During the 2017 Virginia House of Delegates election, when Republicans lost 15 seats and retained a narrow, one-seat majority thanks to a random drawing, Democrats received 153,442 donations of less than $100, mostly online. The Republicans by contrast only received 7,332.
In fact, 9 Democrats had more small dollar donations than every Republican running – combined! Even accounting for an enthusiasm gap, this trend has been brewing for a while as this chart from Virginia Public Access Project shows:
Over the last decade, Democrats running for delegate have collectively built a massive advantage in small donations while Republicans have actually gotten worse. In 2009, Republicans collectively had 12,918 small donations but by 2017 that number had fallen to 7,332 – that’s a decline of 43%.
This isn’t a sustainable trend and it must be reversed.
In 2019 and beyond, it’s critical that candidates seriously commit to building small dollar, online donation programs as part of their campaigns. President Trump’s re-election effort shows the way forward for Republicans. Month after month, they are the top spender for political ads on platforms like Facebook and Google.
More than a year away from the election, they are spending millions of dollars building up their email list in order to raise money online from supporters who can give multiple times over the course of the campaign.
The good news is there’s no great secret to online fundraising: the bigger your email list, the more money you will raise. Focusing on email capture in everything your campaign does online is a key first step. Combined with embracing a culture of sharing lists, Virginia Republicans can narrow the gap between the Democrats when it comes to online donations.
But they must start now. Based on my own experience in online fundraising for candidates in Virginia, nationally, and internationally, it can take anywhere from 45 to 90 days on average between when a supporter joins an email list and when they become an online donor.
With roughly 200 days until the election, every Republican running for office in 2019 needs to make a serious commitment to growing their email list and building a small dollar donation program.
Eric Wilson is the founder of BestPracticeDigital.com and served as digital director for both of Ed Gillespie’s Virginia campaigns.