Fundraisers are still bracing their clients for tighter budgeting as observers ratchet up projections for political spending this cycle.
Advertising Analytics and Cross Screen Media recently added $700,000 to their 2020 ad spending projection, raising it to $6.7 billion. Digital will account for $1.8 billion of that spend with the rest going to “traditional” media including broadcast television, radio and cable.
They revised the projection “due to historic levels of primary spending, record-breaking fundraising, the lack of face-to-face campaigning driving higher shares of budgets to paid media, and increased levels of insight into digital video spending,” the analysts wrote.
ActBlue is also bullish on 2020 fundraising. The Democratic payment processor recently touted strong fundraising numbers for April, noting it was the “fifth largest month in ActBlue’s history by number of contributions and sixth largest both by total dollars raised and by unique donors.”
“Pundits predicted a decrease in enthusiasm among small-dollar donors because of the pandemic, but these April numbers show that the grassroots is as energized as ever,” ActBlue’s Erin Hill said in a statement.
Still, there’s no question that many campaigns are experiencing a difficult quarter — and will reveal as much in July when their FEC reports are due.
Now, the gap between this quarter’s reality and the spending totals tallied in November could be bridged by J-curve increases in donations to campaigns and groups in the coming months. But that may require economic conditions to improve for small-dollar donors and some rainmakers alike.
In fact, the picture is murkier for down-ballot and non-targeted races, where fundraising wasn’t as easy to begin with. Those without large lists and other infrastructure will suffer the most this cycle, consultants say.
But at least on the Democratic side, some of these beyond-the-spotlight races could get help from a new tool from the group Swing Left, a hybrid PAC/super PAC that channels funds to progressive candidates at the federal and state level.
This week Swing Left officially unveiled Blueprint, a platform that’s a bit like Etrade for campaign donors. Users sign up and get a portfolio of recommendations for what groups and campaigns to give to based on their profile.
Swing Left had planned to unveil Blueprint at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, in March, but the festival was canceled because of COVID-19. Still, they went ahead with a beta rollout and users have already channeled $390,000 to Democratic candidates and civic organizations.
“It allows that donor who may be needing to be a little bit tighter with their budget this time around, that their dollar is going to the most high-impact opportunity,” said Tori Taylor, chief political officer at Swing Left.
Blueprint’s staff have a methodology to reevaluate the giving opportunities each quarter. “What are the candidates who really need an influx at any given moment?,” said Taylor. “We are looking at the dynamics as they’re changing. The COVID environment is really hitting local candidates the hardest who may not have the scale of resources to pivot their programs.”
As a result, Taylor said that campaigns need to remain “conservative in terms of fundraising projections.”
“In this particular year, I think that creativity and nimbleness is really the name of the game. Folks being cognizant and conservative in their planning, but being creative [with] what platforms they’re using.”
She pointed to Zoom fundraisers as an example. “There’s going to be a lot that we learn about fundraising” in 2020, she said.
Other fundraising consultants told C&E that they’ll be watching how Blueprint is received because it’s a novel tool. Political donors typically have a connection with the candidate or group they’re supporting. If donors are comfortable giving without that bond, fundraisers could adopt new strategies going forward.
Innovation in fundraising is also happening on the right where teamwork is the current buzzword.
“Whatever the platform, different candidates working together, I’ll give up half mine if we both raise more money — that team work attitude is starting to permeate,” said Patrick O'Keefe, director of customer success at fundraising platform Anedot. “We have seen in our data that up sells, and cross sells and tandem — WinRed calls its conduiting — I think definitely works. It’s a novel ask, it’s a new ask.”
Lindsay Jacobs Seti, executive director of Majority Money, agreed that the team effort is gaining popularity this cycle. “There’s been a huge uptick in the amount of revenue sharing agreements between candidates on WinRed as well as on Anedot and the other payment processors,” she said. “They’ve got to find way to reach new audiences.”
Planning for the worst-case scenario over next six months isn’t just about fundraising projections, she noted. It should involve calculating for a voter outreach strategy that is entirely based on digital as opposed to volunteer-based, peer-to-peer contact.
“If you have to spend 100 percent of your budget reaching donors in paid forms, what does it take to win in a completely digital or a completely vote-by-mail environment?,” Jacobs Seti said. “And that’s going to be different for every race.”
Data is also more important because it can help campaigns target donors more effectively — some big contributors could be hurting from the pandemic while others are unscathed. Jacobs Seti is also encouraging clients to stay engaged with their supporters, even if they’re not making an ask.
“Fundraising is about so much more than just asking for money,” she said.