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RealClear Politics: Republicans Have a Digital Fundraising Problem

Leading up to the 2020 election, we expected Democrats to win the digital fundraising game, driven by the processing platform ActBlue. We predicted that Republicans would continue to struggle because of lackluster commitment, investment, and personnel.

ActBlue is an elite processing machine, but Democrats didn’t hold a low-dollar digital edge because of processing power. Their true advantage is people power – millions more donors. ActBlue has always been a tool, but successful digital fundraisers need a full toolbox, one that depends on a true commitment to digital fundraising.

Ahead of the 2024 election, the Republican problem is not gone, it’s getting worse. In the first half of the 2022 midterms, the number of online donors to the Republican Party unexpectedly dropped, erasing any hope of a red wave in November. Digital fundraising generally grows leading up to Election Day, but that didn’t happen for Republicans in 2022. And, according to Politico, the number of Republican donors has been relatively unchanged from January 2021 to today. Democrats, meanwhile, have seen the number of online donors giving through ActBlue greatly increase.

Some are criticizing “WinRed,” the Republican equivalent of ActBlue. When WinRed was first launched in 2019, hopes were high. WinRed’s website boasted: “They Act. We Win.”

But ActBlue reported more than five million individual donors last cycle, while WinRed reported only two million – virtually the same number since January 2021. In the second quarter of 2022 alone, ActBlue processed donations for more than 16,000 campaigns. That number for WinRed is only about 5,000 in its first three years of existence.

It isn’t WinRed’s fault. WinRed was never supposed to be a silver bullet, regardless of a naïve few who thought so. It is just a tool – a valuable weapon, but one that needs to be wielded properly.

Today, it is being argued that aggressive fundraising tactics are turning off voters and leading to a poor return on investment. In truth, those aggressive tactics are the result of an already declining ROI.

Declining ROI is caused by three factors. First, Republican candidates and consultants are refusing to invest in new email and text donor pools. Second, Big Tech is censoring political messaging (especially Republican messaging), limiting deliverability and in-boxing. Third, a lacking commitment to high-quality digital fundraising favors a quantity-over-quality model with more aggressive, questionable creative copy.

Poor Investment

While some larger political committees see the benefit in finding new donors, most Republican candidates believe they should receive a positive ROI on every dollar spent on digital fundraising. Last cycle, some of the most well-known Republican candidates demanded a 200% return on any digital prospecting spend. But prospecting with those demanded metrics requires reliance on current donor pools, not new ones. Unfortunately, campaigns and committees only spend about 3% of their funds on list rentals.

Campaigns are essentially start-up businesses. They start with little to no assets, and only a brand. In a business start-up, entrepreneurs raise capital to invest in acquiring new customers. Think Shark Tank’s Kevin O’Leary asking entrepreneurs, “What is the cost of acquiring a customer?” Yet too many candidates and consultants fail to understand that acquiring a donor is a cost – and worth the investment.

Big Tech Bias

Big Tech censorship is a significant problem for email fundraising in terms of deliverability – or as industry insiders call it, “in-boxing.” Since 2015, email service producers like Google or Yahoo have stepped up their efforts to block millions of Republican emails from reaching voters and potential donors.

Of course, Big Tech censoring Republicans shouldn’t surprise people. Look no further than your own inbox or spam folder for proof. But it was again confirmed by recent research, which found that Gmail sent nearly 80% of right-leaning candidate emails to spam in 2020, compared with just about 10% of left-leaning ones.

Lack of Commitment

Republican candidates and causes also lack the willpower for effective digital fundraising. After all, it is hard work. To be successful, candidates and committees must commit to a plan early and then invest the time and creative talent into building digital assets that will pay off down the road.

Many candidates and their consultants don’t put in the time and effort. They treat fundraising as an afterthought but expect it to act like an ATM. And when immediate ROI is not realized, they jump from vendor to vendor demanding questionable tactics like a “10,000x match.”

In digital fundraising, processing is the easy part; the actual fundraising is what’s hard. It requires electoral excitement – both organic and manufactured. It relies on identifying new donors and keeping past givers excited about the future.

Eliminating Big Tech bias won’t happen overnight, but Republicans can and should do better regardless. Democrats have figured out digital fundraising because, with years in the making, it has always been a top priority.

Republicans cannot forgo the hard work and play catch-up any longer. We need to invest time and talent into digital fundraising – now. Campaigns perform best when human capital is tasked with mastering low-dollar, digital fundraising. You grow the pie by hiring and training more bakers.

Until that Republican problem is solved, Democrats will have a clear advantage in 2024 and beyond.

Read the complete article on RealClear Politics.

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