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8 Online Fundraising Tips for Political Campaigns and Non-Profits

With the recent release of our new online fundraising features in Grassroots, we’ve been thinking a lot about best practices for online fundraising.

We’ve compiled some of the most important lessons for online fundraising from successful political campaigns and non-profits over the last few years.

1. Simplify the donation process

Once a supporter is considering donating to your campaign or non-profit, it’s important to make the process as simple as possible.

One method to do that is to store information from past donors or known supporters and fill it in for them. If someone visits your donation page while logged into your online organizing software, you know his or her name and address. Fill in that information automatically, and remove one reason for somebody to leave your site.

Another approach, which the Obama campaign used successfully in 2012 and the Romney campaign later adopted, is to create sequential donation forms: that is, unveil the form in small chunks so it is less intimidating to fill out. (Our standard donation forms take precisely that approach.)

The extreme—albeit very effective—version of this is to allow people to donate by phone. There are some challenges with that approach—it’s technically complex and opens the possibility of accidental donations—but it helped the Obama campaign raise tens of millions of dollars in 2012.

2. Create a sense of urgency

Campaigns and non-profits with successful fundraising operations create a compelling reason not just to donate, but to donate now. This is an important distinction: campaigns can’t just convince people to support them, or that they need donations to be successful—they have to convince website visitors to donate right now.

Deadlines—real or artificial—are an effective way to create urgency. For political campaigns that might mean the end of a quarter or an important primary date. For non-profits, it could be the end of the year or a period during which donations are matched.

Artificial deadlines work as well. In the political arena, “moneybombs”—single-day fundraising drives largely pioneered by Ron Paul—have proven remarkably effective. During one 24-hour moneybomb in 2007, Paul raised $4.2 million.

Even displaying progress toward a goal can be effective. By showing supporters how many people have donated and how much, campaigns can help would-be donors understand their role in the fundraising drive.

3. Personalize your fundraising pitch

Personalized fundraising pages—also called crowdsourced fundraising or peer-to-peer fundraising—can be an effective way to increase donations to your organization. Typically peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns allow supporters to create custom pages on an organization’s website to include their stories and reward them for the contributions they generate.

With peer-to-peer fundraising, you can tap your supporters’ friends and family for donations. A fundraising appeal from a friend or family member lends instant credibility, lowering the bar your organization has to clear to convince somebody to donate.

Moreover, personalized fundraising pages can spark a sense of competition between supporters that inspires them solicit donations more effectively.

4. Choose the right default amount

People are surprisingly susceptible to anchoring, the psychological tendency to be influenced by an initial piece of information in forming judgments. That’s the effect that makes us think we’ve found a good deal when we see a significant markup from a high initial price, or that can cause a negotiation to center around the first price that one party mentions.

Anchoring can be a powerful force in fundraising as well. By setting a default donation amount, you can influence the amount that a donor will ultimately choose to contribute.

You’re also providing information about who you are and who you want your donors to be. A non-profit with a $1,000 default donation signals it is looking for wealthy or corporate benefactors, whereas a campaign with a $5 default donation is advertising its interest in common people.

There is no right amount for every organization—as with all things, testing is the way to figure out what’s right for you—but the default amount should not be an afterthought.

5. Don’t send your supporters to a foreign-looking website

For technical reasons, many donation forms—especially for smaller campaigns and non-profits—are hosted by payment processors, rather than on the organization’s own website.

But your supporters don’t care about the technical and regulatory challenges in accepting online contributions. All they know is that, after clicking a “donate” link, they have found themselves on a website that looks unfamiliar and is asking for their credit card information.

There’s no doubt that this process costs campaigns and non-profits money. In the worst case, a potential donor might worry that he has been redirected to an unscrupulous page designed to steal his credit card information. In many more cases, redirecting somebody to a page with none of your organization’s branding might change their mental context and cause them to think twice about donating.

Make sure your organization has full control over the layout and information on your donation pages—they should be a seamless extension of your website, not an unknown detour.

6. Don’t squander your thank-you emails

Most organizations send follow-up emails to thank donors after they contribute. But too many of these are cold, perfunctory receipts of the transaction.

Instead a thank-you email is an opportunity to engage your donors more deeply. Explain again what your organization can accomplish with the your donor’s contribution, include links to social media accounts, and let donors know how else they can be involved in the cause.

A truly personal touch can be effective as well. For small organizations that don’t receive many donations, consider following up with a short thank you from a candidate, volunteer, or staff member. An auto-generated email can be great for providing more information—but a two-sentence, personal thank you from a real person’s email account has an important place as well.

7. Take advantage of your email list

Your email list is one of a campaign’s best ways to drive donations. Once you have a supporter’s email address, you’re not compelled to secure a donation based on one visit to your website or donation page—even if a supporter doesn’t donate today, there’s no reason he or she won’t in a week or a month.

Campaigns can target their emails to the people who are most likely to donate at a time they’re most willing to do so. On the heels of a new plan, a major attack from an opponent, or a newsworthy event, email subscribers can easily turn into donors.

For past donors, your email list provides a way to solicit future donations. This is part of the tremendous value of small donors: they can often be persuaded to donate again, and the limiting factor is often attention rather than willingness to donate. Give past donors a reason to step up to the plate again, and they’re likely to do so.

8. Relentlessly test your assumptions

Finally, The most important tool in the online fundraiser’s toolbox is relentless testing: a willingness to compare how different fundraising pitches, donation forms, and images affect fundraising numbers. Intuition is a good starting point, but it’s no more than that. Even past successes do not offer the final world: the lessons here have helped many campaigns boost their fundraising numbers, but that is no guarantee that they will work for everyone.

Instead, campaigns should test everything, to see what works and what doesn’t.

This ethic was evident in spades in the Obama campaign, which ran 240 a/b tests in the six months before the 2012 presidential election.

The result? An eye-popping $250 million in online donations, with a 49% increase in donation conversion rate. Most campaigns can’t reach $250 million—but there is no reason they can’t target a similar improvement in conversion rate over time.


Interested in learning more about how we can help with your online fundraising? Take a tour of our online fundraising platform, email us, or start a free Grassroots trial.

Introducing Grassroots

Over the last few years we’ve had many clients use Camelot’s voter database and outreach tools to identify their supporters, target them with the right message, and get them to the polls. We’ve made it easy to do all of this with one tool: there’s no need for a separate email system, phone banking product, or walk sheet generator.

But we’ve consistently seen a trend toward wanting to do more—and in particular, to better link the campaign’s back office with its online presence and its supporters’ grassroots organizing.

We’ve introduced new functionality in bits and pieces, typically in response to the needs of specific clients. We added the ability to host a form on your own website that submits data to Camelot, eliminating the need for manual data entry and ensuring that your voter data and your website information are in sync. We made it possible to open phone banks to supporters without Camelot accounts, so they can make calls from home without requiring direct support from campaign headquarters. But these additions were never fully integrated into Camelot.

We wanted to change that.

Introducing Grassroots: a new tool for grassroots organizing and website management

For the past few months, we’ve been working on a new product, called Grassroots. Grassroots is designed to work with our existing product, Camelot HQ, or to serve as a stand-alone platform.

Grassroots adds a number of new features that we think campaigns, not-for-profits, and community groups need.

  • Fully manage your website. We’ll handle the hosting; you just focus on the content. You can use a built-in theme, or you have complete flexibility to change the design to suit your needs. There’s no cookie-cutter layout; in fact, this site is fully powered by Grassroots.
  • Create an online community. Encourage your supporters to organize from the ground up. Grassroots gives you and your supporters the tools they need: groups and forums to discuss issues and outreach, petitions to voice their opinions, events to meet and organize in person, and more.
  • Generate and process contributions. Fundraising is essential to any campaign or organization, and Grassroots helps you do it more efficiently. You don’t need a merchant account or any technical knowledge to get up and running: you can start accepting contributions in about 60 seconds. Create as many fundraising pages as you’d like—even allow your supporters and groups to create personalized fundraising pages so they can raise money from their friends.
  • Manage your website forms and mailing list. Your website isn’t just for you to share information—it’s also a tool to learn from your constituents. Use Grassroots to create as many web forms as you’d like, with responses added directly to your database and attached to the appropriate person’s record.

And, of course, Grassroots is fully integrated with Camelot HQ. Events you create in HQ can be shown on your Grassroots websites, so supporters can RSVP online. Donations are added to voter records, so you see a fuller picture of your supporters. Mailing list subscribers from your Grassroots site are added to your existing HQ email list.

Try Grassroots today

We’re releasing Grassroots today in beta while we iron out the remaining kinks. There is no charge to use Grassroots during this period, and our standard 14-day trial allows you to try HQ at no charge as well.

To try a demo, sign up for a demo administrative account or check out our test website at JohnSmithforCongress.com.

When you’re ready to create your own account, sign up here.

As always, if you have any questions, please contact us by email and we’ll be happy to help.

Tracking Offline Campaign Events with Camelot

Your political campaign software is most valuable when it allows you to connect online and offline activities.

To that end, we’re excited to announce a new feature: track your campaign events with Camelot.

Camelot allows you to create as many events as you need. We’ll automatically geocode and map them, so you can search for events based on location.

You can also use Camelot who track who’s responded and who’s attended your events, both in advance and during the event. With one click, you can add an RSVP or mark a voter as having attended your event.

And, of course, events are integrated with your voter database, so you can always see which events your voters have attended, and you can search by RSVPs or attendance to identify your die-hard supporters.

Have any questions about how we can help you manage events? Send us an email!

How Camelot Works: A Primer

A few weeks ago, we changed our pricing and signup process to allow campaigns of all sizes to start using Camelot, for free, in minutes. Since then, a number of candidates and campaigns have asked us for advice about how Camelot can fit into their campaign workflow.

We’ve put together a rough primer for how Camelot can help campaigns. Of course, there is significant variation from one campaign to the next, but the general approach is common throughout:

  • Upload, clean, and understand your voter data
  • Train campaign staff to use your voter database and campaign software
  • Set up tags and lists to track supporters, undecided voters, absentee voters, and other important segments
  • Begin broad-based outreach long before the election—this introduces the candidate to voters and helps identify supporters, volunteers, and donors
  • Conduct phone banks and door-to-door canvasses to create a personal connection with voters
  • Send targeted emails and direct mailings based on your knowledge of levels of support, demographics, and key issues for your voters
  • In the weeks before the election, determine your core voting bloc—that is, the supporters whose votes your campaign needs to win
  • On election day, send blast emails and conduct phone banks to make sure your supporters cast their ballots

Please contact us if we can help you and your campaign, or read about how our campaign software can can help you win.

Simplified Pricing and Free Trials

In an effort to make Camelot simpler to use and more affordable for campaigns of all sizes, we’re pleased to introduce our new, simplified pricing, which will make Camelot cheaper in the vast majority of cases.

As of today, all new accounts will also start with a 14-day free trial. And, better yet, candidates and campaigns can now create their Camelot accounts in a matter of seconds.

Simpler, more affordable pricing

Our pricing is now more straightforward and affordable, starting at $79 per month with no set-up fee and no long-term commitment:

This pricing includes every feature in Camelot—there are no articial limits on usage. You can cancel your account at any time, or we offer discounts of 10% and 15%, respectively, for agreements of six or twelve months.

Political consulting firms and campaigns with more than 200,000 voters can email us about discounted pricing.

Free trials and automated setup

In addition to change our pricing, we now offer a 14-day free trial with all accounts. No credit card is required up front, so you don’t have to make any commitment until you’re ready. You can also sign up online, and your account will be generated for you automatically in less than a minute.

As always, please feel free to contact us if you have any questions. We hope these changes will allow us to help more campaigns around the country and the world.

Sharing Best Practices with Small and Local Campaigns

Canvasses and phone banks are both central to a successful outreach campaign, but it can be difficult to coordinate the two. With limited resources and voters’ distaste for too much contact from a campaign, it’s difficult to make sure that you don’t contact everyone twice, but also that you don’t miss opportunities to talk with potential supporters.

One of our campaigns was dealing with precisely this challenge recently. There are a few ways to solve this problem, and we thought other campaigns might benefit from reading about the approach we took.

Identifying phone bank targets

The campaign we were working with—a school board election in the Mid-Atlantic—wanted to speak to voters in person whenever possible, with phone banks as an alternative for voters they didn’t reach. The campaign started by canvassing their targets—for this particular canvass, young Democrats—and recorded the results of their encounters as they went.

After recording these results, the campaign could see when a household was busy or nobody was home. They then created a new list?this would become the phone bank target list?that included young Democrats who could not be successfully contacted during a phone bank. These were the criteria for their phone bank list:

In Camelot, lists are updated in real time to include all voters who match the selected criteria. So as soon as a canvasser marked a voter as not home or busy, that voter would then match the criteria for this list and would be added as a target for the “backup” phone bank.

Phone banking as a backup

Every few days, the campaign would go through their phone bank and call voters who had been added as targets—voters who canvassers couldn’t reach. No voter was contacted unnecessarily, yet the campaign still contacted every voter they could reasonably reach.

Improved Canvass Progress Tracking

Camelot’s door-to-door canvassing feature has helped large and small campaigns solve one of the principal problems that canvassing operations often face: how to input and process the data that canvassers gather in the field.

Canvasses in Camelot include a number of features that help track progress. A progress bar for the overall canvass shows how many households have been contacted thus far, and a pie chart of household encounters shows at a glance how many successful, unsuccessful, and pending contacts have occurred thus far. Finally, a tag graph provides valuable intelligence about virtually any criteria you choose, so you can see how many supporters you’ve identified, which issues are most important, which voters have voted early, and more.

Today we add a new feature that will make tracking progress easier, not just in aggregate but at the city, precinct, and street levels.

City, precinct, and street progress indicators

For a large canvassing operation, it’s not sufficient to know the progress of the overall campaign—with thousands of tens of thousands of targeted households, that won’t tell you much. Now, when you view any canvass, you’ll see your progress by city:

Then by precinct:

And, finally, by street:

You can hover your mouse over any of these indicators to see exactly how many people have been contacted so far and how many remain to be contacted.

We hope this helps our canvassers in the field. If you have questions, please do not hesitate to let us know.