ActBlue Fundraising Platform Strikes Gold -- for Liberals

ActBlue Fundraising Platform Strikes Gold -- for Liberals
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
ActBlue Fundraising Platform Strikes Gold -- for Liberals
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
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Last year, Mother Jones magazine senior reporter Andy Kroll sympathetically profiled the growing liberal online-fundraising platform named ActBlue -- which “has emerged as the fundraising tool of choice for the swelling anti-Trump resistance,” he writes.

Based in Somerville, Mass., “ActBlue works with candidates at the local, state, and national levels -- from school board races to presidential campaigns -- to squeeze every dollar out of their email fundraising pleas or the ubiquitous ‘Donate’ button on their websites,” Kroll wrote.  “Engineers streamline the process of giving to a campaign or cause.  They toy with typefaces, reduce load times, and adapt the product to all devices and operating systems.  Like an Olympic sprinter in training, ActBlue obsesses over shaving off every millisecond.”

By ActBlue’s own most-recent figures, it has been hugely successful. For 2017, the amount of money it raised from more than 16 million clicks on “Contribute” to 7,892 Democratic candidates and liberal advocacy and 501 (c)(3) nonprofit groups, totaled over $522 million. That staggering total is up from nearly $207 million in 2015 – itself an impressive amount -- and more than $91 million in 2013.  The average contribution size was a very-“grassrootsy” $31.95.  More than half of all donors gave for the first time in 2017, and just over 40 percent of all contributions were made from a mobile device.

Founded by entrepreneurial Massachusetts Institute of Technology computer scientist Matt DeBergalis and Harvard-trained physicist Ben Rahn in 2004, ActBlue is a nonprofit political-action committee that, according to Kroll, “charges nothing for its services.  (It takes 4 percent of every donation to cover credit card processing fees.)  Operating costs are paid with tips left by donors and the occasional fundraising campaign.  Anyone who uses it -- ActBlue only serves candidates and causes on the left -- gets access to the same technology.”

Hundreds of committees representing candidates -- including, most recently, now-Sen. Doug Jones -- parties, super PACs, and advocacy organizations have used Act Blue to raise money.  The site has thousands of particular fundraising pages.  It excels at encouraging small, but repeat, donations. (By getting contributors to provide credit-card and other information necessary to set up a permanent personal file, it relieves donors of the burden of having to re-enter their information each time they want to make a contribution.)

With its 45 employees, Act Blue is a “permanent part of Democratic politics,” Kroll notes.  “Strangely enough, Republicans have failed to replicate it,” he parenthetically notes.  There are companies that Republican candidates and conservative advocacy groups can retain that use data-driven CRM (customer relationship management) technology and techniques, but they are retainable only by singular candidates and groups.

In 2016, moreover, ActBlue announced creation of ActBlue Charities as an IRS 501(c)(3) nonprofit that shares the same technological prowess to maximize giving to liberal (c)(3) groups. 

“We’re excited to be working with organizations in a space where there is room for small-dollar donor growth, and the potential to build powerful movements of all kinds,” according to the announcement.  “ActBlue Charities is open to any c3 organization that is willing to engage in grassroots fundraising, and whose activity doesn’t contradict ActBlue Charities’ policies and values.  Those values include (but aren’t limited to) social equality, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, racial justice, diversity, freedom of speech, and respect for scientific inquiry, discovery, and data.”

In contrast, there are conservative donor-advised funds that support conservative (c)(3)s, including with good online platforms, but they usually require a certain, non-small-dollar amount to open an account with them, and they don’t come with as full a set of convenient tools that ActBlue provides to givers and recipients.  There also have been and are conservative crowdfunding campaigns on other, general platforms like GoFundMe and Indiegogo, of course, but they have been and are project-specific.  Kickstarter has rejected the inclusion of conservative projects on its site.

As the $522 million raised in 2017 makes clear, ActBlue’s tools are working extremely well.  And ActBlue Charities seems like another smart idea, from its liberal standpoint. 

From a conservative standpoint, all of this might look to be worth another aggressive attempt at replication.

Michael E. Hartmann is a senior fellow and director of the Center for Strategic Giving at the Capital Research Center in Washington, D.C. He is a former program officer and director of research at The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation in Milwaukee.

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