Raking It In

Raking It In

If fundraising dollars translated directly to votes, Sen. Barack Obama would have the election wrapped up, as he continues to surpass his opponents. With nearly $32 million raised in April compared with nearly $27 million for Sen. Hillary Clinton and $18.5 million for Sen. John McCain, Obama campaign strategists are impressing political analysts and voters alike by effectively crafting a message that continues to appeal not just to voters’ consciences, but to their wallets.

Frequent and targeted communication has been key to the Obama campaign’s success, says Lorenzo Morris, chair of Howard University’s department of political science.
Like 2004 Democratic candidate Howard Dean did in that presidential primary season, Obama has effectively used the Internet to get his name in front of younger donors, Morris says. But Obama has taken that connection with younger voters to the next level. “Dean raised more money on the Internet than his predecessors had,” says Morris. “But Dean did not apparently understand that a message that would attract the young people had to follow the contact.”

In branding himself as someone who isn’t part of old party politics, Obama has not only caught the attention of younger voters but he has come across as someone who is accessible to them as well. Rather than focusing his campaign on big-money donors, Obama maintained “consistent communications with people who could be low-level donors,” Morris says. As a result, “a lot of the small donations came from younger people who hadn’t previously given.”

But those smaller donations add up. To date, Obama has raised $265.4 million overall compared with $214.8 million for Clinton and $90.5 million for McCain. The distance between Obama and Clinton is even more pronounced considering the fact that Clinton contributed $10 million to her own campaign.

To reach that goal, the Obama campaign has not only solicited $10 here and $25 there, but it has provided low-level donors with the means to stretch their donations by getting other supporters to join the party.

When Kristina Bigby, 28, of Greenbelt, Maryland, decided to contribute to Obama’s campaign, she didn’t have hundreds of dollars to give, but when she went to the campaign Website she realized that her donations weren’t limited by her purse strings. “They have it set up where you can fundraise for him,” she says. “I set my goal of $1,000. They give you a paragraph you can use and you send it off to your friends and family asking for support.”

The first donation she received was $10 from a friend in medical school and that was quickly followed by donations of $25, $50, and even $100. When someone from her list contributes, Bigby is notified so she can send an electronic note of gratitude.  If there’s no response to her solicitations after a certain period of time, Bigby is prompted to send a reminder. With her fundraising efforts still in full swing, Bigby has raised $855 from 17 different people, with the average donation being about
$50 per person, she says.

Giving supporters the tools to take part