February 23, 2008

Campaigning on the internet--Part 1: Fundraising

The more I browse teh interwebs, the more I'm utterly and completely baffled by Hillary's campaign strategy. How is it possible that this shoo-in 6 months ago is now most likely curled up in a fetal position, rocking back and forth muttering, "how can this be happening? how can this be happening?" Well, Hills, you completely underestimated the power of thousands of people with computers and a lot of free time on their hands. Like me, for example.

The fact is, Obama's strategy is all about empowering the individual. He doesn't use the word donor--rather he refers to them as "people who own this campaign." His catchphrase is "Yes We Can." Right at the top of Obama's homepage he's got a quote that says, "I'm asking you to believe. Not just in my ability to bring about real change in Washington...I'm asking you to believe in yours." Over and over Obama rallies the people to his side.

Hillary, on the other hand, doesn't really have a handy phrase people shout at her rallies. She doesn't have an inspirational group-oriented phrase at the top of her page. She does have the unfortunate Up With Hillary video I blogged about earlier, but it's nothing like the Yes We Can video.

I decided to explore and compare aspects of the Clinton and Obama campaigns as they have taken place on the internet. The funny thing is that most of the things I'm about to describe are either free or are at an extremely minimal cost. It's truly hard to understand why Hillary has not harnessed these very basic aspects of internet campaigning. Even if she didn't think of them, why didn't she just steal borrow the ideas from Obama?

I'll start with fundraising, since this is the issue that got me started on this line of comparison. As multiple news stories have reported, Obama's fundraising capacity has been unparallelled in election history as far as recruiting the greatest number of contributors. This would be one of the first major differences. Hillary's contributors are the heavy hitters, many donating the full $2,300. Obama's contributors are much smaller, but more in number. Obama's publicly stated goal is to gain one million donors people who own his campaign. He's currently at an impressive 964,145. In fact, he gained 64 owners of his campaign in the amount of time it took me to write this entry.

One brilliant thing Obama has done with his campaign is set up a matching donation system. Much like NPR fund drives (insert the NPR commentator voice of your choosing saying, "A dollar for dollar challenge..."), a matching donation system is where one person pledges to donate a certain amount of money if another person does too. That is, I give the Obama campaign my credit card, donate $25, and pledge to donate another $25. As soon as someone else donates $25, the campaign charges my card and gets $50. The matching happens, in my experience, in under a minute.

The real brilliance of this plan is that Obama takes it one step further--you get to send the person who pledged your match a note. So I go online and donate $25. Immediately I get a little message that says that John Smith donated a matching $25 turning my donation into $50, and I get a note from John Smith that says, "I donated to Obama because I think he's a real great guy. Thank you for donating too!" Now I'm left with a very warm, fuzzy feeling. My little $25 donation turned into $50 and wow, this guy in Nebraska who's just like me also made his money count. Plus I get his email address and I can have a new pen pal if I like (you can opt out of sharing your email address). It's close, it's personal, and it's motivating, because now I really, really want to match someone else's donation. I want them to feel warm and fuzzy too! And I want to send them a note about why Obama is the beagle of presidential candidates!

Does it really work? I'd say hell yeah, given that the man only needs less than 36,000 donors campaign-owners to reach a million. Of course there are people like me who think ahead and split their intended donation so that half is donated and half is pledged, and I end up donating exactly the amount I wanted to in the first place, but I have to say it did give me such a great feeling to be "matched" that I wanted to do it again. The pull to donate even a small additional amount is very strong.

Hillary's contributions work in the traditional way--click here to give me money. It seems cold and removed compared to Obama's. Obama's matching system is really very easy and a great way to pick up additional donations from small contributors, but Hillary hasn't picked up on it. I don't really know why.

Stay tuned for Part 2 in this intriguing series...

Posted by Shelby at February 23, 2008 02:44 PM