The fundraising practice that sees donors encourage their friends and associates to match their contribution to a candidate has been around for ages. But it was made an art by the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign, which saw rainmakers get assigned a "solicitor tracking code" so they could get credit — and a catchy title like Ranger or Pioneer — when their friends made a contribution to the president's reelection.
The rewards for the well-heeled included everything from photo-ops with top administration officials to time with George W. Bush himself.
Down-ballot campaigns could only dream of incentivizing massive contributions in exchange for time with their candidates. But there's still the prospect for them to create bundlers through a new fundraising website that received the greenlight from the FEC last week.
The rewards here can be decidedly more low-key — a campaign T-shirt, say, for arranging ten $30 donations. But the principle remains the same: harness a campaign’s most ardent supporters to multiply the donor base.
“This thing is really built for insurgent-style campaigns or PACs, or issues that people are really passionate about,” said David Bell, a former Republican campaign operative who founded a fundraising business split between the websites eBundler.com and Donorship.org.
The eBundler platform, which is nonpartisan, allows campaigns and PACs to personalize a Donorship platform, track contributions they receive, obtain donor information from individuals using the fundraising tool, and contact donors.
“They [the campaign] give us an email list of, say, 100,000. They then can send out a blast email and say ‘we’re using donorship.org,’ and the supporters land on the Donorship page,” Bell said. “People can chip in a few bucks there or they can choose the ‘I only want to fundraise’ option.”
If they choose that option, the bundlers then upload their contacts from Gmail, Outlook or LinkedIn. They get fundraising copy provided to them through the site and then forward an email (the company uses Amazon’s email delivery system). “It is coming form donorship.org, but it has the individual’s name,” Bell said.
He said that prompts more opens than a generic fundraising appeal. “It’s not coming from the candidate, it’s coming form your mom, your cousin, your co-worker,” he said. “If you reply back to it, it will go to [the bundler’s] email personally.”
The campaigns who register with the site pay for the fundraising service, but there’s another way to use it.
The reason Bell needed FEC approval is because it allows supporters to become bundlers on their own donorship.org page, without being asked by a campaign. “Prior to this [last week’s FEC approval] we had to have a services agreement for the campaign, which is ideally what we want. But the reality is I can go to Gary Johnson’s Reddit and ask, ‘Do you want to fundraise for him, invite your friends’ and we’re good to,” Bell said.
Data is a key offering. Campaigns can track a donor’s “Impact score” to see how influential they are in soliciting funds and potentially single them out for rewards or greater involvement. Moreover, they get to keep the donor information gleaned from the bundlers and have exportable FEC data, if they want to itemize the contributions made.
But Bell’s company also keeps the bundler data (the lists the campaigns provide directly aren’t harvested). He hopes that data will enhance the service’s appeal.
“Part of the goal here is to have the only database of sub-$200 donors on federal elections out there,” he said. “Right now, there’s no database generally available of these small-dollar donors.”