Sunday, February 26, 2012

BIG’s Blog: Watch Political Fundraising Innovation

The 2004 Howard Dean campaign was widely seen as the first campaign to have significant success with Internet fundraising. Dean’s numbers were eclipsed four years later when the Obama campaign raised over $500 million with a social networking push.

Pay attention to trends in political fundraising. Political fundraising is a kissing cousin to charitable fundraising. But unlike charitable fundraising where innovation is moribund, political fundraising is the arms race of the political class and culture.

Mike Cassidy keeps an eye on the social implications of Silicon Valley innovation for the Mercury News in Sacramento. His recent article, Will Facebook, Twitter, Fundly and the like be the fundraisers of the future? brings to light trends that charitable fundraisers should be watching.  Excerpts below.

As we move into the meat of the 2012 election season, think of the accelerating convergence of social networking and campaign fundraising as the anti-Super PAC movement.

Super PAC money rolls into campaign coffers in the form of six-zero checks signed by supporters who possess unfathomable means and political interests that they’ll spend tens of millions to protect. The social network money, on the other hand, comes from no-name nobodies, kicking in $20 or $50 or maybe $200 at a time, in part because one of their Facebook friends did the same.

It is still the early days for campaign fundraising through social media, but it’s clear Silicon Valley can take credit for incubating many of the tools that are launching the revolution. The ubiquity of Facebook and Twitter and the rise of money-gathering platforms like Fundy, of Palo Alto, are clear signs that a change is taking hold in one of the world’s oldest professions: political fundraising.

It’s hard to be encouraged by much of anything that has to do with campaign finance, but the rise of social networkers as fundraisers is a sweet breeze of change. The viral, grassroots nature of the networks means it is more likely those who previously wouldn’t get involved in politics will. The demographics of the networks means younger citizens – who are among our most idealistic thinkers – are more likely to take up a cause.

No, these social-networked nickel-and-dimers won’t be any match for the Harold Simmonses, Sheldon and Miriam Adelsons, Peter Thiels and Jeffrey Katzenbergs of the world, who can contribute unlimited amounts to PACs supporting candidates. But the brief history of using virtual networks to raise money shows that such efforts can at least have a significant effect.

Dave Boyce is CEO of Fundly, a ready-made platform for nonprofits, including political campaigns, to launch social media fundraising campaigns. He says that at the end of the 2010 election cycle, 120 political customers are using Fundly to raise money. Now the number is 10 times that.

“The big idea is that giving is social. It always has been,” says Boyce, sitting in a glass conference room looking out at a team of programmers in an office decorated in start-up chic. “Friends ask friends to join them supporting a cause.” Why wouldn’t that social transaction move to the Web; the way buying books, picking a restaurant, planning a trip and purchasing songs has?

The pages raise money, sure, but politicians and their supporters hope they will also build a loyal community of voters.

“It's friends and neighbors talking to each other, not just the campaign talking to supporters,” Barry says. “It’s really a way to create a community, a community of individuals who care about something.”


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