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How We’re Evolving Digital Fundraising

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“I hate, hate, hate lines like this in fundraising emails. There are times when an electron hinges on hitting a fundraising goal, but there is no world where Stacey Abrams’ chances of getting elected hinges on some outside group meeting its arbitrary fundraising goal in Feb.”@lockshin on Twitter

Online fundraising is changing.

The last two election cycles have made it clear that raising money for candidates and causes online is not only more difficult, but requires more time and resources than ever before. Not only that, but the widespread use of spam-tactics and end-user abuse has brought a wave of increased scrutiny on online fundraising, particularly for political groups. 

Tactics pioneered by the Trump campaign and the right, but used in equal measure by Democrats and Progressives have not only burnt out the universe of small dollar donors willing to support candidates and causes, but are effectively “poisoning the well”—depressing enthusiasm and furthering the already sour opinions of so many for the political process. You can only get so many emails from Nancy Pelosi begging you for $5 before you start shunning the entire idea of opening your wallet for another campaign.

In short, something is broken, and this space is primed for a major disruption and a better way. This decline in performance is not unique to any specific entity—it’s reflective of an industry-wide shift that’s hitting everyone from small congressional campaigns to major committees to grassroots organizations.

The Path Forward

Low-dollar, online fundraising for organizations and their missions is important. It gives supporters an opportunity to see immediate change from grassroots efforts, and it reassures them that we’re accountable not just to high-dollar, corporate funders, but to everyday people too. 

But we aren’t in 2008 anymore, and just as other campaign tactics, partisan and non-partisan, have to evolve cycle to cycle, so too does digital fundraising. 

So the donate button isn’t going anywhere. But we are proposing a radically different approach to how we message and utilize an organization’s subscribers. Right now, we’re marshaling a lot of hours and resources behind maximizing dollars raised. We believe that time and resources should be reallocated to educating subscribers on a campaign’s or organization’s mission and the work that is being done. Doing this practice allows for an expansion of the universe of people that we’re reaching with that message. 

There are many ways to do that, and we’re proposing three central goals going forward:

Education. Reorienting our focus to education opens up a plethora of tactics to move the needle on expansion. Educating people on what the organization’s mission is, the support current subscribers provide, and the vision for growth urges an activation in support.

Mobilization. Seeing on the ground efforts, such as canvassing or community outreach events, is a great way to engage with current supporters and gain new ones. This is a key component in maintaining presence on and offline.

Expanding our Universe. Organizations can be much better positioned in the attention economy online. Everyone, from major media outlets to political campaigns, is using email to drive traffic back to their website and into their audience. By refocusing our goals we have a big opportunity to widen our reach, driving traffic to videos, podcasts, infographics, and other, shareable, client content.

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