Perhaps the greatest challenge with digital marketing analytics – whether in politics or any other industry – is knowing exactly what’s worth measuring and what’s not. I’ve written before about the concept of macro vs micro vs vanity metrics and the challenges of measuring what works here and here.
But there’s still a desire on the part of candidates, practitioners, and observers to identify concrete benchmarks to measure the performance of a campaign or otherwise guide its strategy. I’m frequently asked, “How much should we be raising online?” or “How big should our email list be?” and often “How much should we spend online?” And there’s no real industry-accepted benchmarks to judge these by.
In this post, I’d like to propose the Grassroots Fundraising Rate, a metric I use to assess a campaign’s online fundraising performance.
The Grassroots Fundraising Rate relies on publicly reported data via the FEC so it’s always an apples-to-apples metric across campaigns. This means we need to understand a few distinctions in FEC reports.
- Campaigns report Individual Contributions separately from contributions made by a party, PAC, or other entity.
- Individual Contributions are separated between Itemized Individual Contributions and Unitemized Individual Contributions.
- Per FEC regulations, an individual’s contribution is itemized when it is over $200 or the individual has given in excess of $200 to that candidate during a cycle. Ergo, Unitemized Individual Contributions are donations below $200.
- In the case of unitemized individual contributions, only an overall dollar amount is given, rather than the total number of donors.
The Grassroots Fundraising Rate is defined as the percentage of overall individual contributions coming from unitemized contributions.
In addition to being the best measure available for comparing grassroots fundraising across campaigns, the Grassroots Fundraising Rate is a good indicator of future fundraising potential, since most unitemized donors will – and are legally allowed to – give multiple times during a campaign.
Here’s a ranking of the 2020 Democrats by their grassroots fundraising rates so you can see how this works:
|Candidate||Grassroots Fundraising Rate|
There are a few important reasons to set aside contributions from PACs, parties, and other entities. First, some campaigns decide not to take these contributions so only focusing on individual contributions is an effective way of eliminating these effects. Second, this sort of institutional money has more to do with a candidate’s committee assignments and is ultimately a “baked in” amount of money. Finally, PAC money is largely a lagging indicator, following the “conventional wisdom” of which campaigns are good “investments.”
Ultimately, the only metric that matters is the outcome on election day, but that’s not to say we can’t compare key performance indicators across campaigns.