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!

Q3 2019: On track for a $1 billion year

Small-dollar donors took no time off this summer, setting multiple sitewide records in the third quarter (July, August, and September). Over 3 million donors (record number one!) chipped in to raise $297 million in Q3 ’19 — our biggest quarter this year and third largest in ActBlue history by dollars raised. Nearly one million of those people were first-time donors on ActBlue! And that’s not all: Roughly the same number of unique donors have now given this year as in the entire 2018 election cycle!

Q3’s 3 million donors made 10.5 million contributions to 8,984 campaigns and organizations fundraising on ActBlue, breaking our previous quarter record by almost 2 million contributions. And on September 30, small-dollar donors gave more contributions in a single day than ever before! We saw unprecedented engagement, with donors giving nearly 40,000 contributions per hour at the peak of end-of-quarter traffic. Mobile giving is driving more traffic than ever before, with an impressive 58% of donations this quarter made via mobile. 2019 is the first year we had a 50%+ mobile quarter, and that percentage has been growing fast!

Many people expected this summer would be a slow fundraising period, but our numbers show that the sleepy fundraising summers of the past are over!

Dollars Raised on ActBlue by Quarter

TOPLINE NUMBERS

Q3 ’15 Q3 ’17 Q3 ’19
Contributions 1,790,888 3,179,068 10,466,567
Total Amount $57,508,215 $108,146,597 $297,113,012
Average Contribution Size $32.11 $34.02 $28.39
Unique Campaigns, Committees,
and Organizations
2,263 5,226 8,984

CYCLE-TO-CYCLE COMPARISON

2016 Cycle through Q3 2015 2018 Cycle through Q3 2017 2020 Cycle through Q3 2019
Contributions 3,848,036 11,974,368 23,470,324
Total Amount $132,621,476 $355,506,035 $716,960,748
Average Contribution Size $34.46 $29.68 $30.50
Unique Campaigns, Committees, and Organizations 3,009 6,392 11,082

Small-dollar donors were active and engaged throughout Q3, not just in September or at end-of-quarter — August 2019 was our fifth biggest month ever by total dollars raised! And not everything is about the White House. Small-dollar donors are supporting candidates and causes across the board — 62.4% of donors gave to a campaign or organization other than a presidential candidate in Q3.

With more and more attention paid to issues like gerrymandering, Medicaid expansion, reproductive rights, and gun sense laws, small-dollar donors are making sure their voices are heard in state-level elections this cycle. Compared to Q3 ‘17, donors have doubled their contributions to state legislative races. Small-dollar donors are engaged with congressional races, too. Despite the attention on the presidential primary, donors gave twice as many contributions to House and Senate races this quarter compared to Q3 ’17. It’s clear that not only are small-dollar donors engaged and excited, but they are both thoughtful and strategic in their giving.

ACTBLUE EXPRESS

Q3 ’15 Q3 ’17 Q3 ’19
% of Total Contributions via ActBlue Express 64.9% 64.4% 61.7%

Donors who save their payment information in an ActBlue Express account can give to any candidate or cause on ActBlue with a single click. The ActBlue Express community is empowered, and it is growing: Q3 2019 was our second largest quarter ever for ActBlue Express adoption. There are 7.7 million ActBlue Express users!

MOBILE

Q3 ’15 Q3 ’17 Q3 ’19
% of Contributions via Mobile 30.3% 41.1% 57.9%

We strive to meet grassroots donors where they are and make it as easy as possible for them to participate in civic life. Increasingly, donors are engaging with the news on the go amidst their daily lives, and we want to ensure they can take action right in the moment, no matter where they find themselves. That’s why we’re focused on making the mobile contribution experience as seamless as possible, from building automatically mobile-optimized forms to offering payment options like Apple Pay.

And mobile participation is on the rise. This quarter we saw the biggest ever hour for mobile donating during the Democratic presidential primary debate in September! Between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. ET, the rate of mobile giving sitewide peaked at 82%. Mobile giving is making it easy for donors to engage in the moment and be politically active in real time. Since 2018 alone, the average percent of contributions made via mobile on ActBlue has risen almost 20%.

Sitewide Contributions Made via Mobile

RECURRING CONTRIBUTIONS

Q3 ’15 Q3 ’17 Q3 ’19
Total Recurring Volume $13,852,497 $25,283,816 $48,857,797

CUSTOMER SERVICE

Q3 ’19
Total Incoming Calls 30,045
Email Conversations 67,549

We’re a mission-driven nonprofit focused on empowering small-dollar donors, and that means we strive to provide the best possible experience for donors top to bottom, including customer service. This quarter at ActBlue our team has matched the energy of the small-dollar donor community through our work supporting 8,984 campaigns and organizations raising on our platform and responding to 97,594 donor conversations.

Small-dollar donors have blown us away with their enthusiasm and passion this quarter. It was huge and kept us on track for campaigns and organizations to raise one billion dollars on ActBlue alone this year — an incredibly impressive grassroots movement!

Total Dollars Raised on ActBlue Through Q3

With impeachment, more debates, Giving Tuesday, and important state elections happening this year, there are many more opportunities for small-dollar donors to shine. Looking forward to all that we accomplish together in Q4!

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!

The power of recurring contributions

Asking for monthly donations is one of the most impactful strategies available for engaging with small-dollar donors and building a sustainable grassroots movement. A successful recurring program allows campaigns and organizations to raise more money and budget more effectively, but that’s not all — asking people to invest in your cause over the long term helps you build meaningful relationships with donors. And ActBlue users are excited to give on a regular basis: During the 2018 election cycle, 41% of all donations on ActBlue came from recurring contributions. That added up to over $324 million given to progressive campaigns and organizations creating a better future as a result of both monthly and weekly donations!

Recurring contributions powered small-dollar donors’ record-breaking fundraising on ActBlue in 2018, and we know they’ll be even more important moving forward. Keep reading to learn more about engaging with small-dollar donors using smart grassroots strategies and ActBlue’s easy recurring tools.

First, why focus on recurring contributions instead of only sending one-time asks?

1. Long-lasting relationships.
Here at ActBlue, empowering small-dollar donors is our bread and butter. That’s why we think recurring contributions are so important: When people choose to give money to a group on a regular basis, they are investing fully in change and cementing themselves as an essential part of your campaign or organization. It’s conventional wisdom that early money makes a huge difference in politics, so asking early donors in particular to sign up for recurring contributions ensures that you have dedicated supporters from the very beginning and more contributions coming in as your campaign heats up. The same advice applies to nonprofits launching a new fundraising push! In addition to giving monthly, recurring donors are more likely to be vocal, action-oriented advocates who will support you over and over again: In 2017 and 2018, 35% of recurring donors on ActBlue gave a one-time contribution to the same group after their initial recurring contribution. In other words, these grassroots donors will help you spread the word, raise money, and achieve your goals!

2. More money: period.
Receiving small-dollar donations every month brings in more money than receiving larger one-time donations. The 2018 election cycle, which produced huge wins for Democrats and progressive causes, is a great example of this. A $10 recurring contribution started in the 2018 cycle now has a total worth, on average, of $61.94 — over 6 times the worth of a $10 one-time contribution (some of these contributions finished in the 2018 cycle, and some are continuing into 2019). And the momentum isn’t slowing down any time soon! ActBlue has already processed over $100 million in recurring contributions so far this year.

total recurring graph

3. Budgets for the win!
It goes without saying that budgets are absolutely essential to a well-organized campaign or organization. Recurring contributions make budgeting easier and more accurate — if you’re receiving a consistent amount of money every month, you can look forward and plan ahead. Recurring contributions created on ActBlue in the 2018 cycle lasted, on average, around 5 months, giving you plenty of time to schedule ads, hire organizers, or pay for whatever else your group may need. For small campaigns and organizations, having a reliable grassroots donor base and a regular number of recurring contributions will also allow staffers to spend less time finding one-time donors. A strong recurring contribution program is not only a proven fundraising strategy, it’s a time saver!

Asking for recurring contributions is intimidating — we get it! But grassroots donors want to invest in your campaign or organization long term, so it’s important to integrate recurring asks into your existing digital fundraising program. Plus, ActBlue makes it easy! Here are some tips and tricks:

1. Smart Recurring: The ultimate recurring tool!
When you create a contribution form on ActBlue, the pop-up recurring feature, which asks donors giving $100 or less to make their one-time donation a recurring one after they hit “Contribute,” is automatically on. Our Smart Recurring feature works similarly, but it asks donors for a smaller recurring donation after they’ve contributed. By asking people for a recurring contribution that is smaller than what they just gave as a one-time donation, you can help meet people where they are and raise more money in the long run!

2. Don’t forget rapid response.
When there is a crisis or event that thrusts your campaign or cause into the spotlight, people are much more likely to be tuned in to your group and give a donation right in that moment. Although it is easy (and understandable!) to focus on handling the immediate situation, some longer-term thinking can help extend your momentum. Asking for recurring contributions over email or social media is a powerful way to meet the moment and implement real change through small-dollar donations.

NARAL

A strong recurring program will ensure that when the media moves on to cover other news, your group will still have a dedicated cohort of monthly donors that enable you to do the important work you want to focus on.

3. Always say thank you!

Everytown Email

Last but not least, make sure to specifically thank your sustainers! You don’t want to send too many fundraising emails to your recurring donors, because they’re already making a big contribution to your work. Save those emails for key moments or rapid response situations (and only ask them for a one-time gift). Instead, focus on sending emails to this group of donors that recognize their vital support and highlight what their money is doing for your work. Read this article if you need a reminder on how to access your recurring donor information!

In many ways, recurring contributions are at the heart of the small-dollar donor movement: By giving a small amount of money on a monthly basis, individuals can make their voices heard and fully invest in causes and campaigns they care about without giving a large one-time donation. And by building these relationships with donors, you can budget more effectively and have a reliable base of active supporters. That’s what we call a win-win!