We set internal goals for ourselves here – just like we encourage campaigns to do with our fundraising thermometers – and we take a lot of pride in beating them. But this month we didn’t just beat them, we crushed them. Seriously. Kate from our compliance team tried to run some models to predict our future growth pattern, and she couldn’t find one because our growth is literally off the charts.

But this isn’t some kind of humble brag. We may have put in some work behind the scenes, but it’s all of you – our donors – that made it possible.

Take a look at the top line numbers below.

  May ’10 May ’11 May ’12 May ’13
Contributions 40,124 45,783 234,065 173,665
Volume ($) $4,110,305.20 $2,679,278.73 $10,041,334.35 $6,355,241.33
Mean Donation $102.44 $58.52 $42.90 $36.59
Committees 1,303 728 1,854 1,072

The month started off with the tail end of the Sandford vs. Colbert-Busch election, and although Democrats didn’t pull ahead this time, we saw a huge uptick in donations. Organizations and candidates helped to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars every day before the election. As a result, we more than doubled our volume goal for the month. Our other big spike came at the end of the month, which is typical since that’s when many of our candidates and committees make a big fundraising push. May was no exception, with a string of four strong days culminating in $584,502 in contributions on the final day.

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Our other major goal was to bring in 52,651 contributions by the end of the month. We surpassed that number before the SC special election was laid to rest on May 7th, which was great. But things only got better from there – we more than tripled our goal for the month.

One of the biggest reasons that number is increasing at such a crazy pace? Express users. 55.1% of our site wide donors used Express Accounts to give this month. That means that over half of the people donating were repeat donors. We make it easier for them to give (just one click!), but they choose to keep coming back. They’re more dedicated than ever, and they’re not just single candidate supporters. If you’re working on a campaign, give us a call, because they’re likely on your supporter list too.

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All of those contributions went to 1,072 different candidates, committees, and causes. So while there may have been a tabloid worthy special election, we certainly saw a  lot of activity from folks across the country, giving to candidates up and down the ballot.

We’re particularly proud that the average donation size was just $36.59 this month. That amount is $65.85 lower than it was just 3 years ago. It shows that while our numbers have been growing (right off the charts) in these past three years, we’re still committed to – and succeeding at – the mission we started with. And that’s to help make fundraising more democratic by opening it up to all and breaking down the technology barriers.

Earlier this month ActBlue was honored by our friends from Living Liberally at their 10th anniversary party in New York City, along with Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz. The party brought out local New York City advocates, progressives from around the country both young and old, and candidates, including mayoral hopeful Bill de Blasio to the Downtown Community Television Firehouse, an industrial event space in Chinatown with a screen projecting live tweets from party guests using the hashtag #DL10.

ActBlue Executive Director Erin Hill accepting our award from Living Liberally co-founder Justin Krebs

Living Liberally was founded 10 years ago, about a year before we founded ActBlue (which, you guessed it, means our 10th anniversary is up next). It began simply as Drinking Liberally during the combative Bush years, when liberals were seeking like-minded individuals to drown their sorrows – and organize – with. Since then the plight of liberals has improved, but Living Liberally has still been able to expand to their social organizing program to include Eating Liberally, Laughing Liberally, Reading Liberally, and Screening Liberally events. An unexpected side effect of all this socializing, they joked, was dating liberally, marrying liberally, and procreating liberally.

Living Liberally

Living Liberally co-founders Justin Krebs, Katrina Baker and Matt O’Neill with Nobel Prize Winner Joseph Stiglitz (second from right)

When the founders took the stage for the speeches portion of the night, the crowd almost immediately broke out into a chant of “10 MORE YEARS.” It was a celebration that included chapter leaders from all over the country, many of whom don’t get to see each other on a regular basis. My favorite story came from Kathleen Thompson, a chapter leader from Grapevine, TX, who talked about how she felt like she was the only liberal in the area, and what a relief it was for her to find a place where she could meet others who shared her beliefs.

Kathleen Thompson and Joseph Stiglitz

Kathleen Thompson and Joseph Stiglitz

Greg Leding, the current Democratic Leader of the Arkansas House of Representatives, met the people who ended up encouraging him to run for his seemingly unwinnable House seat through Living Liberally. Now he works to foster Democratic talent, in the hopes of recruiting others to take the big step of running for office in a state that’s often hostile to liberals.

Erin Hill, our Executive Director, took the stage to accept our award for “Empowering Liberally” through our work to connect supporters with candidates and causes in order to build a stronger progressive movement. We were happy to accept the award amongst some of our newest partners in New York City. This is the first election year that we’re able to work with candidates for mayor and city council. Justin from Living Liberally helped introduce us to many of them, including Council Member Brad Landers, co-chair of the Progressive Caucus of the NYC Council and the rest of his team, which is using ActBlue for slate fundraising in order to help support all of their members. It was the power of social organizing and the work Living Liberally does in action.

ActBlue helped candidates, committees and organizations raise almost a million dollars more this month than we did in April 2012, when the presidential election was really ramping up. That’s awesome.

What does that mean? It means that more people are donating more often. And beyond that it means that the amount of people engaged and connected with the electoral process is going up. People are fighting to have their voice heard and standing up for what they believe in now that they have the tools to do so.

We’re pretty proud of that. Take a look at how the numbers stack up:

  April ’10 April ’11 April ’12 April ’13
Contributions 31,000 51,727 122,619 170,090
Volume ($) $2,767,800.98 $2,580,800.91 $5,485,860.74 $6,382,236.67
Mean Donation $89.28 $49.89 $44.74 $37.52
Committees 1,235 677 1,651 1,031

 

Our average contribution rate is dwindling – it’s now $37.52. That’s the one metric we’re thrilled to see going down. It’s less than half of what it was 3 years ago during the midterm elections and $12 lower than in April 2011 when we were in the midst of the grassroots movement in Wisconsin. Even with smaller contributions, our overall volume is growing, which means that people are more engaged than ever. In April alone, we processed 170,000 contributions, an increase of 50,000 compared to April 2012. This growth is driven by an increasing number of small dollar donors who are becoming active and pooling their resources together to make a big impact.

Another interesting fact? 621 fewer committees raised money in April 2013 than in April 2012. We don’t like seeing numbers go down, but that difference is understandable as there are always more races during a big election year. Knowing that a smaller pool of campaigns and organizations pulled off these impressive fundraising numbers makes it even sweeter. These groups are building truly grassroots efforts and we’re excited to see them grow.

The South Carolina special election between Elizabeth Colbert Busch and Mark Sanford is a prime example. Sanford recently called us an “ultra liberal money funnel” and tried to discredit Colbert Busch’s hard-earned grassroots donations. No wonder he was nervous: she raised an impressive $731,100 from 19,328 donors this month and helped drive lots of traffic. That’s a whole lot of engaged folks for a spring election in an off year.

Our biggest tool for building online grassroots programs has been ActBlue Express, which allows returning donors to give with just one click every time they get served up an ActBlue donation page. That means all Express users are valuable for any campaign or organization who decides to use us. Last month over half (52.1%) of our site wide contributors were ActBlue Express users and we brought our total Express users up to 552,188. We know that these users are our most dedicated donors, so we’re happy to see that number growing!

The first quarter after an election year – especially after an expensive presidential election – can be a time of transition for political fundraising, but other than a short break during the holiday season, we saw campaigns and committees getting right back to work. And boy did they ever!

Here are our top line numbers compared with Q1 numbers in past post-election years. The ActBlue staff obsessively looks at these numbers every day, but then again we’re big dorks, and if you are reading this, you probably are too.

Q1 ’07 Q1 ’09 Q1 ’11 Q1 ’13
Contributions 31,441 24,361 180,537 436,726
Volume ($) $3,141,038.27 $5,343,772.20 $8,712,756.77 $16,478,580.31
Mean Donation $99.90 $219.36 $48.26 $37.73
Committees 235 651 881 1,246

 

Notice that the average donation amount has dropped quite a bit, while the number of donations made has gone up. This is a fairly common phenomenon, but one we actually ascribe a bit of meaning too. It used to be that electoral campaigns didn’t do a lot of work in the off year, let alone trying to engage small dollar donors, figuring that it was too far from an election for anyone to care/respond. Instead, finance directors would spend quite a bit of time talking to major donors during that period, and often not have anyone on staff tasked with building an email list and bringing supporters on board. That lead to a disproportionate number of large donations being processed via ActBlue, rather than the small dollar donors that are more typical.

But we’re thrilled to see people starting earlier and investing in a grassroots fundraising program, thus increasing the number of people that have a stake in the outcome of the election and ensuring it’s not just the few people blessed enough to be able to give max-out donations. It’s something we’ve long urged campaigns to do. Engaging small dollar donors throughout the length of campaigns has a ton of benefits: A) It makes campaigns more small D democratic because there are more voices being brought in and kept in, B) It makes campaigns stronger because there’s more money and a bigger pool to work with for field and votes and C) It makes the whole left stronger as more voices come in and stay active.

We sent checks to 1,246 different organizations, campaigns and committees this quarter and we can’t wait to see what that number looks like in March ’15!

The final day of the quarter happened to coincide with Easter, and we weren’t sure what that would mean for donations. Traditionally, we see big spikes at the end of each month and a huge one at the end of the quarter. The number of fundraising emails that show up in your inbox around that time usually corresponds with a big uptick in donations. But we didn’t see a huge spike at the end of the quarter on Sunday. Instead, it was more of a steady climb during the last week, which meant that candidates and committees still did well overall, but didn’t see those huge last minute increases.

Take a look at the chart below to see the volume and number of contributions for each day:

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Our assumption is that it was just bad luck that the end of the quarter fell on not just any Sunday, but Easter Sunday. This year it just so happens that every end of quarter day is on a weekend, and it will be interesting to see if this pattern continues, but not so fun for all of those hard working finance and digital directors out there. Those spikes get the adrenaline going, especially when we’re so far from election day. No matter how big the spikes grow, the ActBlue team will be hard at work even on a weekend, responding to questions and keeping the site zippy.

We’ve seen some pretty big numbers on ActBlue in 2013 so far, and if we’re helping to raise this much money while campaigns are just ramping up, we can only imagine what this cycle will bring. That means more work for us internally to make sure we’re ready for what all you – our users – bring. Really, it’s about the work you’ve been doing as supporters and organizers, and your dedication to starting your fundraising programs early means a bright future for 2014 in races up and down the ballot!

Note: This is the first in what we hope will be a regular series on the ActBlue blog sharing our lessons learned from our email program with our larger community of practitioners.

Have you ever wondered if you’d raise more money if you asked your email list for recurring contributions instead of a one-time ask? Yeah, us too.

We’ve tested this from time to time, and usually find for ActBlue and our community members that recurring asks perform better. But we know that the email copy can influence the results, so we decided to test it again. Last Thursday we sent out nearly identical emails to our members, but with two different asks. Here’s an example:

1-time ask

The only way we can do it is if we hit our big goal of raising $75,000 for ActBlue, by the end of the quarter on Sunday. Can you contribute $5, or whatever you can afford, right now to ActBlue, and ensure we’re prepared to help thousands of candidates and organizations raise millions of dollars next fall?

Recurring ask

The only way we can do it is if we hit our big goal of 1,000 donors to ActBlue giving $3 a month, or whatever they can afford, by the end of the quarter on Sunday. Can you contribute $3 a month right now to ActBlue, and ensure we’re prepared to help thousands of candidates and organizations raise millions of dollars next fall?

Each email was sent to 100k random members. We let the test roll for 24 hours before making a call on Friday morning, but it was pretty apparent early on that we were going to have a winner.

One critical piece of important information that we had was the ability to calculate with confidence how much money the recurring contributions would bring in. Recurring donors on ActBlue pick the amount of months they’d like to make their contribution – the maximum is 24 months and we set that as the default when people land on the page through the email parameters. ActBlue Page Dashboards (which are in beta) do the math for you and display exactly how much money your members have signed up to contribute. They’re a tad hidden at the moment due to the beta status, but just add /dashboard/list before your specific page name when you are logged in to see it. For example: https://secure.actblue.com/dashboard/list/offthecharts/. Here’s how it looks for this fundraising page:

But we know that for one reason or another some people don’t complete their pledge. Their credit cards expire and they never updated them with us (even though we ask) or they simply cancel their recurring contribution. That’s why we recently analyzed our pledge completion rate. Since November 2010 the percentage of money that was pledged to ActBlue’s own PAC and received is 88.97% for all recurring contribution pledges that have completed. We did not include people who are still contributing monthly.

Across all the different committees who use ActBlue, we find a sitewide completion rate of 80%, so ActBlue is a bit higher than the average. And our completion rate has grown from where it used to be. All-time we are at a 77.78% pledge completion rate, so clearly we’ve gotten better at getting our folks to finish out their pledges.

Since we had the pledge completion rate, we could calculate how much we could reasonably expect to get in from both the one-time contribution ask and the recurring contribution ask. And here are our results after 24 hours.

One time ask : $2,557 projected
Recurring ask: $4,365.70 projected

We had more contributions on the one-time page than the recurring page, but clearly we were going to end up bringing in more money if we asked the remaining portion of our list to make a recurring contribution. Thus on Friday we sent out the recurring contribution ask to the remaining members of our list, and followed it with a kicker on Sunday, the last day of the quarter.

Our assumption is that ActBlue is viewed by our members as long-term infrastructure that should be supported as such. We’re not a candidate that’s trying to post a great end-of-quarter number, and we’re not trying to raise funds for a specific project like other non-profits. So while our members dig the recurring contributions, your members may not. So test it and find out!

We know people often make different assumptions about recurring revenue, but as you see with this test, the recurring ask is worth significantly more even though fewer people participate. Plus, at this point – 18 months from election day – you’re building a recurring pool so that you’ll have all sorts of money coming in via recurring. That adds up! And it’s a chance to create a long-term bond with your contributors.

We’ll likely run this test again in the not too distant future to ensure that a) our member’s interests/behavior hasn’t changed b) the results were not due to the specific email copy being more suited for a recurring ask. But until then, you’re likely to just be getting recurring contribution asks from ActBlue.

We know you want your fundraising data to be accessible, digestible, and shown to you in real-time. That’s why we spend so much time developing and enhancing our campaign dashboards to fit your needs. But you can’t always be monitoring your dashboard.

That’s why we’re introducing our new contribution email alerts. Now you can sign up to receive an email every time your candidate, committee or cause receives a donation over an amount of your choosing. That means you can follow up with a high dollar donor right away and work on building a good relationship.

The average contribution size for most groups is pretty low – it was $34.82 on ActBlue last month – and these donations make up the backbone of most online fundraising program. Everyone knows we love donors of all sizes, but high dollar donors are often very important to organizations, helping them fund new projects or reach quarterly goals. And they’re investing a significant amount of money because they believe in what you’re doing, so you want to be able to keep an eye on them.

To sign up, go to your committee’s page and click on the “User Access” tab. There you’ll see everyone with access to the committee. Click on “create a contribution alert” under your name or a team member’s name and enter an amount for the threshold. You’ll receive an email alert for any donation over this amount. If you want to edit the amount, you can come back to this page at any time.

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And we’re always looking to make our tools work better for you, so if there’s something you’d like to see on ActBlue, feel free to drop us a line at info AT actblue DOT com.

Special thanks to Molly Ritner and Greg Berlin (both at the DCCC) for working with ActBlue to design this feature. We love our power users!

You’d never know it was an off-year here at ActBlue!

Our office has been busier than ever working to develop the tools we’ll need for 2014 and beyond. Continuing to innovate is the best weapon we have against the Republicans’ SuperPAC money.

But we’re not the only ones who’ve been busy. We’ve helped raise $5.67 million in February this year for 802 different campaigns, committees and causes, beating our February 2012 numbers by $600,000! Yep, that’s right, we helped raise more money this past month in an off-year than we did last February before a presidential election.

February 2010 February 2011 February 2012 February 2013
Contributions 31,447 34,496 110,323 162,892
Volume ($) $2,330,706.45 $2,228,051.55 $5,076,973.2 $5,671,860.13
Mean Donation $74.12 $64.59 $46.02 $34.82
Committees 1,003 561 1,340 802

 

Donors are more committed than ever to victory at the ballot box and beyond. That $5.67 million came from an impressive 162,892 donors, with an average contribution size of $34.82, which is proof that grassroots fundraising can compete with big special interest money when you work hard at it.

We hit a huge milestone in February: we reached 500,000 Express users – who can contribute with just one click – after adding 23,525 in February alone and 429,597 since last year.

Why is that such a big deal? Well, our Express donors landing on a contribution form convert at a rate of 87.86% versus 12.67% for everyone else. That means more Express users = more money.

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We’re also looking ahead and envisioning what 2014 will look like. And we know it’ll involve a lot of mobile. We’re already seeing 8.54% of donations in March come in on mobile, compared to 4.27% at the same time last year, and that number grows each month. Our site is mobile optimized, rigorously tested and easy to use on any browser, because we want to help you meet your supporters where they are.

Guess what? Those Express users, yeah, they convert x4 the rate of other donors on mobile and make up 73% of total mobile donors. And that my friends is a pretty big deal.

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If February was this good, we can’t wait to see what March and the end-of-the-quarter brings!

As always, we’re here to help you get the most out of your online fundraising program. Just drop Patrick Frank a line: frank AT actblue DOT com.

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