How to Build Online Fundraising Networks for Your Campaign

Guest post by Rich Aberman, Founder of WePay

On his way to the presidency, Barack Obama set records by collecting $650 million in contributions from over 3 million donors, a huge percentage of which was collected online.

As somebody who’s mission is to help people collect money online, my first thought was, “Wow.” 

My second thought was, “How”?  And how could others achieve similar success?

The Internet tipped the scales in Obama’s favor by enabling him to reach younger, more online-savvy Americans.  Obama was the first presidential candidate to effectively put the limitless possibilities of the Internet at the heart of his campaign.  Now, in the current election cycle, the Internet is proving to be the most effective medium for raising money and reaching broad audiences with your message.

For everyone from town mayors to senators, the Web has become the future of political fundraising. Here are some of the most efficient strategies to tackle the three C’s—Company, Cash, and Contacts—in moving your campaign fundraising online.

1. Company: Choosing the Right Online Processor

Before you do anything else, you need to decide how you are going to accept donations online.   Do not make the mistake of plunging into a “payment processing” relationship before doing your due diligence.

The most important consideration is cost. You don’t want to work day and night to solicit contributions if 20% of the money you collect goes toward credit card processing fees.  Some payment processers will charge you a setup fee of a few hundred dollars, monthly maintenance fees, a gateway fee per transaction, and up to 4% of the transaction amount. You will also have to integrate the solution into your website, which may require some basic engineering skills.

Many companies that specialize in online fundraising can also help you collect campaign contributions online, so you can reach more people and collect more money.  You should consider costs with these solutions, in addition to the value-add services that they offer.

2. Cash: Directing People to Donate

Once you’ve chosen a company to work with, the next step should be making donating as easy as possible.  Although many of your contributors will be web-savvy, don’t bank on this being the norm. Make sure your website has an easy to access “Contribute” page that is visible above the fold on the homepage. 

Tip: The more clicks it takes to contribute, the more people you will lose.  Therefore, put the “contribute” form directly on your site rather than sending people to a different donation provider. 

In addition to making it super-easy to make a donation on your site, you should also make it easy for your supporters to pay for special fundraising events.  Selling tickets for fundraisers or special events should be a straightforward process. By making it easy to pay online, rather than forcing supporters to mail cash or paper checks, you will almost certainly attract more attendees.   (For more information, check out How to Raise Political Donations Online).

3.  Contacts

In addition to the monetary contributions that you collect, you will also start to generate a database of contacts. This information is invaluable because of an increasingly social Web. One of the many advantages of taking your fundraising online is that you now have instant access to the social networks of your supporters through actions like “sharing” on Facebook or posting to Twitter.

I can’t emphasize enough how your networks, and those of your donors, can be your biggest assets.  Check into your service provider’s social networking capabilities—can you enable automatic Facebook status updates and Twitter posts for your voters?  Seeing “I just made a donation to [your campaign]. If you want to donate as well, please click here” written by a friend is fantastic peer-to-peer marketing.

In addition, combine traditional voter-facing strategies with those online.  While people are wary of giving credit card information out to a clipboard-holding youngster knocking through a neighborhood, odds are much better they will provide you with an email address.  Instruct your team to collect as many email addresses and accompanying pledges as possible.  Once you have this, you can plug them into your database and send a note with your campaign messages and a donation request. 

The average Obama supporter donated more than once.  How did he make that happen?  The more than one billion e-mails the campaign sent had something to do with it, but no matter how small or large, making your system as easy to use as possible and choosing a system that fits applies to any campaign.

Once you master these key online campaign strategies, you should have a lot more time to spread your message and expand your campaign.

Rich Aberman is the Founder and President of WePay, an online payment processing solution that allows political campaigns to process donations and event tickets online, without the expense of a traditional payment processor.


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