Campaign donations are the new phone bill line item.
After roughly eight months of negotiations, Revolution Messaging reached an agreement with the top cellphone carriers and their industry trade group, the Cellular Telephone Industries Association (CTIA), to allow for the Bernie Sanders campaign to solicit donations via text and have the amount billed to the supporter’s phone.
The firm recently announced another text program, but that one required donors to have an ActBlue Express account. Now, supporters only have to follow a couple simple steps, like checking a box confirming they’re eligible to donate and then entering a pin number that’s texted back to them before $10 is billed to their cell number by either T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, Cricket or MetroPCS (some regional carriers won’t put the donation through).
For years, charities have been able to solicit donations by asking supporters to text GIVE to a select number. But FEC reporting requirements and the concerns of cell carriers have held up allowing political donations to be made with the same spontaneity.
For months Revolution Messaging has worked to create consensus between competing carriers whose lawyers were concerned about the language of the agreement and the risk that their subscribers could make an unintentional donation. With the deal in place, text donations could eventually rival email as a tool for soliciting donations. With large rallies increasingly the norm, campaigns could literally cash in on the excitement supporters get from a good stump speech.
Now, donors can give up $50 per phone number per month to each political committee and up to $200 per individual per year (cumulative) per political committee, according to Revolution Messaging. The donations, because they’re made in small increments, can be recorded as a single line item on an FEC report.
It’s a huge victory for Revolution Messaging, which has been working with the FEC for some four years to have a framework of rules in place to allow text donations. But in a statement, the firm’s CEO, Scott Goodstein, kept the focus on what the tool could do for the Sanders campaign.
"With our newest form of text to donate, it is easier than ever for Sanders’ supporters to donate with a few simple keystrokes" Goodstein said.
Some of Revolution’s competitors in the texting space said they were happy with the breakthrough in a “tough” regulatory environment. “Anything people can use to engage with campaigns and organizations in a meaningful way is good. There needs to be easier ways for people to give money,” said Jessica Hyejin Lee, CEO of HandStack, a text service provider based in San Francisco.
Lee’s company, which is backed by the Silicon Valley venture capital seed fund 500 Startups, offers a text-to-donate option to its customers, but it requires the contributions be made through a website. For instance, a campaign texts “an image and their message and a link to their donation website, or they text people asking for pledges and they reply back their pledge amount and then they follow up there,” said Lee.
Her non-partisan company, which she calls a technology platform, charges $2,500 for 10,000 texts, $7,500 for 100,000, and $45,000 for a million. Clients aren’t charged for messages that don’t go through.
They don’t require an opt-in because the texts are sent through individual phone numbers, not auto-dialed by a single phone number, which would required an opt-in under current regulations. Responses are then administered through a website or mobile app.
“What’s most effective is to do mixed medium: Send the text at the time you send the email for fundraising or messaging,” she said. “Our open rate is four times higher than email.”
She also pitches her service to campaigns as a way to phone bank specific universes. “You can have your organizers text people instead of phone banking,” she said. “We are a group chat app that works just like a native” iPhone messaging conversation.
After people respond to the group text, individuals can be segmented out with personalized responses. “You can reply in any language — you can even text emoticons,” she said. “But I figure no one’s going to do that in politics.”