Some two-thirds of the U.S. population now has a smart phone with Internet access and increasingly we’re using them to make campaign contributions. That means online donation platforms are vital to a successful fundraising effort. When candidates, campaign managers and finance directors begin their search for an online processor, here are some factors to consider.
Candidates must have a donation platform that’s able to accept donations through a mobile device and automatically adapt to that device’s screen. Whether through the app or through the candidate’s website, a Twitter account or email link, candidates must be able to accept contributions at all hours without donors trying to figure out why the site on their phone is difficult to navigate.
Having a free mobile app will greatly improve the ability of candidates to make changes to their donation form. Candidates also need to be able to track their contributions on the go, since campaigning today entails so much travel time. Such information is critical to implementing correct campaign strategies, not to mention budgeting.
A processor should have a simple and easy set-up process. Candidates need to be able to create an account with their processor in roughly five minutes and begin raising money the same day. No longer should a processor make a campaign go through the time-consuming exercise of setting up a traditional merchant account. Another key factor is the ability to keep donors on the campaign website while making the contribution. Some processors redirect potential donors to an outside website to finalize the contribution, which puts him or her out of direct contact with the campaign and can actually decrease the amount of the donation.
Total Donor Recall
Because emotion is such an important factor in political giving, an online donation platform must give donors a quick contribution method. Donors should be able to save their information and return later to contribute again by entering a single password. A processor should also accept money transfers from the contributor’s bank account—including automatic transfers—in addition to credit card transactions.
Moreover, a recurring-contribution option can increase donations because contributors can give right up to Election Day. This will help expedite the process of receiving funds and keep the campaign from having to manually transfer the online receipts. Look for a processor that takes no more than five days to transfer the funds.
Another option would be to have a customized contribution form. The more simplistic the form, the more online contributions garnered. Candidates also must be able to export their donors’ information into a format that enables them to file their required state and federal reports.
The processor should make it easy for a candidate with no programming experience to add a donate button to a newly constructed site. An additional feature that’s key for digital design teams is an API (Application Programming Interface) kit. The API kit allows developers to customize and integrate the contribution form seamlessly into the campaign’s website.
When trying to reach potential donors, an important factor is to be sure you’re interacting and approaching them correctly. Sure, your campaign will definitely get donations from dedicated supporters, but the real opportunity is in reaching and motivating the constituents who aren’t as politically involved. Your campaign must be able to target and contact those donors through social media. Your processor should be able to integrate through Facebook and add a “donate now” function right on the campaign page. More importantly, the processor must allow candidates to create their own online campaigns and be able to track their effectiveness.
One problem that candidates run into is collecting the correct data. Some non-political processors don’t acquire certain information necessary for campaign finance reporting. While every state is different, typically candidates need the name, address, employer, and occasionally spousal information of the donor. This data is integral to reaching constituents correctly and efficiently. Collecting necessary data will ensure that a campaign is reaching potential donors and maximizing contribution opportunities.
Integration with a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system is also important to collecting and using data correctly. A candidate needs to find a processor that enables his or her campaign to easily push the data to CRM platforms specializing in campaign finance. These CRM platforms allow candidates to manage their data like an online Rolodex. This feature is integral to simplifying the process and helping to properly reach constituents. Additionally, campaigns should use a CRM system that doesn’t tie the campaign to a specific processor.
Point of Contact
Long gone are the days of writing a message to the candidate on the back of a pledge card. Choose a processor that lets contributors give the candidate real-time, point-of-contribution feedback.
Make it Political, Not Partisan
Choose a processor that has been created exclusively for campaigns. That will make it easier to follow campaign finance laws. A quality processor should also be Level 1 payment card industry (PCI) compliant, which guarantees that all parties’ information is safely processed and secured.
But top priority shouldn’t be to find a processor sympathetic to your ideals or beliefs. Instead, affiliate with one that understands the nature of processing and political campaigns.
When choosing a fundraising processor, focus on the features that are offered by the vendor and not necessarily the price. Hiring a skilled and proven firm may cost more but could boost donations. Smart campaigns should search out and use a processor that doesn't charge any monthly fees or set-up costs.
Chris Stewart is Founder and CEO of RaiseTheMoney.com, an online political processor.