Wednesday, November 5, 2003

How to Raise $200 Million Online

Howard Dean is fast becoming notorious – both among Republicans and Democrats – as something of a rebel. But recently the presidential hopeful has fallen under the eager scrutiny of direct marketers and non-profit fund-raisers. Politics aside, Dean's campaign is doing something that has proven to be the unattainable holy grail of the Internet for so long.

He's raising money online. Lots of it.

The presidential campaign organization for the former Democratic Vermont Governor raised $7.4 million online in the third quarter of 2003 – more than double the amount the organization generated online in the previous quarter and half of the $14.8 million fundraising total for Q3 2003.

Between's April launch and the end of September – less than 180 days – Dean for America raised $11 million online. Small and repeat contributions account for a large percentage of the $7.4 million that the Dean campaign raised over the Internet last quarter. Indeed, the campaign reports that it received 110,786 online contributions from 84,713 discrete supporters. The average amount: $61.14.

"From the start, we have told our supporters that they had the power to end the hold of special interests on our political process. Hundreds of thousands have responded by offering what they can afford to take our country back," Campaign Manager Joe Trippi said.

And he may be on to something – at least insofar as the campaign is concerned. Dean's pledge to lead with a mandate from the people, not larger, deeper-pocketed interest groups, has resonated with a liberal and independent constituency still reeling from Enron and Worldcom. Win or lose, Dean may very well achieve his goal of running a campaign beholden to none but the American people.

"The Dean campaign captured the nation’s attention at the end of Q2 by announcing it had raised a very impressive $3.6 million online in only 90 days,” said Gene Austin, CEO of Convio, the software provider behind Dean for America's online donation system. “By raising $7.4 million online in the third quarter, the organization has demonstrated that it’s possible to not just sustain but significantly surpass this level of constituent support and participation over the Internet. Any group that wants to optimize its fundraising, marketing and constituent communications should be watching what Dean for America is doing online.”

The Dean campaign's Internet fundraising represents a reversal of a decades-long trend in presidential fundraising, where fewer people give larger sums to campaigns.

"We learned last week that 68 friends and colleagues of the president raised nearly a quarter of his $34 million," Trippi said. "By comparison, the contributions to the Dean campaign represent the interests of the American people, not the special interests."

Considered in tandem with the on-again-off-again success moderate politicians – such as Sen. John McCain – have been having with campaign finance reform, the news of Dean's online and offline popular financial support is enough to – God forbid – give hope for the future of republican government in America.

Dean for America has recently launched a new campaign, online and off: The $100 Revolution. The effort is targeted at George W. Bush's plan to raise $200 million from special interests for a presidential primary in which he runs unopposed. The Dean campaign asks its supporters to each give $100 to meet the president's ambitious goal. "If 2 million Americans each contribute $100, we will defeat this president – and we will change America. The formula is simple."

And don't write him off out of hand. Dean has taken on Bush fundraising directly before – and won. Dean defied beltway convention when his unorthodox blog-based fundraising efforts challenged the fundraising efforts of Vice President Dick Chaney. Chaney hosted a Republican fundraising diner event – with $2,000-per-plate attendance – slated to raise $250,000 for the 2004 Bush/Chaney campaign. Using principally his campaign weblog as a counter-measure, the Dean campaign raised more than double that within 24 hours.

And Dean for America has kept the momentum going. Its Halloween-themed Internet fundraiser brought in more than $354,891 from 6,177 Americans. Over the four-day drive Dean for America steadily closed in on the goal of $310,000 with an average contribution of $57.45.

Senate Democrat have taken special notice of Dean's online successes. And while Sen. Tom Daschle remains unconvinced that the phenomena can be reproduced to the benefit of sitting politicians, wheels have begun turning in Washington.

You never know. Maybe they'll even start working for us again. fb

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