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Crowdfunding for Political Campaigns: Building Strong Grassroots Support

3 min read
Emily Dexter · Sep 11, 2023

For better or for worse, money matters in American elections. As the increasing amount of money spent on campaigns for both the 2024 presidential election and local elections makes clear, fundraising is essential to winning elections. President Joe Biden, for one, raised $72 million during the first quarter of 2023 alone. Another presidential contender, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., raised $3 million in a single three-day stretch. And as an example of the cost of local elections, candidates in Nashville, Tennessee’s recent mayoral race raised a total of over $6.5 million by July 11, 2023 — almost a month away from the August 3, 2023 election.

If you’re considering a run for office, it can be easy to feel daunted by the amount of money that many successful candidates raise. Crowdfunding provides a meaningful answer to this challenge. Political crowdfunding goes beyond fundraising. While fueling your campaign, crowdfunding creates opportunities to engage voters, build a stronger platform and community, and run a more transparent and people-powered campaign.

What Is Crowdfunding for Political Campaigns?

Political crowdfunding is a form of campaign fundraising. Crowdfunding involves accepting smaller donations from a larger number of people. Candidates often use social media and online crowdfunding platforms to bring their message to a broader audience, allowing supporters from around the country to donate and join their movement.

Crowdfunding is also commonly used in the world of entrepreneurship, where a wide pool of investors might come together to support a new venture. In both situations, the core principle remains the same: crowdfunding brings many people together to lift up a cause or candidate, increasing awareness and creating community while financing the project or campaign.

The Importance of Crowdfunding for Political Campaigns

Why does crowdfunding matter for political campaigns? And what impact can crowdfunding have on electoral success? Here are three reasons why crowdfunding is essential for transparent and effective campaigning:

#1: Crowdfunding rejects the influence of corporations and other big donors.

To understand the impact of political crowdfunding, it’s important to first understand candidates’ other options for political campaign fundraising. Candidates often accept large donations from political action committees (PACs), corporations, unions, and special interests. Candidates also commonly accept large donations from individual donors. Others self-fund by using their personal funds to fuel their campaigns.

While these fundraising methods are common, they take away from the power of grassroots democracy. Americans deserve leaders who are not beholden to the PACs, corporations, and special interests that funded their campaigns. Instead, America’s leaders need to be responsible to the people. The first major benefit of crowdfunding, then, is that this fundraising strategy gives power back to the people. Crowdfunding allows elected officials to serve their time in office without feeling the pull of corrupting forces. Democratizing political campaigns is a key step toward reducing political corruption and dysfunction.


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#2: Crowdfunding democratizes campaigns and builds community.

Also related to giving power back to the people: political crowdfunding engages voters and leads to a stronger sense of community. Especially when candidates use social media and online fundraising platforms to spread their message, individual donors can easily share links and resources with friends and family members, widening the circle of supporters. Being able to donate to a political campaign — even if it’s as little as $1 — also gives voters a greater sense of ownership and commitment to a campaign. According to research from the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, crowdfunding relies on the premise that those who donate, no matter how small their donation, will be more likely to:

  • Vote for the candidate,

  • Donate to the campaign again,

  • Volunteer for the campaign or party,

  • And/or invite others in their network to also vote for and donate to the candidate’s campaign.

In this way, grassroots fundraising helps to form a relationship between the candidate and potential voters. Crowdfunding is a signal to voters that the candidate cares more about the needs and wants of voters than of corporations or special interests. And by empowering more supporters to volunteer with a campaign, crowdfunding makes it easier for candidates to find and recruit much-needed volunteers.

#3: Crowdfunding empowers diverse candidates.

Crowdfunding also enables candidates from underrepresented groups to have a better chance at winning elections. Especially at the federal level, the American government is dominated by a fairly homogeneous group of people. Women and racial and ethnic minorities are underrepresented in both Congress and the White House, as are candidates who function outside of the two-party system.

The Brennan Center for Justice reported that women and people of color running for the U.S. House of Representatives rely more on small donations than do their male and white counterparts. For these candidates, crowdfunding provides a way around obstacles to campaigning. A similar idea holds true for independent and third-party candidates. Without the backing of either of the two major political parties, non-partisan and third-party candidates rely more on grassroots support to rally enthusiasm and increase the momentum of their campaigns.

Here are a few additional ways that crowdfunding influences political campaigns:

  • Crowdfunding allows candidates to test and refine their messaging throughout the election cycle.

  • Crowdfunding allows candidates to meet supporters where they already are — online and on social media.

  • Especially in competitive races, crowdfunding can help candidates raise money quickly in the event of a crisis or upset.

The list of benefits of political crowdfunding goes on, but the bottom line is that crowdfunding encourages grassroots democracy to thrive. This campaign fundraising strategy puts agency back in the hands of the people. It also enables candidates to run clean, anti-corruption campaigns.

Crowdfunding Success Stories: Examples of Grassroots Fundraising

Crowdfunding has had a profound impact on many political campaigns. According to OpenSecrets’ database, here are the current members of Congress who raised the highest percentage of their campaign funds from small donors in the 2022 election cycle:

  • Independent Senator Bernie Sanders raised 70.25% of the funds for his latest campaign from small donors. Sanders raised almost $27 million from small donors.

  • Republican Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene raised 68.32% of recent campaign funds from small donors.

  • Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez raised 67.67% of recent campaign funds from small donors.

  • Republican Representative Matt Gaetz raised 62.24% of recent campaign funds from small donors.

  • Republican Representative Jim Jordan raised 58.05% of recent campaign funds from small donors.

If we sort the members of the current Congress by the amount of money raised rather than by the percentage of total funds raised, we get different results for the list of top crowdfunders:

  • Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock raised almost $81 million from small donors in the 2022 election cycle, more than any other member of Congress.

  • Democratic Senator Jon Ossoff raised over $77 million from small donors during the same cycle.

  • Coming in third place, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham raised over $56 million from small donors in the 2022 cycle.

The above three senators all raised between 44% and 48% of their total campaign funds from small donors. Along with Bernie Sanders, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and the other representatives listed above, these senators’ campaigns demonstrate the power of grassroots fundraising to fuel large-scale campaigns.

Another case study of successful crowdfunding belongs to Cori Bush, the Democratic representative from Missouri. Cori Bush was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2020, and then reelected in 2022. While campaigning for reelection in 2021 and 2022, Bush raised an impressive $2.4 million — yet the largest donation to her campaign was only $11,600 from Arista Networks. Bush successfully raised more money from small donors — those contributing less than $200 each — than from any other source. In the end, these small donations accounted for 49.51% of the total campaign funds raised from 2021 to 2022. That’s almost $1.2 million from small donors.

Bush achieved this level of success by empowering supporters to contribute small amounts to her campaign. Starting in 2019, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published a full list of donors to Bush’s election campaigns, totaling 14,192 donors. Hundreds of supporters donated just $1, $2, or $3 to Bush’s campaign, while many others donated $25, $50, $100, or more. Together, these supporters came together to fuel the campaign of a candidate they believed in, no matter what level of financial support they were able to provide.

While these examples have focused on members of Congress, crowdfunding is equally important at the local level, in races for local offices such as mayor, city council, and town commissioner. Whether a campaign is local, state-wide, or national, crowdfunding allows the greatest number of supporters to get involved in the movement and build momentum toward success.

Tips for Effective Grassroots Campaign Fundraising

Engaging voters through crowdfunding is essential for running a people-powered, anti-corruption campaign. Here are three key steps toward creating a strong campaign crowdfunding strategy:

#1: Set clear fundraising goals. 

Take advantage of crowdfunding data and insights as you analyze past election data to understand how much you will need to raise to power your campaign to victory. Independent and third-party candidates can receive free support from Good Party’s team of experts as they strategize and budget for their campaigns.

#2: Choose the right fundraising platform for your audience and campaign needs.

Different campaigns make use of different online crowdfunding platforms, as well as of social media. From Crowdpac, Fundly, and Indiegogo to more sophisticated campaign fundraising platforms, understanding your audience and needs will set you up for success as you determine which platform is right for you. To learn more about the different types of online fundraising platforms available for political campaigns, check out our blog post on maximizing campaigns with this wide array of tools.

#3: Mobilize supporters with innovative fundraising ideas.

Remember that crowdfunding goes beyond fundraising. Crowdfunding involves both raising funds and mobilizing and energizing a community of campaign supporters. Canvassing, hosting virtual and in-person events, and running digital marketing campaigns are just some of the ways candidates can accelerate their crowdfunding efforts. Read our article on effective political fundraising ideas to brainstorm more ways to engage voters through crowdfunding.

These strategies can prove especially helpful for minority candidates. Crowdfunding allows candidates to give power back to the people, rather than to corporations, special interests, or large donors. For more guidance and support for your crowdfunding campaign, connect with Good Party’s team of experts and volunteers. Good Party offers free support for independent, non-partisan, and third-party candidates across the United States.

Photo Credit: Yana Nikulina


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By Emily Dexter
Emily Dexter is the content marketing coordinator at Good Party. Based in the Midwest, she brings a fresh perspective and editorial experience to the team.