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October 4, 2006

actBlue - the future of Contribution systems?

Posted by Sanford Dickert | Discussion: 0 Comments

When I first joined the Kerry Campaign, one of our biggest problems was in our online contribution system. Prior to joining the campaign, a decision had been made to get the most application out of the least amount of money. The finance team went with a homegrown solution (due to the fact that our previous systems were not scalable or flexible) - and when I arrived, I discovered a solution that could barely handle the load or track contributions successfully. In one particular story, we faced a major compliance issue of recharges that had the compliance team going through every contribution made over the course of five months to determine if we had accidentially overcharged people. All of this could have been avoided, if we had made a better spend in the beginning.

actblue.gifToday, campaigns are offered a better solution with actBlue, one of the best systems I have seen in operation today. Instead of being a feature on an all-in-one system, the team at actBlue have focused on making a robust, scalable and easy to use system with a low cost charging mechanism for candidates. Candidates do not have to get a merchant account (a pain for small campaigns that are not incorporated or do not have a banking history), rather actBlue takes care of the transactions and sends a check to the campaign on a weekly basis. On the admin site, the campaign can also download an NGP or FECfile formatted list of contributors for compliance issues. Tracking performance of syndication (read: grassroots supporters) is a breeze with simple referral codes - which makes tracking the performance of fundraising campaigns somewhat easier.

Become a Pioneer or Minuteman
One feature actBlue offers that is only found on all-in-one systems is the ability for grassroots supporters to create their own personal fundraising pages - for any candidate or candidates you wish. Now you too, can be a Pioneer or a Minuteman or a Ranger - all you have to do is Netroots Candidates supported by DailyKos and myDD. Or see the efforts of BlueAmerica, another group of bloggers. Or, to see a successful Senate campaign efforts - take a look at Maria Cantwell who, instead of building their own contribution system, are leveraging the actBlue platform in conjunction with the website.

Concerns - local candidates, templates and search
My biggest concern is the lack of some local candidates - one of my clients, Jeremy Ring, was looking for an easier to use platform than the homebrew solution he had received. I went through the process at actBlue and discovered that they were unable to help local (read: state) candidates at this time, but were working on solving the problem. Hopefully, by 2008, the solution will be much greater and broader in scope.

Additionally, I would personally like to make modifications outside of the basic platform template, kind of like the Secretary of State Project has a good design, but my concern focuses on user experiences - where a user would feel more comfortable with a page that looks and feels like their original site page, and not a separate system. But, you can not have everything immediately.

One last gripe, need to have a search feature on the active and archived pages. Right now, you get an incredibly long list of pages - but a search query would make all the difference in the world.

My opinion - great for simple solution
Truthfully, I love the democratization of contributions through actBlue - and the relative low cost of transactions. Most credit card systems or other players in the space tack on few points on top of the credit card charge, actBlue offers a simple, low-cost solution for the smaller players that can not afford the complexity of systems offered by folks at Convio, Blue State Digital, getActive or other platform providers. For a simple contribution system that is easy to use (in terms of user interface), I am happy to recommend this solution.


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