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Tips & Tricks

Alliance for Justice Action Campaign and ActBlue Civics are delighted to announce a new joint-training, fashioned for 501(c)(4) social welfare groups, that will cover the legal rules and online fundraising skills for 501(c)(4) groups!

You’ll learn about the activities your 501(c)(4) can participate in and how to fund these activities through grassroots online fundraising.  This two-part, 80-minute web training will give a legal overview of the various advocacy activities permitted by 501(c)(4) organizations — including lobbying and election-related activities — as well as some tips for staying in compliance with your 501(c)(4) status.

In addition to learning the legal rules, attendees will receive skills-based training focused on best practices and methods for online fundraising for 501(c)(4) organizations.  We’ll go over the nuts and bolts of executing your fundraising program, how to ask effectively, and most importantly, how to raise more money for your organization.

Whether you’re just starting your online program or looking to give it a refresh, we’ll help you get up to speed on the latest in today’s fundraising strategy.

We’ll also discuss the recently proposed IRS 501(c)(4) regulations and how they could potentially impact your work.  This FREE, two-part web training will be offered at 2:00p.m (E/T) on February 18 and February 25, 2014.  Register for February 18th here and for February 25th here.

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.

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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:

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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”!

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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.

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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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Grab your coffee and make sure your laptop is fully charged, the end of the first quarter 2010 is upon us!

Why do we all fundraise at the End of the Quarter?  To people outside of the business it could seem like finance staffers are lazy… waiting until the last minute and then making up for it in a mad frenzy of fundraising reminiscent of cramming for that Biology 101 final your freshman year.  The truth is that donors respond to urgency and the end of the quarter finance disclosures provide a convenient urgent deadline four times a year.

At ActBlue we've seen plenty of EOQ deadlines come and go. The campaigns that consistently do the best are the ones who savvily use goals.  Here are a couple of tips for running a goal based EOQ fundraising campaign.

Set an attainable public goal

You should really have two goals. You already have an internal goal for how much you need to raise online to meet your quarterly numbers.  The other is the initial goal that you will make public for your EOQ push.

Goal Thermometer

The key to a good initial goal is making it reasonable enough that you can be confident you can hit it, but still challenging enough that it leads donors to believe that they need to chip in order to make the campaign a success.

You also should decide whether you want your public goal to be denominated in Dollars or Donors.  Many campaigns, knowing that their online givers tend towards a smaller donation amount average, like to go with a number of donors goal to publicize their grassroots support.

Make the goal visual

Donors love to see visuals and goals are no exception.  You could build a thermometer graphic by hand and update it constantly throughout the EOQ with new totals — but ActBlue has a much easier way.

Every Fundraising Page on ActBlue has a thermometer tool which allows you to set a goal denominated in dollars or donors.  Our system automatically updates the thermometer every five minutes with the current totals.  Once you pick your goal you can embed the thermometer anywhere on the internet and it will continue to auto-update from your live ActBlue numbers.

You can even embed the thermometer in an email, and it will pull the up-to-date numbers when it is opened by a potential donor.

Update your list on the goal's progress

One email isn't enough!  Once you have a goal, and people are donating, be sure to update your list on the goal's progress.  You should send an email to people who have already donated with an update on the goal and an ask for them to forward it to their friends and family.  People who haven't donated should get an email reiterating how important a donation is towards achieving the goal for the quarter and winning the race in the fall.

One good technique for a followup email to non-donors from the first solicitation is to get a quick quote from a recent donor.  Donors respond well to a message from other donors talking about how important it is to contribute to the cause, and how good it feels to be part of a movement.

As always, the ActBlue team is here to help your campaign succeed.  Please let us know if you have questions about EOQ fundraising or want help melding your fundraising ideas into into the online tools. 

Happy fundraising!

Tomorrow marks the end of the first quarter of 2010, and campaigns will be sending out their last emails before the FEC reporting period ends. But EOQ isn't just for campaigns, it's an opportunity for grassroots fundraisers to get in on the action.

First, take a look at our step-by-step guide to creating your own fundraising page. I've also included a few tips below to help you maximize your success.

  • Your request should be personal and urgent. Explain why you support your candidate and why your prospective donors should as well.
  • Make use of your social networks. If you have a Facebook or Twitter account, make sure to post or tweet links to your fundraising page. Ask your friends to donate and retweet the page using ActBlue's handy Twitter and Facebook integrations.
  • Make sure you link people directly to the contribution form. The more your donors have to click, the less likely they are to give. (To find your page's contribution form, after you've created your page, click on the "contribute" button and copy the URL on the page you're redirected to.)
  • Relatedly, be sure to fill out the "Your Contribution Blurb" field. The text you put there will appear on the contribution form, so you're reminding your donors why they should give as they fill out the form. If you've already created your page, you can edit it by clicking on the "Edit" tab in the gray toolbar at the top of your page. 
  • Once you've created your page, click on the "Goal" tab to set a fundraising goal. Your progress toward that goal will be tracked with a nifty thermometer graphic, which lets your donors know how close they are to that goal.
  • Above all: don't get discouraged. Like baseball, fundraising is a game of
    failures. Thank the people who do give and keep asking. We have a few tips to help you
    ask successfully. 

Remember, all the money that comes through your page is tagged as such in the campaign's contribution reports, so your success will enable you to build credit with the people running the show.

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.

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:

As we discussed last time, Acting Blue with ActBlue doesn’t end on Election Day . But what happens after every 2008 election, special election, and run-off is finally over? If it happens to be after a Presidential Election, and if Barack Obama is being sworn in as the new President, it means that the fundraising continues… but not for who you might first expect.

Would have have guessed County Democratic Parties & Clubs?

One of the powerful things about ActBlue is that we list hundreds of Democratic party entities and allow them all to have the same access to our fundraising tools. This helps spread Democratic dollors the the local level, providing grassroots financial support from the bottom of of the Democratic Party up. Take a look at who has been topping the “Hot Pages” charts for the last month.

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Many, if not most, of these organizations are making use of ActBlue event pages which allow them to set ticket prices. This is incredibly useful as many groups have VIP level tickets, advance tickets, and regular tickets which they want to sell in one organized place. These pages allow groups to set a limited number of tickets at any particular level, erasing the confusing of oversold ticket groups.  Event pages also allow groups to collect all the information about their attendees and print out easy to use guest lists for the check-in table on Inauguration Day at their festivities.

County parties and Democratic organizations have also found it easy to include their event pages in email newsletters. For example, the Tarrant County Democrat Party in Texas included this in one of their recent e-newsletters.

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So far, they’ve raised over $25,000 for their local Inaugural Ball via this fundraising page.

There are countless other examples from across the country urging people to RSVP in advance by donating online instead of waiting in line at the door. And as anyone in at the Inauguration in Washington, DC today will tell you, the less waiting time spent waiting in line, the better!


Yesterday I wrote about the new way to view recurring contributions in your campaign or fundraising page reports on ActBlue. We hope this may inspire you to set up recurring donor programs to support your fundraising efforts!

Today I’d like to provide you with some examples of how campaigns and fundraisers are promoting recurring contributions through their ActBlue pages. Before I present those, let’s review a couple of reasons you should consider a recurring donor program to start with!

  • Regularizes revenue: Recurring donations allow you to better manage your campaign finances with a predictable stream of funding.
  • Increases potential giving: Recurring contributions encourage supporters to make a larger donation by spreading it out over time. For many contributors, giving a little each month is easier on the budget than one lump sum.
  • Increases pledge fulfillment: Recurring credit card donations eliminate the need for donor follow-up on pledges and the risk that a donor might renege – increasing revenue and saving valuable staff time.
  • Enhances relationships: Recurring contributions allow you to build long-term relationships with your donors. They are more likely to help your campaign in other ways besides money.
  • Reduces donor attrition: Recurring donors tend to contribute for longer periods of time. A regular pattern of giving leads to a sense of investment.

Now let’s look at some real-world examples.

  1. Building Netroots Infrastructure- This fundraising page was a joint fundraising effort by BlogPAC and ActBlue. In an effort to fund progressive infrastructure, blog readers and Democratic donors were asked to give monthly to allow the two groups to generate a steady predictable stream of income to support long term growth. This is a very sensible ask given the nature of the donors as well as the two groups being supported.
    recurringbuttonYou might also notice that embedded in the page are links preset with recurring amounts! Above is a quick image of what that looks like though you can see for yourself here.
  2. bluekreweLouisiana Blue Krewe- Linked from the front page of the Louisiana Democratic Party’s website, this page was set up for the state party’s recurring donor program.You may notice that the pitch focuses on the funds being used to build party infrastructure for all candidates for the next election and asks for a recurring contribution “at a level of $10, $15, or $25 a month”. You may also notice some of those snazzy buttons on this page as well.
  3. club26
    “Club 26″- Jon Powers, a candidate for Congress in New York’s 26th Congressional district in 2008, uses ActBlue for all of his online contributions. But he hasn’t stopped there- on his contribution page he promotes his recurring donor program called “Club 26″.
    He explains it as follows:

    We are asking dedicated supporters to sign up as recurring donors at the minimum investment of $26 per month through our victory in
    November. With your investment, we will expand our growing base of
    support at home in the District and across the country.

    This
    campaign is about putting you – the people – back in charge of your
    government and this is a great way to start. As a member of Club 26,
    you will be listed on the website and included in monthly conference
    calls with the campaign.

    I highlight the last sentence because this is a great way to encourage donors to give monthly- give something back! Tying your recurring donors into other aspects of your campaign is a tactic we highly encourage at ActBlue.

  4. presidentscirclebutton
    Yamhill County Democrats Presidents Circle- Oregon’s Yamhill County Democrats are including recurring contributions as a way for supporters to fulfill any of half a dozen donor levels that are part of their “Presidents Circle”.Promoted on their website, each level is named for a different Democratic President and corresponds to a different monthly recurring total in order to “strengthen grassroots infrastructure in preparation for campaigns,
    support our headquarters, communicate our values, and recruit
    candidates for office.”
    They are making use of referral codes and URL commands to preset recurring contribution size as well.

Earlier this week I wrote on the topic of thanking your supporters while introducing video as a medium to do so. Today, I’d like to follow up on that subject with e-mail as an example. Following the same basic practices I pointed out, look how Illinois House candidate Daniel Biss has leveraged his e-mail thank you note into a larger narrative (while asking for continued donations!).

Well, it’s official.  I just got an email from one of ActBlue’s amazing staffers confirming that our campaign is now the state-level campaign with the largest number of individual donors on ActBlue in all of 2007!

Thank you so much for making this happen!

The last surge that pushed us over the top took place mostly at the Yearly Kos convention.  The ActBlue page we set up specially for the convention now has 34 donors and and $1,072 raised.  You can see for yourself here: http://www.actblue.com/page/dbyk2007

When we tell local media and political insiders about this, it will show them that this is a new kind of campaign, built on a new base of supporters.  They will always understand, not just during the campaign, but even more importantly after I’m elected, that we represent a new force in progressive politics, a new partnership between political candidates and a nationwide network of activists.

We are a part of a movement that is changing the face of politics in America.  We are building — and funding — this campaign with the energy and hard work of ordinary people who have for way, way too long been shut out of the process.  I can’t tell you how proud and honored I am to have your support.

Candidates are supposed to like receiving lots of small donations because when someone gives you a small amount, you can go back and ask them for more later.  I like having lots of supporters because it means lots of people want a part of our campaign, because it means lots of people will be giving me feedback, and it means lots of people will be telling their friends about the campaign.

And I hope you will tell your friends about the campaign, to keep this remarkable momentum going. Whether it’s directing them to that same ActBlue page to prolong this amazing run of donations: http://www.actblue.com/page/dbyk2007

or asking them to join us at our campaign kick-off event

or sending them to our web page to learn more: http://www.danielbiss.com/

or just telling them that this is a pretty interesting campaign they should keep their eyes open about, I’d appreciate if you could keep spreading the word.  Your work is making all the difference in the world.

Again, thank you.  You’re truly amazing.

Warmest regards,
Daniel

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