Obama’s Friend-Raising Trumps Fundraising

Written by Audrie Zettick on December 1, 2008

Apparently, Barack Obama’s fundraising from small donors wasn’t up to the hype.  But still, what can we learn? 


While Obama did indeed set new records for funds raised, a recent study  revealed that small donors (defined as those who donated under $200) comprised 26% of Obama’s total donations–only 1% higher than Bush’s small donor percentage (25%) in 2004.  This study by the non-partisan Campaign Finance Institute confirmed a suspicion we’ve had–that the Obama campaign’s small donor base was inflated by counting donors multiple times–each time they gave an amount under $200–even if the total was much more than that.


Many pundits might stop there, glorying in the proof of Obamamania hype.  


But the lesson here lies in the communication strategy used by Obama—not just the media but how the tools were used. I’ll call it his “Friend-Raising” strategy. 


As Soren Dayton wrote, there are ways in which the Republican campaign organization exceeded Obama’s campaign.  But the bottom line was that the GOP applied technology to the old way of doing things; the Obama campaign used its “technology tool box” to really move things forward–especially with their advanced use of social networking.


A great insight into social networking is found in a quote by Travis Kalanick on MSNBC.  Travis, the Founder and former CEO of Red Swoosh said:


“Social networks are like grease — in some cases, gasoline — for our personal business networking machines. If you aren’t plugged in, you will be out-done by better-connected, hyper-networked colleagues and competitors.”


Obama’s social networking efforts clearly threw gasoline on the fire of Obamamania, empowering onlookers to become invested in the outcome of the election.  As Rachel Motte wrote today on EvangelicalOutpost.Com,  Republicans have got to “stop treating the internet like just another communications medium and to start using it to spark real-world action.”   She goes on to summarize some great conservative activity online this week (kudos to Michael P. Leahy for starting the Top Conservatives on Twitter list). 


What we are talking about is Web 2.0–(see my favorite web 2.0 definition)—using the tools of the internet to transform the way we do business.  

Deployed well, web 2.0 in the “business” of political advocacy can :


  • Creat momentum to recruit volunteers and their natural online activity to make them virtual organizers.  This article discusses how the Obama campaign didn’t just USE social networking by encouraging piecemeal social media usage but rather by finding new applications to integrate usage.  The Obama campaign implemented an application (turned down by the McCain camp) that integrated the My.Barack.Obama website with Facebook, allowing a feed from the one to the other.  So, for example, if someone registered with the Obama site signed up to host an event, it got posted to Facebook.  The result was a community that was cultivated, one where lurkers turned into activists.  By allowing individuals’ Facebook pages to become a shout out of activity, it essentially turned these Facebook pages into “community organizers” where new constituencies were reached.  Cool.


  • Turn small donors into repeat donors and leaders-by-example.  You might not be able to give $100 to a cause or candidate, but giving $25 several times is doable.  And it can be done quickly.  And –what if the Facebook feed showed a small giver just donated.  Would his or her Facebook friends feel pressure to donate?  I have a nonprofit consultant acquaintance I watched raise thousands of dollars quickly by simply asking her Twitter network to go to a website and donate $10 each.


  • Keep the blogosphere buzzing.  Whether it’s reality checking facts or getting everyone to show for an event, the turn around time is short and breadth of coverage is wide in social media.  People can become engaged, not simply talked to (as you might with email). 


Lesson here:  go beyond just employing the tools; make them work together to nourish (not just create) a community–and use that community to transform the way we “do” politics. 

  1. 5 Responses to “Obama’s Friend-Raising Trumps Fundraising”

  2. Well said – and thanks for the mention!

    By Rachel Motte on Dec 5, 2008

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