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Heading Into Campaign Season, Political Contributions Get Mobile

Blue State Digital unveils an instant mobile giving app geared towards nonprofits, charities, and political campaigns.

With a presidential campaign on the horizon, all eyes turn to fundraising. One of the most important maxims of political or charitable fundraising should be to make it easy for supporters to donate money to a cause. In reality, however, when it comes time for funds to actually change hands, the process is often laborious. Blue State Digital (BSD)--a digital agency that works with brands and campaigns and is perhaps best known as the shop that gave Obama '08 its digital edge--aims to change that with Quick Donate, a new mobile and online service that enables supporters to donate to a cause with a single click.

The service addresses the fact that since the 2010 earthquake in Haiti there has been greater interest in mobile giving, says BSD CTO and Founding Partner Jascha Franklin-Hodge. After that natural disaster, the Red Cross led a very successful campaign in which people could donate via a mobile smart code and have the donation charged to their cell phone bill. While an excellent success story, Franklin-Hodge says it’s been near impossible to replicate because of a number of factors: Only charities are able to participate in carrier billing; carriers tend to withhold funds from the charity to ensure phone bill charges aren’t disputed; donation apps are difficult to get people to download without a compelling value proposition; and charges of upwards of 30% are often incurred when using intermediaries like carriers or app stores to raise funds. All of which were unacceptable to Franklin-Hodge, particularly because charities and political campaigns need to move quickly.

Quick Donate used in an email campaign

“By virtue of having seen the potential for this in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake and then seeing a lot of non-profits struggle with the status quo of technology options, we came up with this as a way to break through and provide people with a better set of choices that solve their problems more specifically,” he says.

One of the most notable groups using Quick Donate is Obama for America, a group that relied heavily on BSD’s online services in the 2008 campaign. With the service, donors are given the option to provide a credit card number to be saved on file the first time they donate. After that, the campaign can send messages via email or text prompting supporters to donate. Mobile users simply reply with the amount they’d like to donate, eliminating complex donation forms, while email recipients can simply click one link and funds are automatically deducted from their account.

This being an election year, and one that’s dominated by SuperPAC fundraising, the release of Quick Donate is sure to be a powerful tool for Obama campaign, which in 2008 broke new ground in terms of how political campaigns used social media and mobile technology. And it aptly reflects how mobile and social have evolved into a ubiquitous part of life--on and off the campaign trail.

“When you look at 2008, smartphones were the provenance of early adopters. Facebook was a thing that a lot of people were using, but it was far less central to people’s everyday lives and social interactions than it is today. Now we’re dealing with a landscape where mobile and social are the infrastructure of people’s digital lives. So with any political campaign, the goal is how to make their stuff relevant in those contexts,” says Franklin-Hodge, noting that 30% of BDS clients’ emails are viewed on a smartphone, but that action rates from mobile browsers are 50% lower than desktops. “If I’m reading my email on my cell phone and a link takes me to some form that I have to fill in, I’m just not going to do it. So the challenge for a political campaign is to say, look, the reality is people are much more mobile than they were before. How do you make that experience a really compelling and great and positive one for the end user?” The answer, says Franklin-Hodge: “It just can’t be annoying.”

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