The 2012 cycle will see an unprecedented level of voter engagement through social media and consultants are jockeying to take advantage.
Fundly is one firm hoping to harness that engagement to generate campaign contributions from social media users, an increasing number of whom are women over 50. The company, which has offices in Silicon Valley and the Boston area, dispatched CEO Dave Boyce to Washington this week to showcase its "online giving platform," which uses the social networks of contributors to expand a candidate's donor base.
Supporters contribute to the candidate primarily through a Facebook application (Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn and other sites are also avenues) and the candidate can then use the supporter's social network to search for additional contributors.
The application was launched in 2009 and found admirers on both sides of the aisle, notably California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman (R) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) during the 2010 cycle.
This time around, Fundly is working with Republican presidential contenders Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Buddy Roemer as well as hundreds of congressional and down-ballot candidates.
C&E caught up with Boyce before he left the capital to find out how he sees Fundly fitting into the online donation market in 2012.
Q: Can Fundly help down-ballot candidates as much as it can the big guys?
A: Absolutely. It is no longer the case that you have to drop $100,000 and buy licenses and hire consultants to come in and implement [an online fundraising program]. We see selectmen and judges and city councilmen, we see congressional races all the way to presidential. It's very much a platform that anybody can use.
Q: But don't you need to be a high-profile candidate in order to successfully fundraise online?
A: The mistake people make is that they think they can put something out there and magic giving fairies out in the social land of Facebook and Twitter will just start giving money. That's actually not true. But there are people who are your current supporters who will be willing to wear their support on their sleeves within their social networks, and thereby amplify your efforts, spread your message, and help you raise even more money based on their support. The reality is that every donor is a potential fundraiser in embryo.
Q: Are there additional backend costs associated with taking in these contributions online?
A: We've been at this for three years now, and we've been doing between $50,000 and $500,000 a day in political contributions. Basically the way it works is there's a contribution to your campaign, and we make all the data available through an [application programming interface] API.
What we've done is just integrated with the compliance vendors who maintain the system of record on the campaign, create donation records in their system and then everything gets reported from there. We've learned from our experience on campaigns what is required. We've learned from [the] best practices of software architecture how to make that available. And then the integration from there is very straightforward.
Q: How big of a factor will online fundraising be in 2012?
A: 2012 will be the most social campaign we've ever seen. [Social media has] 60 percent penetration in all homes in the U.S. The fastest growing demographic is women over the age of 50. Facebook is adding the entire subscriber base of the LA Times each week. Penetration is approaching the penetration of email. And online contributions are growing at 35 percent. We are in for an exciting ride.