Since founding Plus Three in 2002, Juan Proaño has seen a lot of competition move into the field of technology for political campaigns. But his full-service web firm continues to grab big-name clients, recently taking over the design and back-end of the EMILY's List website. Plus Three also worked on John Edwards' 2008 Presidential campaign.
Plus Three stays competitive, Proaño says, by winning on the nuances.
The firm does web design and strategy built around its central technology offering, ARCOS, which does everything from handle content management and a constituent database to facilitating e-mail blasts, fundraising asks and petitions. It's not what ARCOS does that makes it stand out, says Proaño, but rather how ARCOS does it.
His team built ARCOS after years of work in the political technology field, crafting tools for the Democratic National Committee and more than one candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. Plus Three's first client was the DNC, for which Proaño and Plus Three built Demzilla and Datamart, the national Democratic Party's first sophisticated donor and voter databases.
When it comes to politics, Plus Three only serves Democrats and progressive, Democratic organizations.
Plus Three, with a staff of 24, serves the same presidential-campaign-level product to clients large and small. Proaño says the issue for his company is scalability.
"How does a small company grow and be able to serve large organizations that have pretty significant requirements?" he asked.
For Plus Three, the answer is commitment: The firm offers service level agreements and uptime guarantees to back up the assertion that the small company can meet the needs of giant organizations.
What Plus Three doesn't offer is a piecemeal solution. Unlike other firms with highly modular software, Plus Three's ARCOS is an all-in-one product; there's no a-la-carte option with this company.
Plus Three's central product, ARCOS, is a one-size-fits-all suite of Web software for campaigns and nonprofits. Plus Three can design sites for clients around ARCOS' content management system; on the backend is a constituent relationship management database, e-mail blast and analytics functionality, the ability to create personalized fundraising and contact-your-electeds pages, a letter to the editor function, access to some of Plus Three's own data — like a list of talk shows for supporters to call into — and many other Web 2.0 features.
Where Plus Three stands out, says Proaño, is in how ARCOS handles these things.
ARCOS can process one transaction and send it to multiple accounts, he says. For example, a single donor, in a single transaction, can donate varying amounts directly to one nonprofit's general fund, a fund earmarked for a specific cause, and a third account set aside for a fundraising event. ARCOS also tracks failed attempts at donations so an organization can follow up with people who leave an online donation incomplete.
Proaño is sensitive to the needs of minority-operated nonprofits and minority candidates — in his contribution system, he says, even the error pages support multiple character sets, so everything is readable to users working in different languages.
He also touted the segmentation capabilities of ARCOS' CRM product, which would, in theory, allow a user a great deal of granularity in breaking out individual groups of constituents — creating lists of donors who were recently active, volunteers who have yet to donate, and so on — as targets for e-mails and other communications. The CRM software, he said, can follow a single person across all of his or her given e-mail addresses. Proaño said this would be useful, for example, when an existing constituent creates a new account with an organization's website using a new e-mail address. In that case, ARCOS could recognize the user and connect the new account with donor and volunteer information for that person that's already in its database.
Proaño says Plus Three is also rounding out APIs to allow developers to create interaction between ARCOS-powered websites and other applications, like Facebook. The firm already has its own online community software, Civitas, which is intended to be of use to large chapter-based organizations and Organizing for America-esque communities. That social media software is designed to allow groups of supporters to communicate as chapters, teams, and individuals.
Proaño says he is looking to compete for the same clients that Blackbaud or Convio might otherwise get — the mid- to large-size nonprofit — and, like many other political technology vendors, he's looking at the thousands upon thousands of local political races that happen across the United States.
"How can we deliver the same powerful tools for our clients at a lower cost?" He asked, rhetorically. "How [do we] do that for the smallest races? There are over 7,500 mayoral races a year across the country."
All of his clients raise at least 20 to 30 percent of their money online, he said, and some raise upwards of 60 percent.
But the day when some clients routinely raise all of their money on the Internet is not too far off, he said.
"Have you ever seen a direct mail piece from MoveOn?" he asked.
Plus Three is focused on beefing up its back-end software to be more competitive with the segmenting and targeting capabilities of the database software a Blackbaud or a Convio might offer.
"We've got all of the bells and whistles, essentially, that people are looking for on the front end," he said, "and we've really been looking to expand our CRM functionality."
Proaño is looking to vend to organizations of all shapes and sizes. His is one of those companies trying to make federal-campaign-level software available, usable and affordable for the smallest town council campaign.
Front-end $2,500; back-end $5,000; Full ARCOS build from $7,500; monthly database fees start at $750/mo. for less than 10,000 records; the next tier, 10,000-25,000 records, is $1,200/mo.; Civitas begins at about a $4,000-$6,000 one-time fee, depending on the organization.
John Edwards '08; EMILY's List; The Sierra Club