I spoke at a panel with Red State's Mike Krempasky on Sunday. Before the panel, we sat and chatted about politics, and I mentioned something along the lines of, "progressive blogs still aren't good fundraisers. If we raise $100K, it's a great response, and in races that cost millions, that's just a drop in the bucket."
My thesis has been that this "drop in the bucket" has more worth as a buzz-building tool, which then garners more traditional forms of fundraising and media, than it has worth in strictly dollars and cents.
Boy was I wrong.
Krempasky, who has been a long-time political operative, surprised me by saying (approximately), "You are selling yourself short. A good fundraising operation can take that $100K and turn it into $1 million over the course of a one-year campaign.
"That's why conservatives are willing to lose money on the initial response to a direct mail fundraising appeal. Because those who respond, in the long term, more than make up for the effort."
I was shocked, but still a bit skeptical. So I ran this by Nate Wilcox. Nate ran Richard Morrison's netroots effort in the 2004 election. Morrison was the guy who ran against DeLay. He had just about no money in the bank until the Daily Kos community started rallying around him. We raised about $65K in direct appeals for him which generated a great deal of buzz and excitement and he parlayed that into a credible race against the second most powerful man in the country. I thought that was the end of the story.
Nate, who now works for the Warner operation, again shocked me by saying that $65K we raised ended up being worth about $365,000 by the end of the race (about six months later). Considering he raised about $800K on the race, we accounted for nearly half his fundraising.
That list was segmented and worked. For example, they knew which donors responded to positive poll numbers and which ones responded to attacks on DeLay. And these small donors, unlike the big fish and their $2K checks, could contribute again and again.
The bottom line? We have collectively had a much, much larger impact on the dollar front than I ever imagined. How much we'll never know, and it doesn't really matter. But it's more than the direct results indicate.
But more than that, it simply shows the importance of early donations. The further in advance we can start helping out the campaigns we like and support, the more the campaigns will benefit in the end. The impulse is always to contribute at the end of a race, when the excitement of the moment sweeps us up. And that's great. Campaigns could always use the money. But the earlier we participate, the further that money goes.
Hopefully we can start adding candidates to the ActBlue netroots fundraising page soon.