It was pretty clear that September 30th would be a monster fundraising day as the end of quarter deadline approached, with a government shutdown looming and our daily fundraising totals regularly reaching $500k.

The day did not disappoint – it was our third biggest day ever in terms of the number of donors who gave (61,414 – our favorite stat!) and sixth biggest in terms of overall dollars given ($2,173,118). The impending government shutdown and Republican obstructionism highlighted the reasons that we all need to work to put Democrats in office, and supporters channeled their anger and frustration into support and donations. We’re hoping for a speedy and reasonable resolution, but this mess is evidence of how important it is to ensure Democrats win in 2014.

Take a look at our September volume chart. You can see the huge spike on the last day of the month:

Last minute chaos aside, our campaigns, non-profits, and committees put up impressive third quarter fundraising numbers. We helped process $22,629,582.57 from 589,204 donors, which works out to an average donation of $38.40. That’s significantly lower than our 2011 and 2010 averages – $51.22 and $119.28, respectively. It was a true grassroots, groundswell effort.

The money went to 1,831 campaigns and committees, compared with just 1,388 in 2011. This is a testament to the fact that more campaigns are jump-starting their fundraising programs earlier this cycle. That fact, plus the dwindling average contribution amount, are important because they show that campaigns will have better organizational foundations and wider supporter bases, meaning they’ll be more prepared to take on Republicans next fall. You can dig into the numbers more here:

  Q3 ’10 Q3 ’11 Q3 ’12 Q3 ’13
Contributions 138,970 199,553 900,953 589,204
Volume ($) $16,576,728.52 $10,222,043.76 $42,997,590.05 $22,629,582.57
Mean Donation $119.28 $51.22 $47.72 $38.41
Committees 2,093 1,388 2,681 1,831

  Sept ’10 Sept ’11 Sept ’12 Sept ’13
Contributions 93,024 70,156 463,044 319,890
Volume ($) $9,892,076.04 $4,492,068.94 $21,881,384.20 $11,222,121,43
Mean Donation $106.34 $64.03 $47.26 $35.08
Committees 1,683 1,068 2,113 1,439

We’ve been working on a few of our own projects here in order to make the donation process easier. That’s great for campaigns, who see the benefits in their conversion rates and dollars raised. In the end though, it’s all of our donors who made this amazing end of quarter possible.

Our stellar tech team launched mobile-responsive forms this month (you can read more about that feature here) and saw a huge uptick in percentage of mobile contributions. A fifth – 20.5% of new contributions in September ’13 were made via mobile, compared to 9.6% in August ’13 and a meager 7.1% in September ’12. Keep in mind that we launched mobile responsive about halfway through the month, so we didn’t even get to see it’s full effect. We can’t wait to watch that number grow and help campaigns and groups raise more money on mobile.

This month we also released Express Lane, our one-click donation system for donors who have saved their payment information, to the first round of campaigns just in time for #eoqmadness. It’s a pretty big deal for us, and the fact that the number of donors in September ’13 (319,890) was more than triple the number in September ’11 (70,156) shows that we’ve made the donation process incredibly simple for supporters.

Express Lane has just started to roll out, but we know it’ll grow bigger and bigger going forward. We increased Express users by 36,639 in September alone, bringing our total to 644,910. As more campaigns use ActBlue for their fundraising, more users convert to Express accounts, meaning the Express donor pool increases for all Democrats and progressives. Together, we’re building a stronger movement.

The new and improved features, engaged campaigns and committees, and dramatically increased participation give us hope for 2014. It’s sure to be a tough electoral season – especially when we’re all dealing with Koch money and Republican stubbornness – but if this month was any indication, early planning is going to pay off.

A couple of weeks ago, Julia unveiled our new mobile-responsive contribution forms to the world. Since we’ve rolled out mobile-responsive forms, our mobile contribution numbers have been through the roof, so we’re really excited to share them with you.

Check out this graph, in which the red line represents the release date. Notice anything?

ActBlue mobile donation trends

ActBlue mobile donation trends

As we’ve mentioned, our initial A/B test yielded some excellent results: our new mobile-responsive forms led to a 49% boost in conversions (a statistically significant improvement at p< .01). And these forms are already making a marked difference.

Since the release, 21.9% of sitewide donations have been made by supporters using a mobile device. For ActBlue Express users– those who have saved their credit card information with us– the number’s even higher at a full 25.9% mobile. According to the stats textbooks I keep on my desk for reference, that number is “insanely high”.1 Seriously though, from the beginning of the year to the day our mobile-responsive contribution forms were released, 9.0% of donations were made via mobile devices (12.3% for Express users). It’s pretty tough to exaggerate how prodigious this jump is, and there’s clearly more growth to come.

The importance of mobile donations is increasing inexorably; we all know that. But, on one of the busiest days of the year, we topped over 30% mobile donations among ActBlue Express users. It’s a whole new world.

Footnotes:
1Just kidding, of course :-)

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

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

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

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

What to Expect

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

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

exp_lane_test_graph

Results from ActBlue’s April 2013 Express Lane test

Askblock Structure

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

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

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

jump_example_image

Example jump structure

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

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

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

Structure "A"

Structure “A”

Structure "B"

Structure “B”

Structure "C"

Structure “C”

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

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

structure_test_graph

The “other amount” Link

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

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

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

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

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

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

No mention of one-time donations

No mention of one-time donations

With mention of one-time donations

With mention of one-time donations

Style

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

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

Subtle Express Lane askblock styling

Subtle Express Lane askblock styling

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

Where to go from here

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

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

Footnotes:

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

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

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

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

Last week we were a bit of a tease. We announced to a million members that we had a super secret new feature that brings in 3x as much money for candidates, committees and non-profits. And then we never told them what it was. Well, we were saving it for you, our dear blog readers.

Today we’re proud to unveil ActBlue Express Lane! It allows donors to give immediately from a link in an email, no landing page needed. Donors just need to have an Express account with us. Over 618,000 donors (and growing!) have already saved their payment information and have Express accounts. With most federal lists we’ve seen about 40% of donors already in our system. And like all the features on ActBlue, it’s absolutely free.

So how does the magic happen? Express Lane works with special donation links tied to a specific dollar amount in combination with an ActBlue cookie on a donor’s computer or phone. When someone with an Express account clicks on that link, their card automatically gets charged, and they land on a thank you page. It makes the process effortless for donors, and you’ll see the results.

The conversion rate on Express Lane is dramatically higher. It’s clear that Express Lane is a winner for campaigns and donors alike. While results have varied list to list in our tests, all tests have shown eye-popping increases…some even up to 224.6%! The goal of Express Lane is to make it as easy as possible for activists to become donors. By making donating virtually frictionless, we’re ensuring more people will give and participate more often.

The best part is that the over 618,000 ActBlue Express users are shared across the whole platform. That means if a donor on your list saved their information while giving to say, Elizabeth Warren, they can use Express Lane to make a donation to your campaign or organization. There’s no need for them to re-enter their information. (Read all about ActBlue Express users here, they’re awesome.) The Express user base is growing in leaps and bounds, with over 13,000 new users this month alone.

We’ll match your list to our Express user database for free, and as we mentioned there are often huge overlaps among lists. Plus, once you start sending blasts to your lists using ActBlue, more of your donors will convert to Express. As your list continues to grow, so does our Express pool. You can match at your anytime so you’re always sending optimized emails and your performance keeps getting better.

Express Lane works for both one-time and recurring asks. We’ve been having a ton of success here at ActBlue using it for recurring asks. We’re also seeing higher percentage of donations come in off of mobile, due in large part to Express Lane. Increasing mobile conversions is a big organizational focus here at ActBlue, and Express Lane makes our great mobile system even better. It’s easier than ever for a donor to give via an email.

Express Lane isn’t available for everyone yet, but we are offering it for free to large federal campaigns using ActBlue for all their online fundraising. (We’re working on expanding it to more jurisdictions.) And you should keep in mind that you’ll need a decent size list, and a sophisticated email program.

Deploying Express Lane means you need to send two different emails on every fundraiser: one to Express users with the Express Lane ask links and then a “normal” one to the rest of your supporters. It’s very easy to create the links, we’ve got a link builder tool all set up for ya.

Here’s how an Express Lane ask structure looks:

Because you’ve saved your payment information with ActBlue Express, your donation will go through immediately:

Express Donate: $10
Express Donate: $25
Express Donate: $50
Or donate another amount

You may have seen us and a few groups beta testing this before we rolled it out to more people. We couldn’t have opened this powerful tool to so many campaigns and organizations without the help of over a thousand donors who contributed to this project. All of us here at ActBlue really can’t thank them enough.

If you are interested in Express Lane, drop us a line at info [at] actblue [dot] com. And don’t worry, our staff is happy to provide all the training you need to optimize Express Lane, for free of course.

If you’ve taken a look at your metrics lately you’ve probably seen the same trend as everyone else: mobile traffic is steadily increasing. It’s become a given that any web property needs to look good on a mobile device, whether that be one of the new fancy champagne colored iPhones that were just released or one of those Windows Surface tablets with their (zomg!) keyboard.

We were ahead of the curve here at ActBlue, when we released mobile-optimized contributions forms way back in 2010. The pages automatically recognized when you were on a mobile device and loaded a form that was way easier to use than a regular form on your tiny screen. It looked like this:

old mobile

Today, we’re excited to announce that we’ve upgraded to mobile-responsive contribution forms. What’s the difference you ask? Well, pictures tell the story:

new mobile

Now, a candidate or organization’s branding will appear when a potential donor visits a contribution form using a mobile device. There’s nothing admins need to do to turn on this new feature; we’ve rolled it out to everyone automatically.

Nobody wants to struggle when they’re on their phone. Speed and ease of use rule the day. That’s why these forms are designed to look good, and more importantly function well, whether your giant touch-screen phone needs it’s own purse, or you’re still using an old-school Blackberry.

Mobile responsive contribution forms don’t just look better. We performed a functionality test on this feature, just like we do for all of our new tools. These tests are a big reason why we know that our technology is always improving, and the results of this latest test are unequivocal.

ActBlue donors who visit a mobile responsive contribution form convert at a statistically significantly (p < .01) higher rate than those who visit one of our old mobile forms. And the difference isn't trivial– mobile responsive contribution forms are a 49% improvement. That means that you could see 49% more donations from users on a mobile device. And with increases in mobile traffic, that gets more important every single day.

It's not just the design layout that helped boost the numbers. We've re-engineered it so the forms load a second faster. Let's face it, people are pretty impatient on their phones. If it's not easy, then they'll move on to the next thing.

At ActBlue we're always looking to innovate, so that donors have an easier time contributing to the candidates and causes they care about the most. We're never satisfied with having a great system. There's always something that can be improved, especially in an environment that's evolving as rapidly as the Internet. That's why our developers roll code every single day.

We’ve been crossing milestones left and right this summer. Earlier this month we topped 600,000 ActBlue Express donors. These are folks who have saved their credit card information with us, and let me tell you these people are awesome.

Keep in mind that when a donor signs up for ActBlue Express and gives to one entity (our word for a candidate, committee or non-profit listed on ActBlue), they can use their account to give to any other entity listed on ActBlue. It’s one of the biggest examples of ActBlue’s strength as a fundraising platform. We’re growing the pie, not eating it.

If you manage a sizable email list, a healthy percentage of your list members will be ActBlue Express donors, whether you’ve used ActBlue in the past or not. We’ve even seen groups start out fundraising on ActBlue receiving 40% of their donations from Express users.

Here’s why ActBlue Express donors are so incredible. They give 72.9% more frequently than non-Express donors. Yeah, that’s a pretty eye-popping number. These donors also give more money than other donors. The median amount of their lifetime giving is $84 (mean $284). Our site wide median is $50 (mean $237).

50.3% of Express donors have donated to more than one entity. That’s significantly more than the 39.3% of average donors. ActBlue Express donors can and indeed do save their credit card information while donating to one entity and then are able to donate to another group or candidate with fewer clicks.

Not surprisingly, these folks convert at a much better rate: 5.7 times higher on regular forms. It’s even better on mobile, where they convert 14.5 times higher than non-Express visitors. That makes a lot of sense: who really wants to pull out their credit card and type it into phone? With more and more emails being read on some sort of mobile device it’s crucial that we remove the barriers to donating on mobile. (Stay tuned for some new exciting new info about our mobile optimization efforts!)

The growth of Express users has been fairly cyclical–check out that huge spike around the election last year.

express growth chart

Still, we’ve seen solid growth each month, even this off year, as candidates reach out to donors early in the cycle. Plus, more and more organizations are using ActBlue these days and building a base of Express donors.

For a little fun, go into the way back machine and look at this post from 2011, when we changed the sign-up process for Express. Removing one click caused a five-fold conversion rate increase.

And that’s sorta the whole point. The easier it is for donors to give, the more likely they are to contribute to you and all of the other candidates, non-profits and committees listed on ActBlue.

Here’s a crazy fact for you: 70.37% of the money raised on ActBlue has come from donors who give to more than one candidate or committee. Yep, you read that right (and we triple checked it).

We’ve long known that one of the greatest strengths of ActBlue is a huge community of grassroots donors that give not just to their local representative, but to organizations and candidates across the country. But that stat really brings it home. And here’s some more:

Over 1.6 million distinct donors have contributed via ActBlue, but 39.33% have donated to more than one Democratic committee, candidate or non-profit, which we call entities for short. In fact, those who have donated to more than one committee or candidate on ActBlue average over six distinct entities overall. That’s why we’ve ended up with a large percentage of money coming from a core group of donors. There are a large number of donors that give to lots of different candidates, committees and non-profit organizations, big and small. These donors are the lifeblood of the left.

Here’s the breakdown of how many entities these donors gave to.

multiple entity pie chart

(Yep, you’re seeing a bit of a difference between mean and median in terms of number of entities these multiple entity donors are giving to.)

ActBlue donors tend not to be transient, but rather long-term community members who come together on ActBlue to connect with organizations and causes which they support. And 600,000 of them have saved their credit card information with us to become ActBlue Express donors.

ActBlue donors who give to multiple entities don’t just contribute more money, they also contribute at the most important times. The percentage of dollars given by supporters who donate to multiple candidates/organizations/committees increases in election years, meaning that these ActBlue users turn out to support candidates and committees with even greater commitment when it really counts.

Now, just because these dedicated ActBlue donors give more money doesn’t mean that they are just max-out donors who crowd out the grassroots. The most common donation amount (median) among multiple-entity donors is exactly the same as single-entity donors: $25. This pattern of donating perfectly reflects our ethos here at ActBlue — a community of grassroots donors who will be there to chip in to support a recall election in Wisconsin and support a campaign to expand Social Security a year later.

These folks are positive proof that fundraising is not a zero-sum game, and the biggest reason why the left keeps outpacing the Republicans online.

But these donors didn’t manifest overnight. They’re part of this community because of the commitment thousands of campaigns and organizations have made to reaching out to donors via email and social media. At ActBlue, we’ve made it easier for donors to give by streamlining and centralizing the contribution process with projects like ActBlue Express and mobile forms. And nothing would make us happier than seeing these numbers grow every single year.

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