Barack Obama’s New One-Click Fundraising Trick

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Campaign reporters have blind spots. I can tell you, for instance, what happens when you go on, or what happens when you sign up for the Barack Obama Facebook app, or what happens when you tell the campaign you want to donate money online. I cannot, however, tell you what happens after you donate the money online, since I am professionally obligated not to go there.

But something important is happening there, and it could add tens of millions of dollars to the Obama bottom line between now and November. What is it? Barack Obama, like Amazon, is now a one-click organization.

For those who have bought books or baby chairs from Amazon, you already know what one-click is. It’s a simple idea really, that makes buying things terrifyingly simple. Instead of reentering your credit card information and address each time you want a new product, Amazon prompts you to simply click a single button on a webpage to buy a product. Instantly, someone somewhere puts that something in the mail to your house, and you are that much poorer.

The Obama campaign has created something similar for political fundraising. On Sunday, at the SXSW Interactive conference in Austin, Texas, I moderated a panel discussion about new media and the presidential campaign, where Teddy Goff, the digital director for the Obama campaign, described the campaign’s new fundraising tool as “new for politics and my understanding is it’s new for non-profits too.”

It works like this. If you make one donation to the campaign of any amount of money, you have to enter your credit card information. Then you are prompted to sign up for the campaign’s “Quick Donate” program, which allows you to save all your payment information with the campaign in case you ever come back. The entire Chicago campaign operation is built to make you come back. In 2008, the average campaign donor to the Obama campaign gave more than two times. Now when you return, it will be easier than ever before.

Once you are in the “Quick Donate” system, you can be prodded to give even more, either online, through email, or over your cell phone. And the campaign will come knocking at the most opportune times. Imagine this: A fair-weather Obama supporter watches the President deliver his acceptance speech at the Democratic convention, and finds herself unusually excited–for about 10 minutes–about the coming election. Just then, her phone buzzes. It’s an SMS message from the Chicago headquarters that says reply to this message to donate $10 to the campaign. It’s that easy.

Another example: Another Obama supporter watches the Republican candidate give his acceptance speech at the Republican convention. He is outraged, or turned off, or exasperated. Just then, he gets an email from the campaign ranting about the radicalism of the Republican Party, or a posting on his Facebook page, with a message from Michelle Obama. Click here to donate $10, it says. Without entering any information about himself, he clicks. It’s all over in an instant.” We can now have a donation transacted in an email itself,” Goff said at the SXSW panel. “So you click a link on an email. You don’t even have to hit submit on a landing page.” (If you click by accident, you will still have the ability to ask for a refund.)

Campaign professionals will tell you that a lot more people come to political donation pages online than actually fill out all the information required by the Federal Election Commission to make a donation happen. Now giving money to the campaign is easier than ever before. And that will mean big money down the road for the Obama campaign.

For more on the panel I moderated, check out Micah Sifry’s write up.