Dude, I Already Donated — How Obama’s Online Campaign Got It Wrong With Me

I keep reading that this is the US presidential election where the campaigns gets the web. The Obama campaign, in particular, I gather has set new records in fundraising and outreach through the internet. Yet as a first time political campaign contributor — a contributor to Obama’s campaign — I’ve been left pretty cold by how things are done.

I’ve never contributed to a political candidate before. This campaign, I want Obama to win — and I decided to put my money where my mouth (or heart) is. So back in August, I made a donation. In fact, I donated the maximum amount I believe an individual is able to donate, $2,300.

What happened since? I mean, I wasn’t expecting an engraved invitation to his inauguration, if it happens, as I hope. But I expected the campaign to have more brains than they’ve shown. Let’s go through it, going back to the donation form.

On it, you’re given several tickboxes for amounts: $25, $100, $500 and so on, with $2,300 the last one and then “Other.” Why $2,300? I assume, as I mentioned, that’s the maximum amount an individual can give. But the donation form doesn’t tell me this, and that would have been nice. OK, I know that the campaign is build apparently on people doing $5 and $10 donations, so maybe they didn’t think of this.

When it was done, I got a page telling me to invite other people to donate. Nothing about how to get signs, additional ways to help the campaign and so on. OK, if I was really into it, I could explore the site and find this, I suppose. But still, it felt like there were missed opportunities here.

Then I got a confirmation email:

Thank you for your generous donation of $2,300.00.

Your gift will be immediately put to work building a campaign to change our country and our politics for the better.

Looking for more ways to get involved?

Head over to My.BarackObama.com where our growing set of tools puts the future of this campaign in your hands:


On My.BarackObama.com you can…

… build your own profile and connect with supporters near you
… find or create your own local or national group
… create your own personal fundraising page and track your progress
… find events near you or plan your own
… chronicle your campaign experience on your own blog

There will be much more to come in the weeks and months ahead thanks to your support.

Thank you again for your donation.

Obama for America

To be fair, I ignored all this stuff. I guess it didn’t occur to me to hit the “My” Barack Obama site. I also ignored a separate Welcome email that listed a variety of things that I should have paid attention. It’s all below, for those who are interested:

Dear Danny,

As we get ready for the general election, we want to make sure everyone knows about all the opportunities to get involved in your community and online.

Check out the resources below — learn how you can connect with fellow supporters, organize in your neighborhood, build our national grassroots organization, and stay in touch with the very latest campaign news.

Explore these resources yourself and forward this message to anyone you know who wants to get involved.


Vote for Change

Right now, there are thousands of qualified voters in every state who are not registered to vote — and they need someone to help make their voices heard. Attend a Vote for Change event in your area, meet fellow Obama supporters, and start registering and mobilizing voters right away.

Invite Your Friends

From day one, millions of Americans have built this movement by spreading the word about Barack Obama to their friends and neighbors. You can help grow the movement for change right now by inviting your friends to join our campaign.

Share Your Feedback

This is a pivotal moment in the election. Even if you just joined our movement, your feedback will inform the planning for the next phase of this campaign. Take a brief survey now.

Here are a few ways you can learn more, get the latest news, and share information with friends:

Watch a brief video and learn about Barack’s early years, his education, his work as a community organizer and civil rights attorney, and his years in the Illinois and U.S. Senate. This is a great introduction to share with your friends:

Catch up on the latest news, photos, and videos from the campaign trail and share your thoughts on our official campaign blog:

Learn more about Barack’s positions on a variety of issues, from his opposition to the war in Iraq to his plan for universal health care:

Watch a few of the more than 1,100 videos from the campaign trail on our YouTube channel:

Our movement is ready to go wherever you are. Text HOPE to 62262 (OBAMA) to receive text updates on your mobile phone and advance notice about local Obama events:

Barack Obama got his start as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago, and since he declared his candidacy in 2007, a nationwide network of supporters has taken this campaign into its own hands, organizing online and in local communities. Here are some ways to get involved:

My.BarackObama is an organizing tool that empowers you to take this campaign into your own hands. Connect with other supporters in your area and find out about local events, or create your own organizing group and schedule your own events:

Introduce your friends, family, neighbors, or coworkers to Barack Obama. Let them know why you support Barack and encourage them to join our movement for change:

There are more than 60,000 supporter-created blogs on My.BarackObama, where people chronicle their campaign experience and interact with other supporters. Find one for your community or launch your own today:

Use our online phonebanking tool to thank your fellow supporters for their involvement in this campaign and ask them to participate in Vote for Change to register new voters:

Print your own posters, flyers, fact sheets, supporter cards, and dozens of other resources from our online resource library:

Women for Obama and People of Faith for Obama are just two of the many communities large and small supporting Barack Obama. Explore a few of them here:

Barack Obama does not accept donations from Washington lobbyists or special interest groups. Instead, we depend on a network of grassroots supporters giving whatever they can afford.

Take the fundraising process into your own hands. Help support the campaign by reaching out to people you know and asking them to give through your personal fundraising page:

This campaign has always been about reaching as many people as possible and bringing them into the political process. When you make a matching donation, you’ll learn the name and hometown of the person whose gift you match, and even exchange a note with them through our unique system:

Let everyone in your community know that you support Barack. All purchases through our online store go to support our campaign and are considered political donations. Show your support in style:

Why did I ignore all this? Looking back now, when I’m irritated that I don’t have an Obama sign to put up on my patio, I don’t know! I’m guessing it’s because I was in a hurry, made my donation and got swamped in email. Since I get a lot of email, perhaps it got lost in the noise. Perhaps with someone else, this might have registered more. Or perhaps it was all just a bit too overwhelming.

From a marketing standpoint, was there more they could do with further emails? I think so — and I certainly have gotten plenty since my donation, about 80 at this point.

The first one invited me to “get the truth out” about McCain’s economic policies and encouraged me to write a letter to my local paper. OK, that’s a specific thing — nice outreach. This came a day a few days after my donation, August 22.

The same day, another interesting email came:

I want to tell you about an exciting program we’re launching in California. It’s called Camp Obama.

During this two-day session, people like you will be taking their support for this movement to the next level by learning the organizing principles that this campaign and our movement for change are built on.

Camp Obama attendees will receive real world organizing experience that will have a direct impact on this election. Graduates of Camp Obama will go on to become Deputy Field Organizers who will lead this campaign to victory in crucial battleground states around the country.

Find out more about this exciting opportunity to take a leadership role in this movement for change.

By participating in Camp Obama, you’ll get the kind of experience that Barack got as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago, where he learned that real change happens from the bottom up.

That experience transformed Barack’s life and made him who he is today.

Camp Obama is your chance to put those very same principles into action – to win this election and to strengthen democracy in communities around the country.

After completing the program, you’ll be required to work as a Deputy Field Organizer in a battleground state where you’ll be organizing supporters and helping lead our grassroots Get Out The Vote operation.

Apply for a spot at a Camp Obama near you and become a leader in our movement for change:


This campaign relies on the passion and enthusiasm of ordinary supporters, but it needs leaders who can organize those supporters and turn their enthusiasm into votes on Election Day.

Camp Obama is your chance to step up and become a leader in this movement.

I like camps! And this was California centric. So I clicked to learn more. When I did, I got this long form asking tons of stuff about my background, experience and so on.

Woah. I went from being excited about participating in a cause to feeling like I’m a job applicant hoping that I was worthy enough.

About two weeks later, I got a follow-up:

Dear Danny —

I wanted to get in touch with you again about the upcoming Camp Obama sessions we’re holding in California.

As you might have heard, John McCain and his Republican surrogates used their convention to attack Barack and disparage his work as a community organizer.

What they don’t get is that ordinary people working together built this movement for change and will lead our campaign to victory in November.

That’s why we’ve had such an amazing response to our Camp Obama sessions so far.

Supporters of all ages and backgrounds, some new to politics and some seasoned veterans, have expressed tremendous enthusiasm for the opportunity to learn the basic organizing principles of this movement and become Deputy Field Organizers in battleground states.

We can’t do this without you, and there is still time to sign up. Learn more and apply for a Camp Obama session now. http://my.barackobama.com/page/m/6f127b41fb909a1f/FXPzpl/VEsH/

The subject of this was “Fwd: Sign up for Camp Obama in California,” and that kind of ticked me off, along with a second request to hit this form that made me feel unworthy the first time. So I wrote back:

No idea if you folks actually read responses to these emails or not. But if so…

1) Don’t use a FWD tag for a follow-up email. Give me a new subject, you know, like “Checking Back: Camp Obama Sign-ups!” A FWD just looks lazy.

2) Why don’t you say up front what the minimum requirements are. No, I don’t five weeks to commit. Is that’s what’s required? I can’t tell from the form you sent me to — http://my.barackobama.com/page/s/campobamaca — but it looks like it.

3) My resume? My references? Out of the blue, you ask for my help, then I’ve got a grilling like this?

The donate part at the end is the best. I mean, I think I’ve donated the maximum an individual can to the campaign. Clearly, that’s not registering any clue in your campaign mailing mechanism.

Actually, the best part is that you’ve asked for help, and this clearly seems beyond what I can do. So give me an alternative to being a Deputy Field Organizer. Put something on that page that says “Not enough time – check out other ways to help” and lead me into, well, other ways I can help.

I did get a response:

Thanks for your e-mail- someone really is reading them!

We appreciate your support and any time you have! For more information on how to get involved be sure to check out http://my.barackobama.com/page/content/cahome.

You can also sign up to Volunteer and get connected with organizers in your Congressional District: http://my.barackobama.com/casignup

Your energy and enthusiasm fuel this movement. Thank you for adding your voice to the amazing strength of this grassroots campaign-Yes We Can!!

OK, glad I got a response. And again, my bad for not going off and exploring the opportunities. But still, what’s going on? Why isn’t there a database that knows I haven’t signed up for My Barack Obama? Why am I not getting a more targeted message, something like: “We’ve noticed you’ve not signed up — learn more about what your neighbors are doing, all types of opportunities, etc.”

Instead, most of my messages from the campaign have been spin on some particular issue. Annoyingly, they’re often from “Barack Obama,” or “Michelle Obama” or “Joe Biden.” I guess these feel fake to me. I don’t feel like any of them were actually written by the candidates, so I think I’d rather have their name reserved for really rare messages that I would believe they’ve really reviewed.

Here’s a typical one that came from Say It Ain’t So Joe:

If you saw tonight’s debate, you saw Governor Sarah Palin give a spirited defense of the same disastrous policies that have failed us for the past eight years.

She couldn’t identify a single area where she or John McCain would change George W. Bush’s economic or foreign policy positions.

If you want something different, Barack and I need your help.

Will you make a donation of $250 or more right now to bring about the change we need?

This is one of the most annoying things. I can’t give more money, right? But clearly this isn’t registering with the campaign — and yes, I think that’s something they ought to have in a database somewhere.

Indeed, check out this one from Oct. 20:

Right now, we have one last chance to strengthen our field operation and expand our reach even further.

This Friday, we’re making the very last, hard decisions about allocating our resources. And it will all come down to where we stand financially on Thursday at midnight.

We need to make decisions about strengthening our efforts in key battleground states — and identify opportunities for expansion.

This financial deadline is the most urgent we’ve faced yet, so if you’re able to go All In for this campaign, please do it now.

Your generosity has already allowed this campaign to compete in more states than anyone thought possible. And according to our records, your past support leaves you at most $2,300 away from reaching your individual contribution limit.

Dude — what’s going on? How can you not know I’ve reached that limit? My email address hasn’t changed. That just tells me you’ve done a form letter email to everyone — that “at most,” everyone is away from that.

Now today, I decided I wanted an Obama sign. See, the guys across the street from us have a McCain/Palin sign that just went up. So I want some good spirited rivalry. Plus, my neighbor just put up an Obama sign — one they made themselves. Let me tell you, two Obama-supporting households side-by-side in the Republican stronghold of Orange County, that’s pretty cool. It’s my first election for 12 years where I’m back in the US. Let’s have fun!

And that got me thinking. Why don’t I have a sign already? Or a bumper sticker? Or anything. Why haven’t I gotten any emails about this? Why didn’t I just get some after making a donation as large as I did? Shouldn’t anyone over a certain amount get something?

Let me be clear. I donated to help the campaign win. I wasn’t looking for special attention or a goodie bag. But I do expect the emails to be a little more intelligent based on who has given what. And it makes sense to help get the visibility out in that good old fashioned way by handing out bumper stickers. Obama got some attention recently by running ads in computer games. Cool — but send the stickers out!

Tonight, I’ve logged into My Barack Obama for the first time. It looks really interesting. I fault myself in large part for missing all this before. There’s a lot there, and it’ll be interesting if any of the groups I’ve joined have something that comes up that’s a fit on how I can do more. But how sad I wasn’t just getting at least notifications of events around my ZIP code emailed to me without ever having to log-in. It could have been done, easily.

Oh, my sign? I can buy one, but it’s not guaranteed for delivery before election day.

Finally, I’m for Obama, and I’m doing a future blog post to explain why — as well as some of my other election choices this year. I thought it would be fun to share. I just say now that he’s not my perfect candidate, and I don’t agree with all his policies — but then again, there aren’t perfect candidates to be had period. And regardless who you vote for, exercise that right!