What a spontaneous online fundraiser looks like

I’d say last night was YUUUUGE, but others have done the Donald impression much better than I could. Suffice it to say, it was a historic night for ActBlue’s infrastructure.

Yesterday evening, during a 15 minute span, ActBlue processed over 26,000 contributions. That’s equivalent to 104,000 contributions / hour. For context, the biggest hour up to last night saw 13,981 contributions created. That’s how big of a surge it was.

We’re always prepping for the biggest moments, those are our bread and butter. And one of the best parts about a big night like last night is we get to see how our tools hold up to a heavy load, and how we can improve in the future. We processed every contribution that came our way last night, and we’re confident we could have handled 150k / hour (and we’ll be able to handle 200k by later tonight).

We did hit one bump late yesterday though. Last night’s spontaneous fundraiser (the one that raised $5.2 million in less than a day) broke our external processor’s response systems. That’s some amazing grassroots power. Like we said, we over-prepare, so we were ready for that. But the vendor started giving us a previously undocumented error message, which temporarily caused some donors to not move from the “please wait” page to the confirmation page…even though their contributions were already fully processed

It’s not ideal, and it’s not the exceptional donor experience we want to provide people with. And we were sorry for that. We worked quickly to get the issue remedied and to get the donor user flow back to what it should be. In addition to technical solutions, our customer service team was answering donor questions in real-time last night and they’re working hard to talk to every donor today.

And we’re happy to say that we didn’t drop a single contribution, and we didn’t go down. If you saw an error message last night, that was because you were trying to access a non-essential page. We triage those during our busiest times, so we can put all our resources behind handling contributions. That part worked exactly as it should, and it paid off with some pretty eye-popping statistics:

Numbers are fun, but pictures are more fun, so let’s start with a graph:

Want to guess what time Senator Sanders told a national TV audience to go to BernieSanders.com and donate $27?

Those are requests / minute as recorded by our (fabulous) CDN, Fastly. And for the briefest moment in time, we hit 333,000 rpm. Prior to last night, we’d never seen that number go above 40,000 rpm. So it was, in a word, unprecedented.

Internally, we could see those donors giving at a similarly rapid pace:

Isn’t it beautiful how nicely those graphs match up? And yes, this means we topped out at more than 2000 contributions / minute. Our previous record was 781. Here’s the breakdown of our new contribution records:

Minute: 2,689
5 minutes: 11,218
10 minutes: 19,822

But the best part of the contributions per minute graph is the natural decay in rate. By that I mean the gradual downslope as the wave passed. Why is this important? Because if our infrastructure was actually in trouble the graph wouldn’t look as natural — you would be seeing some sharp drop-offs.

Last night was a huge win for small-dollar donors. They once again showed that they are a powerful force to be reckoned with, and we’re committed to providing them with the best experience possible. We know that rock-solid and innovative infrastructure is key to helping Democrats up and down the ballot raise the most money online. But we also know that respecting donors and making sure they have a good experience both technology and customer service-wise is key to growing small-dollar donor participation. We’re expecting a lot more big nights, and we’re ready and excited to empower donors and help candidates build winning campaigns.

If you have questions about a contribution, or want to talk shop, email us at info@actblue.com and a real person will respond, as always.

Keeping your settings consistent just got a whole lot easier

The days of having one contribution form for your organization or campaign are long over.

Organizations and candidates often have dozens of forms created and maintained by several different people. It can be difficult to make sure all of your settings stay consistent across your forms, especially when you have a rigorous testing program that’s frequently settling on new best practices. For example, it’s time consuming to go and change all your old forms one-by-one if testing indicates you should use different pop-up recurring language.

That’s why we’re excited to roll out a new feature that allows you to create a default form with your best practices and tag pages that you want to have those universal settings. When you update the settings in the default form, all the other forms update automatically.

Here’s how it works:

You’ll now see a column that says “Use defaults” in your newly renamed Form Management tab in the left menu of your Dashboard:

See that contribution form at the top in grey? That’s your campaign or organization’s default form. It’s new and we’ve created it for everyone. It’ll always appear at the top of the Form Management tab.

Open up the default form and select all of the settings you typically apply to every contribution form, things like your pop-up recurring ask threshold or your preset contribution amounts. It looks just like a regular form, but it only has one purpose: to establish the defaults for other forms.

Once you’ve done that, go and click the “Use defaults” box for every form that ought to have those settings. That’s it! All your forms have the same settings, no matter who created them.

Keep in mind that the default form will override all of the settings except for Page Name, Author, Contribution blurb, and url. That means if you leave something like the Thank you text blank on your default form, none of the forms with default settings will have Thank you text. So be careful with your selections.

Further, if you’ve selected default settings for a form the only fields you’ll be able to edit are Page Name, Author, Contribution blurb, and url. Every other setting will be hidden. You can still run an A/B test or set a goal, however. And if you decide you’d like to make edits outside the default settings, just uncheck the “Use defaults” box for that form and make any edits you wish. Just keep in mind that the form won’t update the next time you edit your default form.

You can always go back and edit the default form at any time.

This new feature should save folks that use it a bunch of time and lead to a more consistent fundraising program. But it’s a totally optional feature, so use it at your own discretion.

Our dev team has a few more new features they’re working on right now, so stay tuned! And in the meantime enjoy the new default forms.

Custom Facebook and Twitter share content

Our tech team is on a roll. Now you can enter custom content for both Facebook and Twitter shares on your contribution forms.

If you’re in the edit tab on a form you’ll see a new section:

social share

Here’s what a Facebook share would look like:

facebook share

Custom text and images should help increase conversions, so we encourage you to spend the extra couple minutes filling this in when you’re creating a new form. But at the same time, don’t expect social donations to be a magic bullet.

The vast majority of contributions come in from email, with Facebook coming in far behind, followed by Twitter. Custom share content won’t change that, but it will help on the margins, especially when your campaign is in a rapid response situation.

Enjoy this new feature and don’t forget to go back and edit your default donation form you link to on your website. As always, just drop us an email at info@actblue.com if you have any questions.

Mobile giving just got a whole lot better

Mobile giving just got a whole lot better

Introducing the ActBlue Express Pass. Built for a mobile-first world.

ActBlue Express Pass

We’re always trying to improve our contribution forms — that means eliminating inefficiencies and making them more user friendly on every device. And nothing has seemed more inefficient to us than typing in 16-digit credit card numbers with your thumbs on a mobile device.

That’s why we’re introducing ActBlue Express Pass, built with our 1.5 million Express user pool in mind. It lets Express users with a mobile phone number bypass the form by simply clicking a link in a text message to give. Express users are donors who have saved their payment information with ActBlue and can give in a single click.

Here’s how it works: If an Express user starts filling out a contribution form on a device that doesn’t have their information stored and they have a mobile number associated with their account, we’ll offer them an Express Pass. Users fill in an average of 111 characters on a form, but with Express Pass they only have to enter their email address.

Why this feature? Why now? Mobile is the way of the future for online fundraising. Over the last two years, the percentage of ActBlue donations made via a mobile device has jumped from 9.1% to 29.1%. That can spike to around 67.7% on nights and weekends when people are away from their computers.

We already knew that when we roll out features that improve on-the-go donations, we see astronomical gains. When we launched our mobile-responsive contribution forms back in September 2013, we saw mobile numbers jump from 9.6% to 20.5% over one month. Still, no matter how mobile-optimized your form is, it’s a pain to type in information on a mobile phone, so we decided to take that step out of the equation for Express users. It’s the next step toward our goal of making mobile donating as easy as desktop giving.

Donors are already coming to campaigns and organizations via mobile, but if it’s not an easy process, some will abandon that donation. We’re meeting users where they are, and tailoring the donation process to their devices. We’ve crunched the numbers and Express Pass was associated with a 4.7% increase in conversions for mobile Express users, a statistically significant result.

The benefits are two-fold: Users can donate quickly and easily with Express Pass, and the next time they donate on a mobile phone, they’ll already have their information stored right there, so they can give with just a single click. That’s going to a major investment as we get closer to the critical 2016 election.

But the best thing about ActBlue Express Pass? It feels intuitive, and it fades into the background in the best possible way. It just works like it should, while bringing in more conversions for every campaign and committee.

User Experience & Implementation

The gif above gives you an idea of how the Express Pass steps work, but we’ll break them down for you below.

The user selects a donation amount, types in their email address, and moves on to fill out the rest of the form. But before they can do that, we check and see if they’re an Express user, and if they have a mobile number associated with their account (half of all Express users do). If both of those things are true, we show them a popup that reminds them they’re an Express user and offers to send them a text message where they can finish their contribution.

Screenshot 1
Screenshot 2

Next, they click yes, because easy = awesome. Donors receive the text message, click the link, and their contribution goes straight through. If your campaign has chosen a post-contribution action like a pop-up recurring box or customized redirect, Express Pass users will enter that flow like any other user once their contribution processes. Otherwise, donors will see the thank you page like usual.

ActBlue Express Pass will significantly improve donors’ experience when giving on-the-go, and it makes it even easier for campaigns and organizations to collect donations at in-person events.

Express Pass is automatically turned on when Express Lane is enabled for a campaign or organization. Applicable donors will see Express Pass on single entity and tandem forms, but not on event and merchandise forms. Those require extra info and will still get the regular mobile treatment for the time being.

With ActBlue Express Pass, we’re not just looking to scale forms that were originally built for the desktop into mobile devices. We’re coming up with a whole new way to give. That’s what the future of fundraising tech will be about — solutions that work for every device, wherever your donors are.

The Multi-armed Bandit: New and much improved A/B testing tools

The A/B test tool on ActBlue, which allows you to test out contribution form titles and pitches, among other variables, has gotten a significant upgrade, just in time for campaign season.

The old A/B testing tool worked great, but it also forced you to wait around for both test variations to get enough traffic to gain statistical significance. If one version was performing way better than the second one, that meant you were losing out on potential contributions in order to gain valuable insight.

This is how most A/B testing tools work, and it’s a good system. But with the new ActBlue testing tools, which use a more advanced statistical algorithm than typical A/B testing, you can still achieve statistical significance without having to sacrifice a ton of traffic to a losing form.

As the test runs and one variation begins performing better, we’ll start sending more traffic to that form, roughly in proportion to how they’re trending. You can see the traffic allocation listed just above each variation on the “A/B Test” tab of your contribution form. The traffic allocation will change continuously as donations come in. It’s important to note that if a variation is receiving 75% of the traffic, that does not necessarily mean it’s conversion rate is 3X as high as the other variation(s). If you’re curious what it actually does mean and want to talk complicated stats, you can get in touch with us here.

If there was a false positive and the losing form starts doing better, the traffic allocation will begin to reverse. The test will continue to run indefinitely until you click “Make Winner.” The A/B testing tool will eventually send 100% of volume to the winner if you don’t make either version the winner manually.

The new A/B testing tool makes your tests more efficient, which means you can try out more of them. If you have radically different language you want to try on a form, alongside three more standard pitches, there’s little risk. If it doesn’t work out, we’ll send fewer and fewer people to that losing form.

We wanted to give special thanks to Jim Pugh from ShareProgress for sharing notes on the multi-armed bandit method used in their software and helping us out with building this tool (and for hanging out in the ActBlue office for a week)!

As always, let us know what tests you’re running and what’s working for you at info@actblue.com!

Scott Brown donation page load time: Like a slug racing a Tesla

Scott Brown made some uh interesting design choices for his new Massachusetts New Hampshire Senate campaign website. But where he went really wrong was his contribution form.

We’ve been watching this video from WebPageTest on a loop today (spoiler alert: our entire form loads before their first response):


We’re obsessive here at ActBlue about page load time, going to great lengths to shave off hundredths of a second. It’s often the difference between someone giving a donation and just simply giving up, particularly when they are on a mobile device. And that’s why 20.3% of all contributions on ActBlue last month were made on mobile. If your numbers aren’t up there, you’re doing it wrong.

And none of that would have been possible without the support of thousands of ActBlue donors, so thank you.

Now let’s all stop laughing at Scott Brown (for the moment) and get back to work powering Democrats to victory this November.

Staying Ahead of the Curve

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.

2012 Numbers: First Quarter Roundup

If you’ve read the last few monthly numbers posts you’re aware that it’s been a good year for Democrats on ActBlue. But looking at our Q1 numbers, you can see that a huge amount of money is flowing to candidates and committees that don’t make our top 5 for the quarter. While everyone else is consumed with the ups-and-downs of the presidential race, we’re quietly helping Democrats up and down the ballot get what they need to win.

Let’s take another angle on that: if every seat in Congress were constested, you’d have around 500 committees getting money. ActBlue has 2,050 recipients. That’s the best expression of the kind of work we do, and how it ripples out across the country. Now, the numbers:

Number of contributions 333,928
Total raised $18,070,391.02
Average Contribution size $54.11
Committees receiving money 2,050

 

So, these numbers are the gold standard for year-over-year growth. While 2012 is a presidential election year and that pushes the numbers upward, you can glance at our 2008 numbers to see how much we’ve grown over the interim.

Q1 2008 Q1 2011 Q1 2012 Change
Contributions 52,149 180,537 333,928 85%
Volume ($) $6,945,713.73 $8,712,756.77 $18,070,391.02 107%
Mean Donation $133.19 $48.26 $54.11 12%
Committees 992 881 2,050 133%

 

Here are the five top committees, by number of donors, for Q1 2012.

Name Race Donors Dollars
DCCC Party Committee 103,592 $3,036,757
Elizabeth Warren MA-Sen 26,827 $1,310,832
Democratic Party of Wisconsin Party Committee 20,974 $423,339
Democracy for America Organization 20,602 $468,190
PCCC Organization 16,566 $166,313

ActBlue In One Take: Sen. Al Franken

Our latest installment of "ActBlue in One Take" features Sen. Al Franken. The Senator from Minnesota understands the value of grassroots donors–he raised over $2M on ActBlue in 2008, funds that were crucial to both his election day victory and drawn-out struggle against Republican attempts to keep him from taking his seat in Washington. Click on the video below to see what Sen. Franken had to say about the role of grassroots donors–and ActBlue–in 2010

You can search for your favorite Democrat in our candidate directory, or visit our homepage and support the candidates that lead our hot candidates list.

Introducing ActBlue Mobile

At ActBlue, we're about helping campaigns meet donors where they are, and where they are is changing. Not that long ago, email and cellular phones were emerging technologies. Today, they're fully integrated, and an ever-growing number of Americans check their email on their cellular phones. In recognition of that fact, we've launched ActBlue Mobile–now you can support the Democratic candidates of your choice right from your smartphone. 

Donors: did your phone just buzz because you received a fundraising email from a candidate you like? Just click on the link and enter your information the way you would from your home computer or laptop and submit it. You could be on the bus, or taking in the game down at the bar; it doesn't matter. You can play a role in American politics without missing your stop. (Or a critical play!)

We built ActBlue Mobile because we think that American politics should reflect the patterns of  American life, and that the American people shouldn't have to be politicos to be political. It's that very same impulse that led us to build cutting-edge integrations with Twitter and Facebook, and it will continue fuel further innovation is the months and years to come.

Remember, Washington D.C. speaks the language of money and influence. At ActBlue, we're working every day to help you be part of the conversation.