Election 2019: What civic participation looks like today

There were several crucial state and local elections across the country on November 5, and grassroots activists and small-dollar donors powered Democrats to victory in many of them! Folks invested time and money in their state and local races like never before because these offices have a huge effect on our day-to-day lives.

Democrats flipped both the House of Delegates and the State Senate in Virginia, securing control of the state government for the first time in the 21st century! And in Kentucky, a traditionally red state, Democrat Andy Beshear is the governor-elect.

Millions of small-dollar donors and thousands of activists all over the country made these and many other wins possible. Election Day 2019 is an exciting example of how more people are participating in our democracy than ever before! And it was definitely not an off-year for small-dollar donors: They doubled their contributions to state legislative races on ActBlue in Q3 ’19 compared to Q3 ‘17!

Grassroots donors also directed their money to where it would make the most impact. Many groups organizing around state and local elections created Tandem forms on ActBlue, which enabled donors to give to multiple candidates with a single click. This tool was particularly successful in Virginia, where the entire state legislature was up for election. Grassroots donors contributed $1.8 milliona sixth of all the money raised on ActBlue for Virginia candidates — via Tandem forms in this election! Here are two Tandem examples from Virginia that made it easy to give to multiple highly competitive campaigns in a single click:

Swing Left

Impact Slates

But the engagement doesn’t stop with contribution forms: Small-dollar donors do much more than give! They vote, get the word out, and bring more people into a cause. The 2019 election is a great example of this.

Organizations like MobilizeAmerica, a volunteer management platform, help make record turnout numbers and huge Democratic wins happen by harnessing the power of the grassroots. In Virginia, volunteer activity through MobilizeAmerica was approximately five times the volume from 2017 — that’s over 15,000 volunteer shifts, 4,900 of which happened in the week leading up to the election!

Thousands of people did the vital work of going door-to-door, making calls, and asking people the simple question: What is your plan to vote? These efforts continued online too:

Tweet

The organizing that went into this election and its results lay the groundwork for 2020! Democrats, from grassroots donors to elected officials, will now have a voice in critical decisions and have tested strategies to take across the country. We can’t wait to see where this momentum will lead us. Check out our Twitter to stay updated on how small-dollar donors are making change happen across the country!

Celebrating 15 years of empowering small-dollar donors

ActBlue officially turned 15 years old this past summer! Since 2004, we’ve been driven by our mission to make it incredibly easy for people to give to candidates and causes on the left and make their voices heard. We sat down with our Executive Director Erin Hill to talk about Day One of democratizing power and how small-dollar donors have transformed how candidates run for office, how we elect our representatives, how movements take off, and how people effect change.

Erin


Why was ActBlue founded?

Erin: ActBlue was founded in 2004 by Matt DeBergalis and Ben Rahn, scientists who were not traditionally part of the political space. 2004 was another period of time in our country when folks were coming off of the sidelines and thinking about the way the country was going. George Bush was president, Hurricane Katrina would hit in 2005, and we were in wars we are still in today.

People were trying to think about how they could use their skills to make the country a better place, and I think our founders were canonical examples of that. They had these professional skills and thought: Could we use technology to make it as easy for people to participate in our politics and donate as it is to buy a book online? Something to remember is that there wasn’t a lot of online fundraising before 2004 — that time was still the rise of e-commerce! So Matt and Ben set out to democratize the least democratic part of the political process, with the simple idea of making it easy for more people to give.

How has ActBlue changed fundraising?

E: To get somebody to donate still takes the basics of making a very specific, urgent ask and inviting people to be part of your compelling ideas! But what technology does is make it possible for you to reach more people and to do it more efficiently. It lets us meet people where they are and lets them contribute in a meaningful way that fits in with their lifestyle.

The other thing this rise in small-dollar donors has done is help us compete in more places and help new candidates find their voice. People can build their own grassroots fundraising structure from the ground up, and that changes who can see themselves as a viable candidate.

Kitchen Origin Story

So many times, those campaigns are very small. It’s a candidate, a partner, and a neighbor over a kitchen table trying to think about how to make their community better. Our technology takes off some of the administrative burden so they can focus on connecting with supporters, which makes a big difference for these campaigns.

How will small-dollar donors impact 2020?

E: Small-dollar donors are going to elect the next president of the United States. They were the force behind the Democratic candidates who took back the House in the 2018 midterms, and they are going to fuel at least 50% of the Democratic presidential nominee’s fundraising. So they’re going to be really important in taking down Donald Trump.

Not only that: We are preparing to go more aggressively down-ballot this year than we’ve ever gone before. Small-dollar donors are giving to state and local candidates, causes, and charities that matter to them! So small-dollar donors are not only going to be important for powering the top of the ticket — they’re going to be important for powering the entire bench all the way down to make sure we’re going to fix our country.

Collective Power!

As someone who’s been with the organization since basically the beginning (ActBlue’s second team member ever!), what are you most proud to have witnessed and been a part of at ActBlue?

E: It’s such a privilege that our work at the end of the day gets to be about helping to empower other people. The thing that always surprises me the most is that in those early days, I was so used to talking about the ActBlue pitch. Now, to run into people who talk about what giving through our platform means to them, how that’s helped them have a voice in the democratic process in a way they didn’t have otherwise, who see us as an ally — that is so moving.

How are you making the giving process even easier for people who want to take action today?

E: We have a whole team of brilliant folks continuously running tests on our features and tools to learn about user behavior and use data to drive decisions! We like to say it’s our job to make giving as frictionless as possible. About 7.5 million people have saved their payment information in a single-click payment method we call ActBlue Express, which is especially important for the majority of donations made on mobile. There’s nothing worse than on your commute, reading an email and saying “Yes! I want to be in this,” and trying to type in 16 digits of your credit card number using your thumbs on a phone!

Subway Single Click

What does the future hold for ActBlue and the small-dollar donor movement?

E: I think this movement is going to keep growing! Small-dollar donors give little bits to lots of candidates and causes that matter to them. With the number of new folks we’re seeing come out this early in the election cycle, we’ll see millions of new small-dollar donors between now and Election Day in 2020. We hear a lot about the Koch brothers, big money, and dark money: I think small-dollar contributions are a positive and practical alternative to that. If corporate money and dark money are threats to our democracy, small-dollar donors will help save our democracy!

If you could say one thing for people to take away from our conversation, what would you want that to be?

E: I want small-dollar donors to know we wouldn’t be able to do any of this work if it were not for them. We’re a nonprofit, so the source of income for the entire organization is our own small-dollar donors! It means we work for the people who use us, which is a great privilege. It also means we’re all working together toward the same gains.

It’s amazing to see small-dollar donors become such an integral and effective part of how our democracy works right now. They change who is participating, who people are paying attention to, and who can run for office. At this particularly important time, we can put all of our brains together to change our country. And we get to be part of that! It’s just so awesome.


Thank you for 15 incredible years and many more to come! Since the beginning, it’s been grassroots movements changing our country for the better, and there’s no other place we’d rather be than in this small-dollar donor movement with you.

In other words, our story is your story! Are you a donor, supporter, or fundraiser who’s part of our 15 years? Leave us a message on our birthday wall letting us know when you first made a donation or used our tools!

Meet the interns powering grassroots movements

Every academic semester, a team of paid interns jumps on board to join ActBlue in empowering millions of small-dollar donors and gain hands-on professional experience in politics, advocacy, and tech. Many of those interns end up staying with us for multiple semesters, and nine former interns are now staff members! Our incredible interns come from different corners of the country and study different disciplines, but what brings them all to ActBlue is a shared passion for creating positive change. At ActBlue, we’re driven by our mission to make it easy for people to make their voices heard and change our democracy. It’s why we’re always excited to include inspired students in the day-to-day work of serving small-dollar donors and helping groups on the left build people-powered movements.

Interns bring their diverse skills and unique voices to various teams across the organization, and their excitement to make a difference is the kind of electricity that keeps a nonprofit like ActBlue going! From supporting donors with the Customer Service Team to helping groups make contribution forms with the Outreach Team, interns see all the work and people it takes to make democratizing power a reality. As an intern myself, I’ve gotten a firsthand look into the big role interns play at ActBlue.

Natalie
That’s me, Natalie!

As I start my last year at Emerson College and my second semester with ActBlue, I realize how impactful this internship has been. I started this past summer knowing that the next three months would be really important in my career trajectory. After all, this was my first summer away from home — Milwaukee — and my last summer as a college student! I had to start figuring out what I wanted to do after I graduate, and I am so grateful that I spent this time at ActBlue. Through my work with ActBlue’s Communications and Marketing Team, I’ve had incredible opportunities to take on independent projects and be a key part of a nonprofit and larger grassroots movement. I got to face new challenges and learn firsthand how to craft content and engage with different progressive communities taking action! It’s this kind of mission-driven work and mentorship from people in ActBlue that have supported my growth as someone passionate about political communications.

No matter your major, everyone can put their talents and skills to good use in changing our country. I sat down with a few summer interns from different departments to ask about their thoughts on being an intern at ActBlue. I’m excited to share their stories and perspectives from their time powering the small-dollar donor movement!

Daria

Hayes

Daria is a rising senior in justice and peace studies at Georgetown University. She returned home to Boston this past summer as a Customer Service intern at ActBlue to support the millions of small-dollar donors using our platform to give to campaigns and organizations on the left.

I stumbled upon the ActBlue internship online, and the mission of making sure politics doesn’t have to rely on billionaires and corporations made me want to work here! My favorite part of this internship has been helping grassroots campaigns and the donors who support them, as well as the awesome conversations I have every day in the office. If you know you want to do something, but you don’t know what exactly you want to do, this is a great place to learn all of the ways you can participate in the civic process. Even if you may not be interested initially in customer service, you’re doing so much more than just talking to people — you’re helping. When you’re helping that one individual donor, you’re helping the entire grassroots movement.

Hayes is in his fourth year at Northeastern University studying political science and economics (with minors in urban studies, gender studies, and public policy!). Hailing from Charlotte, North Carolina, Hayes is an intern on the State and Local Outreach Team, helping research candidates in crucial down-ballot races who could use ActBlue’s fundraising tools to connect with small-dollar donors and drive winning people-powered campaigns.

I’ve worked on a few state, local, and federal campaigns in the past, but the ActBlue internship gave me a chance to work on the actual infrastructure of campaigns. Campaigns are often sprints, and one election cycle’s lessons can get lost when Election Day is done! I feel with our work at ActBlue, we are able to make that long-term investment in improving the left. We take lessons from past election cycles and create this infrastructure and fundraising tools that any group on the left can use, no matter what level of government. As an intern reaching out to Western and Southern states about grassroots fundraising, I’ve learned how to manage multiple projects and directly communicate with campaign staff or organizers. I get to see firsthand how important down-ballot races are, and as sexy as working on a federal campaign can be, focusing on helping smaller races has given me a new fire.

Bennett

Shalinee

Bennett is a junior from Oakland, California, studying political science at Tufts University. As an intern with the Partnerships Team, she helped ActBlue build collaborations and support groups on the left with our digital fundraising trainings and resources.

Some friends recommended the ActBlue internship to me, and I knew through the people I talked to and from ActBlue’s mission of lifting up small-dollar donors that there was going to be value alignment between the work I was doing, what I really care about, and what I want to have an impact on. As an intern with the Partnerships Team, I research organizations we are interested in partnering with and want to support. I’ve been able to take on responsibility for multiple short-term and long-term projects and learned to build healthy professional relationships based in communication! One of the highlights from my internship was sitting in on a phone conversation between my supervisor and United Working Families (UWF), one of our partner organizations. It was fantastic to see how my background research on the important work UWF does helped my supervisor understand what resources ActBlue could provide to help them achieve their goals.

Shalinee is starting her second year at the University of California, Los Angeles, studying linguistics and computer science. This past summer, she came back home to Boston as a Customer Service intern.

I’m studying computer science, but I’ve always been super interested in politics. Interning at ActBlue, a technology nonprofit, has shown me that I can combine my love for progressive politics with my background in engineering! I’m really passionate about accessibility to education, so it’s cool that even though I’m not a political science major, I can work in politics. This is my first time working in an office setting, and I’ve really honed my email writing skills and learned how to help donors with different questions as much as possible. One of my favorite parts of this internship is the 18 types of loose leaf tea and snacks in the kitchen, but above all, I love working with all the friendly people at ActBlue. They care about the growth of students throughout the internship, and that’s the most valuable type of internship program.

Want to join us in powering grassroots movements across the country as one of our paid interns? While we already completed the intern hiring process for fall 2019, we’ll be looking to welcome some more amazing interns for spring 2020. What better way to close out your school year than an internship that gives you a chance to make a difference, pays you, and gives you mentorship, a public transit pass, and snacks and coffee? If you’d like to be notified when our spring internship application opens — typically at the end of October — fill out this form! We’d love to connect with you then about your passion for changing the future of our country.