Online Fundraising

Democracy Engine

Company Name: 
Democracy Engine
About the Company: 

This is an archive from 2010. Check out our updated look at this company from August 2012.

Jonathan Zucker wanted to take part of ActBlue's basic concept — distributing the task of fundraising for a candidate or cause across an entire constituency, not just staff and a small knot of the most dedicated volunteers — and change it so it could be applied by any organization with progressive goals.

The result is Democracy Engine, a web-based application that allows individual organizations to put forward slates of candidates, non-profit organizations, PACs — just about any group that can accept donations — for supporters to champion.

As a company and as a product, Democracy Engine is built on Zucker's campaign finance law expertise and the tech savvy of his partner, Erik Pennebaker, who built a fundraising system for Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential bid that he describes on the company website as the core of her online fundraising. Zucker was national director of operations for finance at the Democratic National Committee during the 2004 presidential campaign. And if Democracy Engine behaves a little bit like ActBlue, that's because Zucker was a board member and employee there, first as chief operating officer and counsel, then as its executive director, before severing ties with the organization in 2009 to strike out on his own.

Campaign finance law in America is often Byzantine. Campaign consultants who work in multiple states will bemoan, repeatedly and at length, what some of them consider to be unnecessarily complicated and specific regulations — in New Jersey and New York, for example — that limit how much interaction national parties can have with local campaigns, place caps on contributions for various types of contributors, and generally make it harder to move money around.

Democracy Engine tapdances around this in some ways and approaches it head-on in others. Zucker has created multiple entities of different types to handle interaction between donors and recipients, depending on where it's coming from and where it's going in an effort to stay within the law while simultaneously handling transactions of so many different kinds.

Software Summary: 

Democracy Engine allows large organizations — any entity that's allowed to advocate for a candidate or cause — to create fundraising pages to raise money for its slate of worthy recipients.

There are a few of twists here. Unlike ActBlue, this is a service that an organization pays to use; the client retains control over who can and can't be listed on a given fundraising page. This is not really a "distributed fundraising" tool, either. While Zucker says he may build in the ability to create personal fundraising pages later on, for now, the only chances to donate are those created directly by the organization that's buying access to Democracy Engine.

Zucker and his staff have a master database of charities, candidates and other organizations that are eligible to receive money. This list is limited to organizations that fit with Democracy Engine's particular progressive bent. The purchase price for the software includes access to some portion of that list, which the client can then add or remove from any number of fundraising pages.

As a client, what your users will see is the page you've created, which can be styled in CSS, including details on the particular call to action, a list of recipients for donations, and the chance to choose which amounts go to which recipients. The donor can also elect to "tip" a final organization of your choosing — like, oh, say, yours.

Then, when the donor clicks through to fill out payment information, they see a form to fill out with their name, credit card information, and so on. That master database of charities and candidates that Democracy Engine uses also keeps track of which compliance information each recipient needs; which fields populate the payment page depends on which candidate or cause is getting money.

The administrative section allows clients to manage multiple donation pages, add or remove recipients from their list of available targets, and track which recipients are getting money — from which pages.

For larger organizations, Democracy Engine supports permissions and divisions. This would be useful, for example, for a national organization with chapters in each state: The national organization's administrator can set up accounts for people at each chapter, with permissions to view and modify only pages and donation recipients for their chapter, as well as national staff accounts that can change the lists of recipients available to each chapter and follow donation rates for recipients across multiple chapters.

All of this functionality and potential usefulness is, at the time of this writing, still just potential: Democracy Engine is brand new and yet to be used by anybody.

Client Quick-Take: 

N/A — There aren't any clients yet.

Client Close-Up: 

N/A — There aren't any clients yet.

Quick Facts

Pricing: 

Negotiable; Nobody had signed a contract yet when we spoke to Zucker in February 2010.

Example Clients: 

N/A

Year Founded: 
2009
Employees: 
4 full-time

CMDI

Company Name: 
CMDI
Software Name: 
Dexter/Crimson
About the Company: 

If you've never heard of CMDI, that's the way John Simms always wanted it. Despite this low profile, though, CMDI claims to have processed $1.3 billion in political contributions in the 2007-2008 election cycle.

A veteran campaigner who served a stint as the executive director of the Mississippi Republican Party ("after Haley Barbour," he explains) in the 1970s, Simms says his work in political consulting got serious at around the same time as the first wave of innovation in personal computing, in the 80s.

His software work began with voter databases, trying to mimick the kinds of data marketers were using in the private sector and using laser printing — also a new and different thing at the time — to send out personalized direct mail, he says.

Over time, CMDI's focus started to skew towards donor management databases and fundraising. In the 1990s, the company launched fundraising software for the Republican National Committee, and established itself as a vendor for Republican presidential campaigns.

"We've penetrated the national market very successfully, we do this work for the RNC, the senatorial committee and the congressional committee," says Simms.

But the way CMDI's software worked until now — a lightweight client on the customer's computer, a dedicated server doing all the heavy lifting — made the costs prohibitive for smaller clients, like state parties and statehouse candidates, Simms said.

The advent of cloud computing has changed this. Now that it's easier and faster to move data securely back and forth over the Internet, and to have web-based applications doing more complex and mission critical tasks, CMDI is launching a web-based version of its donor management software.

CMDI also wants to provide software to professional fundraisers, people who offer their services for hire to campaigns who need a rainmaker.

Software Summary: 

CMDI's client-server software, Dexter, provides a constituent relationship management database for managing donors and tracking donations. The web-based version, Crimson, which has not yet been released, does the same things and is based on the same SQL database design, Simms says. Dexter was built for the Bush-Cheney '04 presidential campaign, and received upgrades for each election cycle.

"It's the place that their fundraising starts and ends," Simms says of the system. "They go to the system to do their selections for all their fundraising, marketing across different channels."

Then, after the donation is made, the data goes back into Dexter to keep a record of the transaction. The system offers analytics to allow a campaign or a fundraiser to track donations and generate lists of donors who might be likely to give again for the same campaign, and can store images of checks for compliance purposes, says Simms.

CMDI also offers caging and credit card processing for clients, database management and list merging services, and list processing — the company checks lists against the postal service's change of address database.

Clients can also use CMDI to file their Federal Election Commission compliance reports, Simms says.

"We're building into Crimson a knowledgebase and online chat capability which we're going to offer to the compliance specialists around the country so that they can maintain their own proprietary base of information about how they can best perform compliance tasks," Simms adds, "and they can provide that information to their Crimson clients directly over our platform."

Donations — whether they're processed through CMDI or elsewhere — can come in through fundraising widgets the platform itself generates (built in Silverlight), or through other services via an API. Bundler activity is trackable through the system, right down to fundraiser ID codes embedded in fundraising widgets, says Simms. He says Dexter and Crimson allow for detailed data entry, and has tools both for novices and for database pros who want the ability to use batch commands.

Dexter and Crimson also come with their own e-mail blast system.

Crimson, built in Silverlight, should be ready and affordable for state candidates in 2012, Simms says. It's not clear if Crimson will be ready before then.

"When you subscribe to the Crimson system and go online ... you'll have in that pack most of the things you'll need to begin accepting gifts," Simms says. "You'll have a handful of widgets that are available to you immediately to deploy to do online registrations to take gifts and those are transportable through social networks."

Simms describes CMDI's role in a campaign as the back-end of everything a Republican candidate does. He says the company is building its next-generation software to be easy for designers and developers to work with.

"We do not expect to be nor do we want to be the web developers for a campaign," Simms says. "We want our systems to communicate with what they do online ... all these sources of information are not siloed in a way that diminishes their value, and that's a position that few in the marketplace really take today."

That's not true anymore. Many of the vendors we spoke to for the guide at least said that they now take the same view.

Campaigns aren't CMDI's only target — the company wants to be the software choice for political rainmakers, too.

Simms described setting up Crimson such that professional fundraisers can maintain their own database of contacts and elect which data to share with client campaigns that also use the software.

"Many of them —" Simms is talking about fundraisers — "complain that they don't have a place to maintain their own lists of prospects that they use time and time again."

Client Quick-Take: 
  • When a moneybomb for Florida's U.S. Senate hopeful Marco Rubio was announced in February 2010, Rubio's campaign used Kimbia's fundraising widget, but CMDI for clearing and processing.
  • Carly Fiorina, running for Senate in California, is also a client.
Client Close-Up: 

CMDI was the compliance back-end provider for Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.)'s special election campaign in early 2010, Simms says. The Brown campaign used Engage's iContribute software to collect the donations, but CMDI provided the systems and consulting to file their reports. CMDI received data from iContribute in real time, Simms says.

Quick Facts

Pricing: 

Monthly fees plus a charge for e-mails over a set number, and charges based on percentage of funds raised if the client uses CMDI for cor credit card clearing/processing

Example Clients: 

Sen. Scott Brown; Marco Rubio; Carly Fiorina

Year Founded: 
1981
Employees: 
55 full-time
Revenue: 
$5-$10 million, 2008

Blue Swarm

Company Name: 
Blue Swarm
About the Company: 

Erik Nilsson's company, eNilsson, was never supposed to be focused on politics.

In the late 1990s, he set up shop to do web applications for Fortune 500 companies, he says. But then a friend in politics asked if he could build something for a congressional race, and that led to more work with people running for Senate or a governorship.

Fast forward to the beginning of the 2008 presidential campaign, before Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney announced his candidacy. Romney's nascent campaign came to eNilsson with names in an Oracle database and said they wanted to turn it into a fundraising platform.

As Nilsson describes it, "We said great! What does that mean?"

The answer to that question evolved over time. The program, developed by a team led by Nilsson and Blue Swarm Chief Technical Officer James Nicol, was originally supposed to be a one-use tool. As Nilsson describes it, it was for an early fundraiser held at Boston Convention Center where a select group sat down to make calls and raise money on Romney's behalf. (Nilsson says Romney was hoping to build up a campaign reserve big enough to scare off primary challengers.)

"They had the event and they managed to raise $6.5 million in 6 hours," Nilsson says. "At the time it was a record-setting one-day event."

Nilsson turned the system off, he says, only to be swamped with calls from fundraisers asking to get back in.

The application that eventually became Blue Swarm went on to be a distributed fundraising platform that would stay with the Romney campaign until it folded after the primaries, evolving in response to feature requests from fundraisers and the campaign.

After the campaign, eNilsson went through the platform to transform a patched-over-time, purpose-specific web application with a product he could package and sell to clients, and spun off the company of the same name from his core software firm.

On its website, Blue Swarm explains the name: it's the name eNilsson's software engineers used to refer to the blue-blazered fundraisers using their application.

Nilsson's company also sells logistics, membership management, and content management systems.

Software Summary: 

Blue Swarm is one of the few applications you can actually try out yourself. There are two sets of interfaces: One for campaign staff and another for fundraisers.

The fundraiser interface allows a user to import contacts in a comma-delimited spreadsheet, send fundraising e-mails to lists of contacts, and record pledges received over the phone or in person. If a contact is willing to give it, the user can input a donor's credit card information inside the application. If the contact isn't going to do that, the fundraiser can make a note of the pledge and move on. Another area of the interface allows the fundraiser to see upcoming events and record pledges for specific ones, like big-ticket dinners.

A visualization allows fundraisers to see at a glance who they've recruited to give money or raise money by signing up for the same platform, and fundraisers can access a history section to get more detailed information on their past activity.

The administration interface shows all the incoming pledges, all the outgoing e-mails, any failed transactions, and analytics allowing the staff to see who is raising money and from whom. From that interface, a campaign can also set up embeddable fundraising widgets, the e-mail templates fundraisers can access while they're sending out messages to their networks, manage privacy agreements and user permissions, set up events and track donations for each event, and manage users. A reporting section allows the campaign to generate the spreadsheets it will need to handle its compliance filings.

Campaigns can keep track of who's hosting which events through an option that lists the host committee members for each event. So a campaign can use Blue Swarm to give volunteers the ability to run their own mini fundraising operations, track which fundraisers are having the most success, and send the candidate to the biggest-ticket events.

Campaigns also have control over who has access to the system. It can be set so that anyone can sign up, for example, or so that a fundraiser already in the system can invite friends. Alternatively, the campaign can configure Blue Swarm so that a staffer must set up an account for each user individually.

Nilsson says his software can allow campaigns to do caging themselves, or the campaigns can look elsewhere for the service.

A Facebook application brings some of that functionality to Facebook, where users of the social network can sign up to campaign on behalf of any candidate that has their Blue Swarm system set to allow it.

Client Quick-Take: 
Client Close-Up: 

Meg Whitman for Governor uses Blue Swarm. The company's fundraising widget powers Whitman's donation page, which includes a spot for the donor to give the ID code of a fundraiser who talked him or her into making the donation. The company advertises that 150 fundraisers on the Blue Swarm platform raised $2.5 million for Whitman during a one-day event in April 2009.

Quick Facts

Pricing: 

$200 or $500 startup fee (depending on whether or not you have your own merchant account) and 1.9% of donations processed by the system.

Example Clients: 

According to FEC data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, Bill Cassidy for Congress; Republican State Committee of Massachusetts; Funk for Congress

Year Founded: 
2009
Employees: 
15 full-time
Revenue: 
N/A - Company too new

Engage

Company Name: 
Engage
Software Name: 
iContribute
Overall Rating: 
4
Rating Average: 
3.68
13 total respondents
About the Company: 

Engage will build you a pretty website — if you're a Republican, that is — but that is far from all they'd tell you that you need, and it certainly isn't all that they'll do for you.

The firm is a full-service consultancy for online politics, from web design and social media work to managing strategic communications. Founded in 2007 by Patrick Ruffini, Engage's most recent work includes Sen. Scott Brown's successful Massachusetts special election campaign, and ongoing work for the Senate campaigns of Tom Campbell and Rob Simmons, among others. That work followed a stint as consultants to Bob McDonnell's successful 2009 campaign to become governor of Virginia — a campaign heralded as the dawn of a new era, technology-wise, in Republican campaigns, thanks to its creative use of mobile and its sophisticated online presence. Ruffini and his partner, Mindy Finn, were both involved with the Bush-Cheney '04 presidential campaign — Ruffini was the Bush-Cheney '04 webmaster; Finn was deputy webmaster at the Republican National Committee's eCampaign, which worked with the campaign — and their roots in politics stretch backwards from there. Now, Engage regularly produces blog posts and research on Internet politics, including a well-publicized case study of the McDonnell campaign. They both regularly make media appearances, including on Personal Democracy Forum's group blog, techPresident, where both are contributing bloggers.

Looking ahead, Ruffini says the market among Republican constituencies is just about ready for the kind of next-iteration web tools that have already sprung up on the left, like ActBlue, where interested folks can set up a profile and start raising money from their own networks for the Democratic candidates of their choice. He also seems to think it's important to take a pragmatic approach to online technology rather than embracing newest tool without an idea of how it'll be used.

"We have to wait until there's an actual market to address before we see the kind of ActBlues and things that sprang up organically on the left," Ruffini says. "I'm pretty confident that we will see that. I'm pretty confident also that whatever we do will be grounded in the tools that people are actually using day to day on the ground."

Software Summary: 

Engage has one out-of-the-box software product: iContribute, which allows campaigns to solicit, receive, process and track online donations. The consultancy side can build a lot more for its clients.

"We built what we think is an easier, faster solution for collecting online contributions that really is focused," Ruffini says. "The real niche I think we're trying to fill is sort of the online marketing aspect of online fundraising."

Ruffini says iContribute's most exciting feature is ability to track and create new pages on the fly. Using the URL generated for each discrete fundraising landing page, the campaign can track which asks are pulling in money, how fast it's coming, and how much is being raised in total.

The iContribute software can also use information about money now coming in as marketing to help raise more money, Ruffini says: For instance, a client could set up a leaderboard listing top donors, display the campaign's last five donors, or track the total amount raised in real time. The software has controls built in so that donors wishing to shield their privacy can opt out of having their name prominently displayed.

All of this is supported by what Ruffini says is one of the software's core strengths: "It enables, I think, pretty good real-time intelligence capture," he explained.

Lately, the focus for the team developing iContribute has been on creating "widgetized" forms to go out on third-party websites. For Ruffini, heavy promoting on social media and other websites is what drives online fundraising, and iContribute focuses on those areas as a result. The iContribute team will build an XML feed to securely pipe out information for a widget at no additional cost, says Ruffini.

"Not to get into a comparative sales pitch," Ruffini began, "[but as] more people are getting in this space, there are some people who have tended to focus on the compliance side, on the FEC side."

In contrast, iContribute — while it allows users to export necessary compliance data as an Excel spreadsheet — doesn't generate compliance reports, and is instead designed to be more a tool for raising money online than for tracking the money a campaign already has.

Client Quick-Take: 
  • On Jan. 11, 2010, iContribute powered a money bomb website for Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown's campaign to replace the late Ted Kennedy. The software powered all of Scott Brown's fundraising.
  • Republican congressional candidate Jim Tedisco was the guinea pig for a thermometer chart widget designed to show the candidate's latest fundraising goal, and progress towards that goal, in real time.
Client Close-Up: 

Ruffini's and Finn's work on Bob McDonnell's successful campaign to become governor of Virginia has been dissected at length, both on Engage's website and several times on techPresident. The consultants did a lot more through their firm, Engage, than just handle online fundraising, but McDonnell did use the iContribute software.

Quick Facts

Pricing: 

Approx. $200 set-up for a Congressional candidate; seven percent of all contributions, which also covers of credit card fees. Additional features would raise the set-up fee; consulting through Engage comes separately.

Example Clients: 

Rob Simmons (Sen. R-Conn); Tom Campbell for Governor (Ca.); congressional candidate Jim Tedisco

Year Founded: 
2007
Employees: 
6 full-time
Revenue: 
$1-$5 million, 2008
Fairness of Pricing: 
3.64
Quality of Customer Service: 
3.58
Capacity and Reliability of Software: 
3.8
Usability of Software: 
3.7

Piryx

Company Name: 
Piryx
About the Company: 

When Tom Serres and his partners — together a group of "college kids," he says, working as online strategy consultants as he made his way through University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business — couldn't take on any more clients, they wanted a way to expand.

And, as Serres finished his last year at UT in 2009, he says, they saw a business need: There was an opening on the market for a versatile, software-as-a-service campaign management product.

They knew there was pain in the industry, he says, so they founded Piryx, and in 2009, they launched their product, a fundraising platform designed to make it quick and easy to raise money across online media. And they priced the service with the intent of undercutting existing people in the same industry, who, Serres says, were simply charging too much.

"What we didn't realize is how much pain there was in the industry," says Serres. "How wide and how deep that pain actually went and with how many people."

Serres' firm is nonpartisan, serving both Democrats and Republicans. He says he never expected to really market to nonprofits, but that they now account for 50 percent of his business.

Software Summary: 

Piryx was built from the ground up to make it quick and easy to build fundraising campaigns around events, says Serres.

In the rapid-fire world of the online media cycle, being able to craft a solicitation for donations around something that happened seconds ago — the release of an opposition campaign ad, the passage of legislation, the public misstep of a competitor — can capitalize on momentum and translate directly into campaign cash. This is the problem Piryx seeks to solve.

Serres says Piryx can do the traditional, static donation page on a campaign website, but that isn't the point. The point of the software, he says, is to be able to create multiple issue-based requests for money, release them into the wild on Facebook, Twitter, the blogosphere, in search advertising, wherever, track in real time how much money they're bringing in, and decide which campaigns to continue, which to change and which to drop based on the results. To accomplish this, Piryx is supposed to make it easy to build each actual donation page in a short span of time. All of the fundraising widgets and pages can be themed to match your organization's existing branding, says Serres.

A compliance system can generate your required ethics reports — if you're running as a statewide candidate in Texas. The fundraising platform has been growing too quickly, says Serres, to round out the compliance side yet. Piryx is designed to work with a third-party CRM.

Each contributor is entered into a database, and that person's donations are tracked — including the path that brought that person to the contribution, whether it was from an ad placed, for example, on Glenn Beck's blog, or in search, or released onto Twitter.

The other difference for Piryx, says Serres, is that it follows the PayPal model: Merchant accounts and credit card processing don't enter into the equation, from a user perspective. You just sign up, run your campaigns, and Piryx handles getting donations from donors to your bank accounts.

Piryx has taken the latest love for open APIs a step further by building out a framework for an iPhone App Store-esque setup where extensibility — like interactivity with SMS, Facebook and Twitter — are add-ons that developers can build and then sell for a price. That's not open to everybody yet, but it's working, says Serres.

Client Quick-Take: 
Client Close-Up: 

When Rep. Joe Wilson, Republican of South Carolina, made his famous "You Lie!" outburst during a speech by President Barack Obama to a joint session of Congress, it immediately turned into a fundraising opportunity for Democrats hoping to raise money for his adversary. But it was also an opportunity for Wilson, says Serres, whose Piryx software was tapped by consultants on the Wilson campaign to handle the candidate's online fundraising.

Quick Facts

Pricing: 

Only charge is per-transaction processing fee: 4.5 percent from 0 to $100,000, 4.3 percent from $100,000 to $250,000, 4.25 percent for donations of $250,000 to $1 million, and 4 percent for donations over $1 million.

Example Clients: 

Joe Wilson (R-Sc.), Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation, The Miracle Foundation, Tom Corbett for Governor (Pennsylvania), Felecia Rotellini for Attorney General (Arizona), Barbara Bush Foundation

Year Founded: 
2009
Employees: 
7 full-time
Revenue: 
N/A - Company too new

Kimbia

Company Name: 
Kimbia
About the Company: 

Thon Morse, an Internet entrepreneur and a onetime national account manager at Convio, started working on Kimbia in 2007 with a single purpose in mind: Become a fundraising option in a market where online fundraising software can be very expensive.

"When I looked at the market, I saw two problems," Morse wrote in an e-mail. "Entry level customers couldn't really play. There were affordable solutions but they were made affordable by being extremely limited. The larger packages are just too expensive and complex so entry level customers were left out of the game. I think that every local non-profit should have all the same fundraising capabilities as a big Komen event."

Kimbia officially opened for business in 2008 as a platform for distributed fundraising and event management for political campaigns, advocacy organizations and nonprofits. Prior to its public release, says Morse, it saw brief use by Fred Thompson's and Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaigns. The Republican National Committee started using it in 2008, along with, in his words, a "normal mix" of other fundraising organizations.

Politically agnostic, the firm caters to nonprofits, campaigns and organizations.

"We adopted the tagline as 'giving power,'" says Spencer Whelan, Kimbia's marketing director.

Whelan also says fundraising isn't all that Kimbia does. The company's focus is on creating ways for a nonprofit or an advocacy organization to create a message, or a call to action, and spread it across the social web like flyers around a small town. It is, in other words, a company that seeks to create "go-viral" machines.

Software Summary: 

Kimbia is a hosted software suite that clients can use to create Javascript/SSL fundraising widgets for release into the wild.

Kimbia's stance is that using Javascript and SSL (Secure Socket Layer) is more Web-standards friendly, and perhaps more importantly, secure, than a Flash widget.

For the uninitiated, these "widgets" look for all the world like an integrated part of whatever website you're looking at — your friend's Facebook wall, your organization's website, wherever. In reality, though, they are scraps of code pasted onto said Facebook wall or said website that call on resources from elsewhere on the Web in order to function. The twist Kimbia adds to this is that these widgets — whether they're an invitation to contribute, to buy tickets to an event or to register for an activity like a race, can be picked up by supporters and dropped anywhere that supports Javascript. The user puts in his or her credit card information on the form wherever it is — there's no redirect to the organization's website between seeing the invitation to donate and actually donating.

"We've had lots of organizations get a whole bunch of money and they don't know where it's coming from and they look back at their reports and find that some random person grabbed the form and put it on their site," Whelan says.

The software allows an organization to see whose forms are raising the most money and to track traffic to their fundraising and other Kimbia campaigns in real-time, manage all campaigns and forms from a web-based dashboard, and generate reports on that data. But it isn't a CRM; Kimbia can't manage your e-mail lists, for instance. Whelan says Kimbia can interface directly with SalesForce, and customers have had the company help them build reports that their CRMs can import. Whelan says Kimbia has helped write an integration into CRMs for other clients.

Kimbia forms can be styled using CSS stylesheets, and will work on Webkit-enabled mobile phones, says Whelan.

The platform doesn't handle the money, Whelan says: The easiest way to think of it is as something that passes information from the donor to whomever the organization is using to process payments, such as Authorize.net. The tradeoff to this approach is that the organization will need to set up a merchant account, but will have its own name show up on the donor's credit card statement and has more control over the donation.

Down the line, Whelan says, the company expects to enhance Kimbia's ability to work on mobile phones.

Client Quick-Take: 
Client Close-Up: 

Marco Rubio, a Republican Senate candidate in a 2010 Florida election, hired the David All Group, who created a Kimbia fundraising widget for his campaign. The widget was placed on RedState.com, a popular conservative blog, allowing people who were reading about Rubio to take another step and send him money. RedState set a goal to raise $5,000 in one day in May 2009, which they quickly met, and went on to raise $11,885 in total, according to the numbers on the widget.

Quick Facts

Pricing: 

Five percent of all donations, billed after the fact. Additional models exist for organizations committing to raising a certain amount per year, for example.

Example Clients: 

WGBH Boston (during pledge drives; many large PBS stations use the company); KLRU (PBS Austin); Nation's Triathlon; Dallas Turkey Trot

Year Founded: 
2007
Employees: 
10 full-time
Revenue: 
N/A - Company too young

Click & Pledge

Company Name: 
Click & Pledge
About the Company: 

When Kami Razvan first implemented Click & Pledge to help a single non-profit client in 2002, becoming a purveyor of choice for political campaigns was not really part of the plan.

But political people who saw his software working firsthand, or heard about it, started calling.

"It got viral on its own," he said.

Now Razvan claims over 9,000 customers in 45 countries, processing credit card transactions online in a handful of currencies. While Click & Pledge doesn't have its corporate logo on many pages, he says the software at the core of his company is "the engine behind the engine" for many online fundraising operations.

An engineer by training, Razvan seems fascinated by statistics tangentially relevant to running a large fundraising back-end.

"I'm fascinated by people's digital persona[s]," he says.

For instance, looking at aggregate data about donations processed using his software, he determined that e-mail appeals for money result in donations more often when they're sent between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. and between Tuesday and Wednesday. More amusingly, he suggested that you can tell a lot about someone's political predilections based on the name and domain of an e-mail address.

Software Summary: 

Click & Pledge has a lot of features — so many, says Razvan, that he's frustrated that campaigns aren't taking advantage of all of them.

The web-based platform offers fundraising pages, embeddable fundraising widgets built in Flash and Silverlight, and a video service that inserts a donation widget at the end of videos uploaded to YouTube. Click & Pledge also has its own social network, on which users can become supporters of a cause, recruit new supporters, and distribute fundraising calls to action on behalf of the cause.

The problem, Razvan says, is that campaigns are slow to take advantage of a social network or embeddable widgets.

"It's like saying somebody is running to a destination and he has, like, a year to get to California," Razvan says, "and he says, 'I'm going to start running, because I don't have time to learn how to drive.'"

For the former engineer, it's simple mathematics: If any one supporter is connected online to about 100 people he or she can reach via e-mail, those 100 people are far more likely to open an e-mail from the supporter than from a campaign. In turn, if just a handful of those people are converted into supporters, they can try the same process with 100 more people. Social networking — and actively recruiting supporters to build a social network for a cause or person — can rapidly and exponentially increase an organization's reach, Razvan figures.

Building on this, Click & Pledge allows people to create fundraising teams and work in groups on behalf of their cause. It's just that Razvan says his clients haven't taken the time to learn how to do this.

One of the big barriers to getting people into a social network is the onerous task of filling out a new user profile. People don't want to sign up for another Facebook; at least, that's the conventional wisdom. Razvan working on a solution to this problem: adding Facebook Connect to his platform, which would allow people to log in to Click & Pledge's social network using their Facebook username and password, but without Click & Pledge actually seeing that username and password. That's not slated to come online until summer 2010. However, he recently implemented a connection between Click & Pledge and Twitter allowing a clients' supporters to automatically send tweets when they take actions like give money or send out a fundraising appeal to friends.

Click & Pledge doesn't come with a constituent relationship management system. It is, however, designed to integrate well with two open-source options: SugarCRM and CiviCRM. Similarly, Click & Pledge hosts some of its client sites; when it does, the company uses Drupal, the widely popular open-source content management system.

The advantage there — and Razvan was quick to point this out — is that no one person owns the code; from a survivability standpoint, this means that there's no single vendor involved to cause you endless amounts of stress when it goes out of business. If the projects are abandoned by their developers years down the line in favor of things that work better, you can, in the worst case, pay a development team to migrate your stuff, without worrying about loss because of a proprietary format or code that's impossible to change.

Click & Pledge also integrates with Salesforce CRM, which offers an open-source API developers can use to create links between the software and other tools; with Constant Contact, the e-mail software; and with Mailchimp, another e-mail marketing tool. The connections with e-mail newsletter management systems allow users to elect to subscribe to your newsletter at the same time as they make a donation, Razvan explains.

"Our objective is truly to be the engine behind, a payment engine for all the campaigns and networks," says Razvan.

Razvan says his company built their fundraising widgets in Flash and Silverlight for browser compatibility and to have greater control over how the widgets look and act. The widget checks the website it's been embedded on to see if it's secure or not; if the website isn't communicating with the user via a secure connection, the widget redirects the user to a secure page to finish the transaction. If the page is secure, the user can make the transaction then and there.

Client Quick-Take: 

Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) uses Click & Pledge for her campaign website. She has used Click & Pledge's recurring donations feature to arrange periodic payments from supporters, donor management, an online sign-up feature for her campaign newsletter, and standard campaign contribution processing.

Client Close-Up: 

Quick Facts

Pricing: 

No contract, all features: 4.5 percent plus $0.35 per transaction; $5/mo.

Example Clients: 

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.); Fred Smith for Governor (N.C., 2008); National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives

Year Founded: 
2002
Employees: 
8 full-time
Revenue: 
$20-$25 million; $35-$40 million in 2009

Actblue

Company Name: 
ActBlue
Overall Rating: 
4
Rating Average: 
4.23
61 total respondents
About the Company: 

Rob Miller knows how two words can translate into nearly $1 million.

A Democratic candidate for a South Carolina seat in the House of Representatives, Miller's campaign became a national issue when he was no longer just another blue candidate in a red state but instead the answer to sitting Rep. Joe "You Lie!" Wilson. Not long after Wilson famously heckled President Barack Obama during a speech to a joint session of Congress, Miller started getting serious support through ActBlue's website.

By mid-November 2009, Miller had raised nearly $1 million through ActBlue alone.

ActBlue co-founder Matt DeBergalis says his organization, a political action committee, has become a go-to fundraising solution for Democratic candidates and the people who want to get them elected. Since it was formed in 2004, ActBlue has facilitated $127 million for Democratic candidates and organization at all levels, from the POTUS to the statehouse, the company says. ActBlue tried out offering fundraising for some local races, and would like to expand in that direction. On its website, ActBlue.com, anyone can create a profile, establish a list of preferred Democratic candidates, and raise money for politicians as high-profile as Grayson or as local as a hopeful for town council.

ActBlue is not like other service providers — in fact, DeBergalis says, he tries very hard not to think of his organization as a vendor. It's a political action committee at the federal level tied to committees in 20-some-odd states, a conduit for like-minded people to raise money for the candidates of their choice.

In ActBlue's case, the PAC happily facilitates donations to any Democratic candidate, or, for often nonpartisan municipal-level races, candidates of a similar liberal bent.

ActBlue provides expertise to do things like train fundraisers and campaigns in how to use the website. Just because it's a PAC doesn't mean the organization gets no money — ActBlue solicits tips from donors and collects a percentage of each donation from the campaigns getting the money. But most of that percentage goes to paying the credit card companies for processing transactions, said DeBergalis.

Software Summary: 

The exact logistics of how the money gets from donors to campaigns varies from state to state, depending on the local laws and regulations, but the gist of it is this: Users on ActBlue's website, be they individuals or representatives of an organization or campaign, set up customized pages for their candidate or group of candidates and make use of ActBlue's tools to drum up people willing to donate — or go collect donors on their own. In just a few button clicks, donors give money online, and ActBlue provides an open API and other widgets that users or campaigns can use to track and publicize the progress of the fundraising drive. Though the money goes from the donor to ActBlue to the campaign committees or candidates, DeBergalis says that on campaign disclosure forms, the donations are listed as coming straight from the people who gave online.

"ActBlue is a federal PAC," he says. "We collect funds from individual donors, they are earmarked for particular recipients ... essentially those are all treated as individual contributions. It just happens to come through a PAC."

He said ActBlue would show up on a campaign disclosure report in a memo entry, for example.

DeBergalis says the rules for operating across states are complex and often frustrating, and that's the point. ActBlue deals with compliance so that donors need not do so.

"We worry about that, and we could spend hours working through the legal framework for each state we're in," he said. "But the key point is that because we've done that ... the people we raise money for don't have to worry about it."

Part of ActBlue's mission is to make sure the all the complexity stays behind the user interface — DeBergalis wants his website to stay drop-dead easy. He says the company will focus more on ease of use than on adding feature upon feature. Instead, third parties can use an API to make feature-rich, ActBlue-driven applications — like the app for a money bomb for Rep. Alan Grayson, a Flash widget that included the total dollar amount raised so far (drawn from ActBlue.com) and the latest donor (also drawn from ActBlue.com).

ActBlue does have built-in tools to e-mail friends and send out invitations to fundraising events, however.

ActBlue also has a very high level of integration with Salsa software.

Client Quick-Take: 
  • ActBlue brought in over $350,000 through various groups for the upset victory of 2009 congressional candidate Bill Owens (D-NY), who went on to win what was for decades a moderate Republican seat in generally conservative upstate New York.
  • Rep. Alan Grayson has received hundreds of thousands of dollars through ActBlue. The week before election day in November 2009, conservatives in the Florida Democrat's district created a fundraising committee to unseat him the next year. His campaign answered back days later by announcing that it had raised over $500,000 in a single fundraising drive, a large amount of that through ActBlue. As of the following week, according to OpenSecrets.org, his war chest contained nearly $650,000; ActBlue reported $163,000 coming to Grayson through a fundraising page set up specifically for that money bomb and over $400,000 in total.
Client Close-Up: 

The added benefit ActBlue brings to campaigns is buzz, DeBergalis says. Because ActBlue cash is easily tracked online and because the top donation recipients in a given week have pride of place on the PAC's website, fundraising through ActBlue can grab media attention.

"I think campaigns have found that when you raise money on ActBlue, it's public, and when it's public there's a story that comes out of it," said DeBergalis. "A dollar raised publicly is far more valuable than a dollar raised privately."

The PAC serves two communities: Donors and campaigns.

"For both communities, the basic approach to ActBlue is the same," says DeBergalis. "Anyone can come to the site. Anyone can build a fundraising page. Anyone can start raising money."

Authorized campaign committees often turn out to be the biggest fundraisers, but the process is open to everyone with a Democratic candidate to back. The only added part of the experience for campaigns is a portion of the site dedicated to compliance reporting.

Quick Facts

Pricing: 

Recipients see a 3.95-percent fee on each donation, which includes credit card processing fees; donors may give an optional five- to ten-percent "tip" to ActBlue per donation

Example Clients: 

Recipients include Rep.-elect Bill Owens (D-NY), U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), and No on 1/Protect Maine Equality

Year Founded: 
2004
Employees: 
9 full-time
Revenue: 
Declined to state
Fairness of Pricing: 
4.34
Quality of Customer Service: 
4.09
Capacity and Reliability of Software: 
4.27
Usability of Software: 
4.22

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