Tag Archives: Fundraising

Lessons Learned from Obama

Friday morning, I had the pleasure to speak to 25 political activists (Radikal Ungdom) from Denmark who had been campaigning in Florida for Obama. I asked them to share their campaign moments and I really enjoyed their stories from Florida – and a few from Danish campaigns. Furthermore, I learned a lot about campaigning in Denmark. (I have never participated in a political campaign. I have only observed campaigns and worked with politicians when they are in office.)


Here’s an excerpt of my notes on what we can learn from Obama´s use of social media:


Not for Everyone

Now every campaign or politician wants to copy Obama’s masterfully run campaign. All the tools are out there for everyone to use, but I don’t think they’re for everyone. Using the tools in a wrong way is much more damaging than not using them. I think it is one of the major lessons that we can learn from this election. For instance, Hillary Clinton used most of the tools – but she was not authentic (I will explore this more when I have time, please tell me if you have some links covering how to be authentic online/offline).


Take a look at @hillaryclinton on Twitter. Almost 6,000 are following her, but she does not follow anyone. 132,304 are following @BarackObama who’s following 127364. When I signed up to follow him, his campaign signed up immediately after to follow me. That’s a signal of interaction and conversation!


It’s Not Just About the Tools

Furthermore, Obama did not win just because he mastered Web 2.0. He mastered running a campaign integrating all kinds of campaign disciplines: messaging, polling, microtargeting, debating, stump speech, crisis management, media relations, digital communications (social media), and the ground game (GOTV). Most importantly, Obama’s message matched him as a messenger and inspired supporters. And don’t forget his formidable communications skills. Few politicians are as gifted as Obama.


Social Media Tools:

Here’s what we learn from Obama’s use of especially four social media tools:


Cell phone

Text messages are an intimate way for a campaign to mobilize supporters to register or vote. And they increase voter turnout in an effective way; A study from 2006 showed that text-message reminders helped increase turnout among younger voters by four percentage points. In a follow up survey, 59% of recipients reported that the reminder was helpful and only 23% who found it inconvenient. Furthermore, it is cheaper than canvassing and other offline activities.


Therefore, it is an effective tool to reach out to especially young voters under 30 because around 1/3 of this group only have cell phones.


Obama used cell phones as a tool in both the primaries and in the general election for mobilization (not fundraising). McCain text messaged his supporters once; the day before Election Day.



Two Types of Video

 2004: No YouTube


2006: George Allen lost his campaign for the Senate in Virginia (and couldn’t run as president) because of racial slur captured on a YouTube clip.


2008: Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton announce their campaigns on YouTube:




1. Video by the Candidates

The Obama campaign strategically used its YouTube channel/campaign website and often used it instead of traditional media. For instance, the announcement of Obama’s VP came first on a text message telling supporters that they could watch on www.barackobama.com


  • Speeches
    • Obama’s race speech in Philadelphia in March is among the most viewed clips on YouTube.
    • YouTube only count for those who have watched all of it.
    • As far as I can count from the various clips of the speech around 8 million people have watched this speech in its full length.
    • The speech is 38 minutes long
    • YouTube is not killing the sound bite but it is giving campaigns/politicians a tool where they can explain complicated ideas – as Obama did here.
  • Causal videos
    • Behind the scene – which reporters do not necessarily get access to
    • Campaign Manager David Plouffe’s up dates on video included in emails to supporters. See for example:


2. User-generated video


Vote Different



Yes We Can


Social Networking

The goal of social networking in a campaign is to mobilize supporters/voters to take action offline (call, organize, register, vote). The Obama campaign used its campaign site website www.mybarackobama.com to spread the message of the campaign and gave its supporters a lot of tools that they could use offline.


For instance, a supporter could download a phone list and call from home. Of course the opponent can use the same list, but the benefits of opening up exceed the costs. It is easy to make a few calls from wherever you are, and a supporter doesn’t have to go to the campaign office and take up space!


Social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace are an effective way to spread the message among already established networks or friends. Studies (see for example Applebee’s America or Influentials) show that we are more likely to trust a friend of ours than a political expert on TV.


Social networking sites have also been a tool to collect cell phone numbers and emails. Furthermore, when supporters have registered on MyBarackObama.com they give the campaign demographic data and contact information which are important as part of customer relationship management (please see end note). The campaign can email or text message directly with personal messages to the individual supporter when and where it is necessary. 




It is hard to completely separate social networking from fundraising and the field organization. Social networking is only one element of fundraising and field organization, but it is the integration of those “disciplines” that are amazing and groundbreaking about Obama’s campaign.


However, Obama’s fundraising effort aided his victory on Election Night. According to OpenSecrets,his campaign relied on bigger donors and smaller donors nearly equally, pulling in successive donations mostly over the Internet.” Obama also rejected public financing when he entered the general election.


Traditionally, fundraising has been aimed at around 50,000 wealthy American donating a maximum of $4,600 to the primaries and general election. The Obama campaign has not, yet, released all its numbers, so we do not know exactly how many donated online. Garrett Graff has estimated that 3,5 – 5 million people have.


From this perspective Obama does not owe special interest anything. (However, the unions might feel he does). 


Obama has built on Howard Dean’s fundraising success in 2004 allowing small donations online. The campaign has wisely integrated a “donate” bottom in emails and on the campaign website so it is hard to miss.


(Garrett Graff inspired me in working on this notes. Met him briefly the day after the election and of course my notes from his classes in the spring and summer helped me as well. Paul Johnson and George Thompson, my current professors in Political Campaign Communication, will also recognize a few of their points. I have retrieved the notion of costumer relations management from Mette Bom´s and Birgitte Raben´s article in the Danish magazine Mandag Morgen MyPresident.com:Sociale medier vinder præsidentvalget”about Obama´s social media strategy. Unfortuantely, I cannot link to it).



Fundraising in the First Campaign

Even though we are in the middle of the First Campaign, Barack Obama has already written one chapter of the lesson learned book from this election cycle. It is the cahpater about fundraising.


It may not be surprising that the story of Obama is a story of money. He needed a lot of money to compete with Hillary Clinton in the primaries and for building a remarkable campaign operation. How did he do it? Joshua Green asked the question in an article in the Atlantic Monthly in June and answered:


“…He (Obama) built a fund-raising machine quite unlike anything seen before in national politics. Obama’s machine attracts large and small donors alike, those who want to give money and those who want to raise it, veteran activists and first-time contributors, and—especially—anyone who is wired to anything: computer, cell phone, PDA.”


Obama has done what insurgents like John McCain in 2000 and Howard Dean in 2004 were not able to do because the social networking tools and culture were not as advanced then as they are now. Joe Trippi explains in his book why McCain did not have more success with his digital campaign in 2000; “Not enough snow had been plowed by Amazon.com, eBay, and all the travel agencies for a political candidacy to make much headway” (Trippi, 2005, p.82). In this term, Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn have plowed a path for Obama that did not exist during the Dean for America campaign in 2004 or for McCain in 2000.  


Trippi talked about the Perfect Storm (Trippi, 2005, p. 119) in 2004, and it is even more perfect and stormy today; Obama has raised $265 million from more than 1.5 million donors in the end of June 2008. Obama is relying so much on small donors that he opted out of public funding.


The online force behind Obama’s success is MyBarackObama.com. It is based on the idea of social networking; besides connecting friends and share information the assumption is that people are more comfortable receiving information from friends they trust than from a newspaper or an expert. Furthermore, the campaign has been lowering the barriers to entry and raised the expectations for supporters who have to do more than just have a bumper sticker on the car. According to Joe Rospars, Obama’s new-media director and a Dean veteran, the campaign wants supporters to donate money, make calls, or host an event. “If you look at the messages we send to people over time, there’s an assumption that they will organize,” Rospar said to Green from the Atlantic Monthly.


On MyBarackObama.com, you can create a personal site with our own fundraising goals and thermometer, friends, and groups.  You can blog and write emails – just like on Facebook. And you can’t miss the donation bottom. I noticed when Hillary was in the race that Obama’s fundraising attempts were much more “in your face all the time you were on the website.” It does not matter what you do in this network, and you will see the pledge for donations. You are also encouraged to leave an email address, and the campaign will come back to your inbox with a very-well crafted email )check this link for the anatomy of a perfect email) mentioning the pledge for donations several times. Besides the social-networking website, the social media strategy also includes cell phones and ring tones generating money and votes.


I can’t wait till the election is over, and Obama staffers begin to tell the stories and anecdotes from this campaign. I have just finished Joe Trippi’s book “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” and I was just as thrilled reading the book as Trippi was in 2003 seeing the rise of the merger of politics and technology.

The Frozen Pea Fund

 Three stories about social media and networking have captured my attention the last month. First, it was Kiva, second, the Frozen Pea Fund, and third, St. Baldrick’s. Kiva is social networking site where everyone can lend entrepreneurs money. The Frozen Pea Fund raises money for research in breast cancer the American Cancer Society. St. Baldrick’s is also a social network raising funds and awareness to conquer kid’s cancer. They are all working for the good cause in trying to help better life for someone in need. The tools are there, and I wonder what the effects of campaigning in these environments are. For my Social Media Report I took a dive into social media and breast cancer to see how the tools are used. I´ve got the impression that the main American (breast) cancer organizations do not promote their causes more by using these tools.

 frozenpeasontwitter.jpgBut The Frozen Pea Fund is an example of a fundraising effort using the social media tools. It is a grass root organization started by Connie Reeze when her friend Susan Reynolds was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2007. (The American Cancer Society supports the initiative.) The fund uses a social media site, the blog Boobs on Ice, Twitter, and a wiki. It has got a lot of attention (like here and here), and when I heard an interview with the founder on the Hobson and Holz Report, I was actually a bit surprised that they had not raised more money. Maybe my expectations are too high. Furthermore, the fund does not get good ratings in either Quantcast or Technorati. Since I have done my report I can see that a lot of things are going on. The website and the wiki are undergoing some changes. I can also see that Susan Reynolds has some problems by being recognized by Technorati. I cross my fingers that the Frozen Pea Fund will continue its work because it is a good cause, and I am sure other women diagnosed with breast cancer will learn a lot from reading Boobs on Ice. I did – also as the daughter of a breast cancer survivor.  PS. The Frozen Pea Fund has directed my attention to a video project by the American Cancer Society that I did not find in my research for my paper, and I might have to adjust my first impression of the American Cancer Society.