A very interesting ‘on the ground’ investigation in The Atlantic (by Joshua Green) of how the Obama campaign generated unprecedented amounts of campaign money from a very large pool of small donors.
The article stresses several factors: 1) the success of Obama of generating a support network in Silicon Valley, that brought new ideas and a new ethos in the campaign staff; 2) the ability to attract web-savvy net-generation youngsters to manage the online strategies.
This resulted into 1) the massive use of social networking as a principle for fundraising, i.e. the effort was less based on solliciting money, than on solliciting fundraisers and self-management of small donations; 2) a user-generated campaign on the local level, operating without central funds from the Obama campaign.
I recommend reading the whole article in full, and for more, check this tag.
Here an excerpt on the campaign site:
“When My.BarackObama.com launched, at the start of the campaign, its lineage was clear. The site is a social-networking hub centered on the candidate and designed to give users a practically unlimited array of ways to participate in the campaign. You can register to vote or start your own affinity group, with a listserv for your friends. You can download an Obama news widget to stay current, or another one (which Spinner found) that scrolls Obama’s biography, with pictures, in an endless loop. You can click a “Make Calls” button, receive a list of phone numbers, and spread the good news to voters across the country, right there in your home. You can get text-message updates on your mobile phone and choose from among 12 Obama-themed ring tones, so that each time Mom calls you will hear Barack Obama cry “Yes we can!” and be reminded that Mom should register to vote, too.
“We’ve tried to bring two principles to this campaign,” Rospars told me. “One is lowering the barriers to entry and making it as easy as possible for folks who come to our Web site. The other is raising the expectation of what it means to be a supporter. It’s not enough to have a bumper sticker. We want you to give five dollars, make some calls, host an event. If you look at the messages we send to people over time, there’s a presumption that they will organize.”
The true killer app on My.BarackObama.com is the suite of fund-raising tools. You can, of course, click on a button and make a donation, or you can sign up for the subscription model, as thousands already have, and donate a little every month. You can set up your own page, establish your target number, pound your friends into submission with e-mails to pony up, and watch your personal fund-raising “thermometer” rise. “The idea,” Rospars says, “is to give them the tools and have them go out and do all this on their own.” The organizing principle behind Obama’s Web site, in other words, is the approach Mark Gorenberg used with such success—only scaled to such a degree that it has created an army of more than a million donors and raisers. The Clinton campaign belatedly sought to mimic Obama’s Internet success, and has raised what in any other context would be considered significant money online—but nothing like Obama’s totals, in dollars or donors. John McCain’s online fund-raising has been abysmal.
The social-networking model provided Obama with something that insurgents before him, from Gary Hart to McCain, always lacked: a means of capturing excitement and translating it into money. “