Widespread adoption of that service lets ActBlue do two things. First, they continually test and retest their forms on a large scale so they can create products that make people more likely to contribute to candidates. With hundreds of campaigns sending emails to donors all the time, ActBlue's scale means it can use "A/B" testing (comparing the effectiveness of two versions of the same page) to figure out within hours which form will yield the best return—instead of the months it might take for a single campaign to gather that data. It "gets to statistical significance quickly," said Erin Hill, ActBlue's executive director.
Secondly, ActBlue's widespread adoption means it now has 1.2 million Democratic donors' credit card information on file, which allows campaigns to deploy higher-yield, one-click donation appeals.
It sounds like a small thing, but it's not: When donors have the option to just click, give money, and be done with it, donation rates skyrocket. Lowering barriers like the time it takes to donate makes each email a campaign sends worth much more money. "The next time you land on an ActBlue contribution page, your info just shows up and it's off to the races," said Nate Thames, ActBlue's technical services director.
The net effect is that more Democratic House campaigns, typically lower-money affairs with fewer donors, have started raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars from donors across the country—spooking Republican congressmen who tend not to raise as much digitally and have to spend more time dialing for dollars to compete.
Every Democratic campaign and committee still has to build its own email list. But when they match their saved emails against ActBlue's saved credit card information, returns go up dramatically, much like Amazon's one-click shopping function boosted sales for that company.
"When committees start using ActBlue, it's highly likely that we'll already have payment info for one-third to one-half of their donors," Thames said. "It turns out Democratic activists tend to give to "¦ lots of different committees."
The effect is even more dramatic on smartphones. "There's basically nothing worse than trying to type a 16-digit number with your phone," Thames said. Instead, previous donors' information auto-fills, and now nearly 30 percent of the donations ActBlue processes come via mobile device (versus 5 percent four years ago), further swelling Democratic candidates' coffers.
Some Democratic campaigns don't use ActBlue. It also mines the network of Democratic donors for money to keep itself on the cutting edge, meaning more competition for dollars. (ActBlue noted that its own "tips" from donors are typically in the 50-cent to one dollar range.) And higher-powered campaigns, like President Obama's two national efforts, sometimes want to customize things more using their own vendors. "Organizations sometimes choose something custom because they want to be able to create different content and asks around their fundraising," said Blue State Digital CEO Joe Rospars, the Obama campaigns' chief digital strategist. (He noted that ActBlue provides "a ton of value" to the party.) "They just want more control over their own destiny."