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The Future of Online Political Fundraising

  |  March 8, 2006   |  Comments

The Web paves a clear path for new donors to political campaigns and increases the donor pool for future rounds of contributions.

The 2004 presidential election saw an increase in the number of overall donations with a large number of first-time donors contributing online. A report authored jointly by The George Washington University's Institute for Politics, Democracy & the Internet (IPDI) and the Campaign Finance Institute observes a shift to online donations from the 18 to 34 year-old demographic.

The shift to online donations during the 2004 election happened in large part in the 18 to 34 year-old age group. Over 80 percent in that cohort donated online with a credit or debit card. Sixty-seven percent of people aged 35 to 50 donated online at least once, and about one-fourth of the over-65 group made online political contributions.

"They are heavily online, and they're going to take that habit with them as they age," Joseph Graf, the report's principal author and research director at IPDI, told ClickZ Stats.

The Web's importance in future political campaigns is shared by both political parties. While over half of Democratic donors and a quarter of Republic donors made at least one donation online, Graf says there's no inherent difference in online representation between Democrats and Republicans. "The Democrats needed to earn more money down the stretch and they pushed their campaigns online," he noted.

A large portion of small online contributors ($100 or less) gave unsolicited donations. About 46 percent said their first donation was self-motivated, not triggered by a phone call, letter or email. In years past, unsolicited donators had to work harder to find a way to make a contribution.

"In many ways, the deck is stacked against someone who is a small donor," said Graf. "Large donors are on the campaign lists, they get phone calls and emails. People who are asked more often are much more likely to give."

Online recruitment of first-time givers grows the donor pool amd equates to a new lead for future donations.

The Internet is viewed as a cheaper, more engaging way to request money. Exchanges between a political party and potential donor can be highly personalized, and requests can be tied to issues seen as important to an individual user. The report makes the point, "If direct mail is akin to fundraisers chasing donors, then the Internet is akin to donors chasing fundraisers."

"The Small Donors Survey" was conducted between July 1 and November 30, 2005. A mail-in survey was sent to a sample of about 6,477 people, results derived from responses of 27 percent of the sample group. Most survey respondents received a letter, then a survey by mail.

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Enid Burns

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