Big Data

How big data helped raise big money on the campaign

In a revealing interview, analytics firm CFB Strategies explains how big data helped his company generate over $90 million in contributions, and what business can learn from fundraising tactics.

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Image: CFB Strategies


"Big data means a lot of different things," said Trace Anderson. And it comes from many places, including logs of demographic and psychographic profiles, mobile, social media, email, and a host of other sources. If aggregated and deployed properly, he explained, big data can make your company more efficient and increase ROI. "Data gives us the ability to recognize what type of solicitation is most effective in each medium and who is most likely to give through that medium."

SEE: Big data Policy (Tech Pro Research report)

Anderson speaks from experience. His firm, New York-based analytics company CFB Strategies, helped raised tens of millions of dollars from millions of voters for the Ted Cruz campaign. "From a political fundraising perspective," Anderson said, "so-called big data helps campaigns segment fundraising solicitations based on who is most likely to give, at what amount they are likely to give, and who is going to be the most responsive to certain messages."

The numbers are impressive. During the campaign, CFB:

  • Raised more than $92 million
  • Managed more than 1.5 million donations
  • Collected donations from more than 500,000 donors
  • Managed more than a million emails containing almost $35 million
  • Managed more than 300,000 grassroots volunteers
  • Stored more than 21 million records
  • Handled more than 500,000 API calls per day
  • Signed up 317,000 volunteers

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Anderson spent twenty years on the business side of politics, working as a lawyer, strategist, and campaign manager in high-profile elections, including the 2012 Cruz for Senate campaign, and in the key state of Ohio during the 2004 Bush re-election campaign.

Campaigns and campaign consultants alike are run much like small businesses. Long a proponent of data as method of making companies more efficient, Anderson founded CFB Strategies in 2007 in response to technological frustrations he faced working on campaigns. "[I believe] that data-driven analytics will continue to change the face of politics, business, and society," said Anderson.

CFB integrates several components of data aggregation, digital outreach and messaging, fundraising, and microtargeting with robocalls and direct mail. The cloud-based phone call application offers a number of sub-applications that help campaigns run call centers and collect data. Voter information is then ingested and analyzed. "All of the data flows immediately into the Campaign Cloud," Anderson said, "allowing us to build reports, dashboards, and segmentations for modeling."

SEE: Quick glossary: Big data (Tech Pro Research report)

SMBs and enterprise companies alike, he said, can learn from his tactics. In an extensive interview Anderson explained what he learned from the 2016 campaign, why big data matters to business, and the next big trends for big data.

Could you explain the tech behind the CFB product and business model?

Essentially, Campaign Cloud is a customized CRM for politics that gives campaigns one centralized data platform to operate all of their operations, including Voter, Volunteer, and Donor profiles. Integration of Web-to-Lead allows signups from the website to automatically flow into the database. Additionally, case management segments and routes inquiries from the website or through email to the proper staff member for immediate interaction. Think of the campaign cloud as the central data hub of the campaign.

Our specific package is called Campaign Cloud, which has over 37 unique objects that help automate what political organizations need to do on a daily basis. This includes unique GUI created by Visualforce backend processes that utilize Apex code, Apex classes, Apex triggers, Java, PHP, Google API, and other processes that give a user a fluid interface but allows them the ability to highly customize their use case.

How did big data lead to big fundraising?

[Big data] allows campaigns to be efficient in the money they spend fundraising by targeting donor segments with messages and requests that are going to generate the largest ROI. That is a very basic explanation of utilizing data to maximize fundraising. I might add that big data combined with the advancement of the digital age has given rise to the power of small dollar fundraising. Today, there are so many digital mediums to solicit and collect contributions from: email marketing, social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram et al.), digital ads, SMS, crowdfunding, etc. Data gives us the ability to recognize what type of solicitation is most effective in each medium and who is most likely to give through that medium. Digital fundraising is relatively inexpensive compared to the traditional forms of fundraising, like events and direct mail. Those traditional mediums are still important sources of funds, and data gives us the ability to maximize efficiency by analyzing the most effective way to conduct those operations.

Short Answer: Data drives efficiency, which boosts ROI.

You worked with over a dozen vendors for the Cruz campaign. How did you integrate all the vendors, and what did the final product look like?

This was arguably the hardest challenge in preparing for the campaign. In the Fall of 2013, we sat down with key staff members from Senator Cruz's political operation and brainstormed on what we would need to have a fully comprehensive fundraising solution.

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The most difficult thing is dealing with multiple different vendors. Some of them do a great job with the cleanliness of their data, some not so much. The key is having an easy format for data standardization and ensuring that the vendors you will work with can comply with these standards.

What can business learn from how the Cruz campaign leveraged big data?

As a general rule, I think that campaigns can learn more from big business and their practices when it comes to data. However, we did our best to model the data operation, at least the parts related to CRM (fundraising and grassroots), off of a corporate structure. I feel that the Cruz campaign did the following things very well:

  1. Use data in every aspect to keep control of expenses and maximize efficiency to generate the maximum ROI. The campaign had a steady but predictable burn rate that was predicated on timing. In turn, Senator Cruz was able to raise capital and reserve it until the absolute optimum time to make expenditures.
  2. Use creativity to raise money and boost grassroots signups (volunteer and coalitions)
  3. Utilize Cases to receive incoming communications and route those messages to the relevant staff department. In turn, the relevant staff member could escalate an important message to the proper staff member so that it would be addressed immediately.
  4. Rapid and timely press and social media operation

What are the emerging trends in big data?

I can't go anywhere or even watch TV without hearing about the Internet of Things (IOT). It's clear that all of our devices are connecting with each other and will only continue to go down that path. From a campaigns perspective, I'm interested in pursuing technologies that virtually connect the prospective voter to the campaigns that we work for.

I think there is a big future in emotional response data. This makes sense for political campaigns and business marketers of any type. Typically, pollsters and any marketer that measures customer response relies on the respondents' answers in a survey. We already have the ability to measure people's emotional reactions, from standard blood pressure and heart rate to facial recognition software. The future of polling and marketing depends on the combination of these emotional recognition data points combined with traditional survey answers and other emerging technologies that we don't know about yet. Why should I rely completely on what an audience says, when instead, I can measure their reactions to a speech through a wearable device?

SEE: Job description: Chief data officer (Tech Pro Research report)

Through the 2016 election TechRepublic will report about the relationship between big data and business. We hope to uncover unique insights and find ways companies can benefit from campaign tech innovation. If you're a historian, data scientist, social media professional, numbers nerd, or inquisitive TechRepublic reader we'd love your ideas on how to inspect campaign social media data. Please leave a comment below or ping us on Twitter @TechRepublic.

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Note: This interview has been edited for length.

About Dan Patterson

Dan is a Senior Writer for TechRepublic. He covers cybersecurity and the intersection of technology, politics and government.

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