Franklin Forum Roundup: Obama Campaign Insider Shares Tips
Barack Obama's primary and presidential campaigns challenged and changed online fundraising, becoming the envy of many in the nonprofit sector.
In a session at the Franklin Forum, sponsored by the Association of Fundraising Professionals Greater Philadelphia Chapter in Philadelphia in late April, Justin Ehrenwerth, who served as Philadelphia coordinator for Obama for America, gave attendees an overview of the campaign's fundraising and volunteer strategies. He also shared advice on how nonprofits can implement similar ideas in their programs.
Those strategies were unique in that they focused on small donors, grassroots volunteer efforts, cutting-edge technology and constant communication. In his 21-month campaign for the White House, Obama raised half a billion dollars online. According to The Washington Post, three million donors made a total of 6.5 million donations online, adding up to more than $500 million, with the average online donation coming in at around $80 and most donors giving more than once.
The campaign was so motivated to get a high number of donors because of the McCain-Feingold Act, which allows individual donors to give no more than $2,300 each. So the campaign needed a higher number of donors to make up the difference.
According to Ehrenwerth, Silicon Valley was one of the keys to the campaign's success. On the East Coast, fundraising for Obama began via traditional avenues, e.g., large ballroom galas where funders were asked to donate. But competition with the very popular, very connected Clinton campaign — which was raising money via the same methods — was tight. The West Coast was a different story, however. Out in Silicon Valley, a place dominated by many young, smart upstarts, Obama's story — and limited curriculum vitae — was very familiar and relatable, Ehrenwerth said.
These young, successful, tech-savvy individuals saw getting Obama elected almost as a challenge, and they saw technology as the key to doing that.