Anyone who has signed up for a political campaign’s email list is familiar with the fundamental mechanics of online fundraising: get supporters’ email addresses, send them lots of emails, and cajole them to click on donation links.
This basic framework is universal. It works whether you’re a conservative or a liberal and whether you’re running for president or mayor.
Historically, however, Democrats have been the best at harnessing the power of online, grassroots fundraising. This is attributable to myriad factors, including differences in demographics of donors and motivations for giving.
But Republicans are making strides to catch up. In its first year, WinRed has raised more than $450 million for GOP candidates.
The value of online fundraising encompasses more than just the financial rewards reaped by a campaign. Each online donation is the culmination of a marketing journey that guides a supporter from learning about a candidate to taking action for the campaign. An effective online fundraising program ensures that the most essential components of a modern campaign are in place and functioning.
ActBlue, the preferred online donation platform of the Left, rightly deserves significant credit for Democrat dominance in this arena for many years. First, it has given thousands of candidates and PACs free access to donation pages adhering to basic ecommerce best practices, like breaking the complex donation process into smaller steps. Second, it has stored the payment details for millions of liberal donors, reducing the friction of subsequent donations to other Democrats.
After facing the Democrats’ “green wave” of online donations in 2018 and losing the House majority, Republicans finally realized something must be done to stem the tide. For a year now, WinRed has been the focal point of that response.
Like ActBlue, WinRed is organized as a “conduit PAC” which means donors explicitly earmark their contributions for specific candidates. Similarly, WinRed has helped millions of Republican donors securely store their payment information to facilitate easier future donations to hundreds of other candidates.
But, unlike ActBlue, which traces its long history to 2004 before the era of social media and Big Tech, WinRed’s technology is digitally native in today’s era of performance marketing. And this innovation is poised to help Republican candidates leapfrog their Democrat opponents in the money war.
Because ActBlue gained an effective monopoly with Democrats and their allies, they haven’t had to compete and their product has become stagnant. In fact, neither Barack Obama nor Hillary Clinton used the platform as their primary donation page during their presidential campaigns.
WinRed, meanwhile, has benefited from thousands of campaigns worth of innovation developed by a handful of competing donation platforms on the Right. One of the platform’s unique features, called Upsells, encourages supporters to take additional action after donating, like scheduling recurring contributions, increasing the amount given, or donating to another candidate.
The GOP is already seeing the advantages from this new technology play out in 2020.
President Trump, WinRed’s most prominent user, recently reported a record-breaking $14 million online fundraising haul in a single day. But, overall, Republican candidates have a lot of work to do before they catch up with the Democrats’ online fundraising advantage.
With WinRed, Republican leadership has made substantial progress in deploying the technology and infrastructure the party needs to win online. The next challenge is cultural.
Candidates running for office in 2020 and beyond must take responsibility for making online fundraising a priority of their campaign. A candidate’s ability to activate an online community of supporters is crucial to their ultimate success. Campaigns built on grassroots support move faster and are more agile than those relying solely on the support of major donors.
Campaign consultants and managers must commit to making early investments in online infrastructure like email list building. Unlike mail, phones, and video advertising, a robust digital organization takes time to get started. This is a shift in the traditional approach to campaigning which relies on saving as much money as possible until the final weeks before the election.
Grassroots conservatives need to do their part as well. Donating online is one of the most effective ways to support a campaign in 2020. Republicans in competitive races are often swamped by last-minute donations to their Democrat opponent from liberal activists across the country. The $10-$50 donations add up very quickly and give a final burst of resources to the recipient campaign that can mean the difference between victory and defeat.
The shift to virtual campaigning brought about by COVID-19 was sudden and abrupt, but thanks to WinRed, Republicans were prepared. The remaining months of 2020 will be crucial for building on its early progress.