but you make it hum. Without the voices and donations of ordinary Americans flowing through ActBlue, there'd be no counterweight to the undisclosed corporate cash flooding our elections–and make no mistake, that would be just fine with them.

So thanks for your support, your generosity, and your passion. For those who couldn't make it, we hope to see you next year. 

Last week, much of the ActBlue office packed our bags and headed to Minneapolis for Netroots Nation 2011 for an opportunity to mingle with our users and fans–thanks to all of you who dropped by our booth for your kind words.

Reflecting on the conference, a number of press figures referred to the atmosphere as "dispirited," or other adjectives amounting to roughly the same thing. I attended panels on campaign finance, the courts, and Afghanistan, and what I saw in those panels was the maturing of a movement. Though the 2010 elections largely obliterated the giddiness of '06-'08, it also gave Democrats a sense of the breadth of the field they need to play on.

Republicans are pushing their agenda at every level: in the states, through the courts, and in Congress. The progressives gathered at Netroots Nation were focused on how they could impact issues that are decided far from the federal battlefields they won in '06 and '08, like campaign finance regulations, court appointments, state laws and national security decisions.

In that sense, "energy" is a really poor gauge of how successful the conference was. Any large, long-term project isn't going to be amenable to the sort of triumphalism and buzz that is the pulse of politics as measured by the media. I'd urge people to look instead at markers of success like the Progressive Change Campaign Committee's $3 million raised from 190,000 donors on ActBlue. As POLITICO notes, they are "loaded for battle," a remarkable feat of grassroots fundraising for a group that didn't exist in 2008. Moreover, the PCCC has elected to play a broad role, engaging in federal primaries and working hard to support the recall efforts in Wisconsin. 

The PCCC's combination of talented organizing and effective fundraising through ActBlue means they can engage people and issues that wouldn't get attention otherwise and bring them to the forefront of politics. Progressives looking to do the same in other areas might want to take a cue from them. 

It's worth noting that the RightOnline Convention, in contrast, featured plenty of energy–a firebreathing speech from Michelle Bachmann, a little lighthearted Obama minstrelsy, and an invasion of NN11 by Andrew Breitbart–but the underlying reality was rather grim:

“We’re trying to compete with ActBlue but they’re way, way ahead of us. We’re playing catch-up,” said John Hawkins of Right Wing News. “Their panels are for advanced activism. This is basic, for getting into activism.” A sign in the hallway of RightOnline advertised “proven technology used by millions of Democrats.”

Indeed.

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We walk a fine editorial line here on the blog. As a good faith partner to Democrats of various ideological orientations, ActBlue doesn’t endorse candidates or committees. At the same time, we always enjoy it when a group or candidate uses our tools well. In that vein, I want to highlight the tremendous accomplishments of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) over the past two years.

Founded in 2009, the PCCC is a recent entrant to the world of progressive political organizations–MoveOn.org dates back to 1998, while Democracy for America grew out of Howard Dean’s 2004 campaign. Newcomer status aside, the PCCC has accomplished some pretty remarkable feats on ActBlue. Their total of 100,000 supporters easily doubles the mark set by some of our most successful campaigns. Equally impressive is their average donation figure, which comes in just under $20. Those figures came about as part of a broad involvement with progressive issues that encompassed everything from Bill Halter’s primary challenge in Arkansas to activism around the public option in the healthcare bill.

ActBlue’s raison d’etre revolves around the idea of d/Democratizing power. We created these tools to put consequential political action at the fingertips–literally–of anyone with access to the internet. And while we’ve produced $174 million for Democrats in six years, our goals are broader than that. In 2004, our hunch was that increasing access to and participation in the political fundraising process would have a number of salutary effects on our political system. Broader access makes it easier for candidates and organizations to build their own fundraising networks, allowing new voices to emerge. Increased participation means that political giving is seen as a form of democratic participation rather than a corrupting influence. Taken together, those ripple effects restore our faith in the underlying promise of democratic politics: everybody gets a say.

That’s why the PCCC is such a valuable test case for us. Their rapid emergence combines real political results and a dedication to a model of fundraising that both promotes broad engagement with Democratic politics and puts that engagement within reach of almost everyone. Aggregating those totals on ActBlue makes it easy for their donors to see that they’re a part of something much larger and more powerful than their $20 donation.

You don’t have to take my word for it, though. Here’s Adam Green, one of the founders of the PCCC, on the role ActBlue played in getting the PCCC off the ground:

At a time when we had pretty much no resources, ActBlue lowered the barrier for entry for us into the online fundraising marketplace allowing us to … not have to deal with the legal obstacles and technical obstacles and quickly accumulate a grassroots fundraising base … it’s valuable piece of progressive infrastructure. It allows groups like ours to get off the ground. We’re still using it today and I can’t say thanks enough to those who had the vision to come up with this concept.

Patrick Ruffini, a Republican consultant, recently diagnosed the ills that plague mobile giving:

it can be pretty frustrating watching these solutions get tripped up in the bureaucratic thicket of the FEC, or the closed ecosystem of the wireless carriers — with all the architectural limits they carry that the free Internet does not.

He argues that the point-of-sale constraint of Square, SMS payment limits, and FEC disclosure requirements are the major obstacles to mobile giving. Here's the problem: simplicity and ease of use are important, but the real limit Ruffini is bumping up against–by his own admission–is the lack of scalable infrastructure on the right. That lack forces Ruffini into awkward spaces, like calling for mobile operating systems to update their OS, or the creation of new apps to facilitate political giving. It's not that these are impossible, or not worth doing, but that their value is unknown relative to the costs they impose on developers and carriers.

Fortunately, over here we've got that problem solved.

Want to collect donations in real time? Text or email your audience with a link to an ActBlue page. And, unlike asking people to download apps, collecting email/phone information at political events is pretty commonplace, as are email solicitations. Checking mail is a core functionality of almost any mobile data device, be it smartphone, iPad or laptop. Devices will proliferate, change and converge, but email will almost certainly remain. The ubiquitous nature of email means people don't have to leave their comfort zone to give, provided you offer them a simple way to do so. And, because we've already borne the costs and seen the results of our innovation, we're in a better position to negotiate the sort of partnerships that Ruffini outlines.

In short, ActBlue didn't need to build, "something that can create a reality distortion field" (Orwellian!) to produce $174+ million for Democrats. We took a means that already existed (email/websites) and made it easy for people to apply it to a new space (political fundraising), while building in the flexibility that would allow it to grow and improve with changing circumstances (not easy!). As a result, ActBlue is now both an invaluable source of funds and a giant proving ground for candidates and best fundraising practices.

Finally, an insidery point: Ruffini is a consultant who necessarily makes his living by selling his insights and strategies. ActBlue is something fundamentally different. Because we're a political nonprofit that makes our tools available for free to all Democrats, we're creating of economies of scale that don't exist on the right. When we innovate, thousands of Democratic campaigns, consultants and committees benefit, and they don't have to pay a cent. I imagine Ruffini's innovations carry a far higher pricetag–man's got to eat–which hinders their adoption.

ActBlue has two core missions: increasing the number of people who donate to Democrats, and increasing the number of Democrats they can reach with that money. While it's become increasing common to cite a given candidate's ActBlue numbers–a fact we're very proud of–that tendency ignores what, in some ways, is the more important number: this cycle, 3,701 Democratic committees received ActBlue checks. Cut out a few hundred federal races, a handful of special elections, and a bunch of primary candidates who never made it to the general and you're still going to be several thousand committees short of that total. The remainder are state and local candidates and party committees, and a few ballot initiatives.

I want to single out ballot initiatives, because they're an area where the transparency and flexibility of ActBlue really matters. Ballot initiatives are often worded in a way that appeals to voter sensibilities at the broadest level and obscures their true impact. Take California's Proposition 23, which proposed to roll back a clean air bill from 2006 until unemployment dropped below 5.5% for 4 straight financial quarters. This is the usual–and overwhelmingly Republican–case for broad deregulation: it allows businesses to flourish, leading to more jobs. California's unemployment rate is 12%, so it seems like it could be worth a shot.

The problem is that almost every piece of available evidence tells us that Proposition 23 would've been a bad idea. Financial deregulation helped create the crisis that's responsible for California's unemployment rate. Failure to regulate energy companies effectively led to the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico. Proposition 23, which was initially funded by a couple of major Texas oil companies, would've gutted California's clean energy industry, one of the fastest growing sectors of the state economy. Moreover, California's unemployment rate has only been below 5.5% for four quarters three times since 1976. The sunset provision was mostly a joke.

The problem is that it's hard to get that information to the voters. It takes time, money, and effective organizing. That's where CREDO Mobile comes in. They set up an ActBlue listing to process donations so that the No on 23 campaign would have the money they needed to get the message out. More importantly, CREDO and ActBlue gave people who couldn't make it to the ballot box the same voice that the Texas oil companies who funded the other side had. Freedom of speech–in the Citizens United sense–and the ability to advocate for your preferred position on an issue shouldn't be the sole province of major corporations.

That's the power that ActBlue represents: the opportunity for concerned citizens, organizers like CREDO, and political campaigns to come together in one place and express their opinions in dollars and cents. If we limited our scope, we'd be denying those people a voice in our politics that they surely deserve.

Certificate

It's been a couple of very busy weeks at ActBlue, but I wanted to take a moment to thank our friends at Roots Camp 2010 for awarding us the Most Valuable Technology certificate. The nomination and award were as welcome as they were unexpected. For our part, we're not planning to rest on our multicolored laurels–in 2010, we plan to earn the title of MVT several times over.

If you're a campaign, the real-time numbers and transparency ActBlue provides are things you should embrace.

ActBlue helps your fundraising momentum get noticed as it happens, rather than months later. In September, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) yelled "you lie" at President Obama. 48 hours later his Democratic opponent, Rob Miller, had racked up $1,000,000 on ActBlue. The first $100,000 came in overnight, and the rest poured in over the next 36 hours. For an entire day, Rob Miller was getting $7 a second through ActBlue.

That surge happened because reporters could see it happening in real time. The press coverage–Bloomberg, CNN, Politico–pushed the story out to an even wider audience, and the money kept pouring in. As a result, a race that was off the radar is now the focus of national attention. That's what ActBlue can do for you. You can't control when your opponent will make a mistake, but ActBlue ensures that you won't leave any money lying on the table when they do.

ActBlue isn't just about capitalizing on major fundraising events. It can also help you build a stable base of grassroots support and increase the size of your email list. That means when your opponent messes up, you'll have someone to tell.

When grassroots donors give, they're looking to connect with your campaign, to play a part in something larger than their $15, $20 or $50 contribution. When they give through ActBlue, their contribution is recorded and added to your total in real time. They can see how many other people are a part of this effort, and broadcast your momentum through their own social network using Facebook and Twitter. Using our recurring donation system, you can build a war chest and network of supporters months, even years before an election.

In other words, ActBlue means more donors, a bigger list, and more money

Without ActBlue, when the donor contributes that money disappears into your payment processing apparatus and doesn't see the light of day until months later, when it gets written up in an article about campaign finance that they won't read. They don't feel like they've made a difference, and they're less likely to give again.

That is–quite literally–a mistake you can't afford to make.

"I believe candidates with strong, sound stances deserve our support, and this is a race where your dollars can make the difference. Please make a contribution to this critical cause."

Sound familiar? If you have any experience with our fundraising pages you will have seen this (and perhaps fallen asleep to it) a few too many times. It is the default text for ActBlue's fundraising pages. ActBlue's customizable fundraising pages allow progressive activists to raise money for the best Democratic candidates out there easily and effectively, and the fifty state blog network has taken advantage of this feature to support state and national candidates with customized, targeted pages. But while the original blurb did help Democrats use our pages, we're in year 5 of ActBlue, and this is definitely year 3-4 material. We'll be working with thousands of new fundraisers this cycle, and we want to make sure they have the best language. And, well, this isn't it.

So, we need ideas.

We know you're best equipped to know what language will appeal to your friends and neighbors, so we wanted to give all of you an opportunity to create the next fundraising page blurb. If we pick yours, it will show up automatically on almost every fundraising page created on ActBlue. To show our appreciation, we'll send the winner and two runners-up an ActBlue Ice Cream Scoop! (No, we're not kidding. And trust us, it's a high quality scoop – The Original Zeroll.)
Okay, here are the guidelines:

  1. The blurb must be fewer than 50 words.
  2. It has to be fairly generic (no specific issues or names), but still get across the basic reason for the fundraising page. This is something our current text does fairly well, if you are looking for an example.
  3. If you can make it apply to pages for candidates and/or committees, all the better. If not, at least make it appeal to people looking to donate to candidates.
  4. We are Democrats, and our pages are for Democrats. If your message would appeal to Democrats, that would probably earn points.
  5. Humor is a big plus, but only that universal humor that works for everyone.
  6. Effective fundraising is personal. Think about what kind of language would help you be a better fundraiser, and think about why your friends and family might feel compelled to give.
  7. All entries must be received by 3/25.

Fill out your entry form right here! Thank you for your participation!
ActBlue is active in all 50 states, helping Democrats raise money for their chosen candidate from the comfort of their living rooms and offices. We believe that your voice should be heard everywhere from your state capitol to the Senate floor, and we're working to make sure it is. Please support our work with a $15 recurring contribution today!

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