A campaign benefits immensely if most individual donations, even the big ones, come in online rather than as paper checks. First, money collected via credit cards is available instantly, allowing a candidate to take immediate advantage of an overnight surge of income. Plus, online donation details automatically end up in a database, simplifying accounting and reporting. By contrast, physical checks present a logistical burden, since each has to be processed individually whether it’s collected at a fundraising dinner or arrives in the mail.
As the Obama campaign found, online fundraising also lets a campaign tap the vast number of politically interested people who can’t donate hundreds or thousands of dollars at time but whose smaller donations can add up to a princely sum. Obama’s grassroots donors tended to send relatively small amounts repeatedly, which in turn shows why a small-donor list is such a valuable resource — it’s the gift that keeps on giving, quite literally. Unlike traditional big donors who often reach their quota for a given candidate with a single check,small donors can contribute again and again, providing a financial consistency that’s useful in a short campaign and priceless in a long one.
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