Bellevue-based ActiveGiver believes the political world could benefit from some disruption
Sometimes startups are born out of a personal need, and sometimes they’re born from recognizing an industry need. Bellevue’s ActiveGiver is one startup that came to life via the latter, when cofounders Saar Safra and Scott Case recognized that the field of campaign finance needed a makeover.
“We started talking about politics and the industry and how laggard it is,” Safra said. “You go to a campaign website, and they look the same as they did in 1995. That market has moved along with how to improve click-throughs, but nothing groundbreaking, no innovation, and no disruptions.”
After two years of research into 60 years of campaign-finance data, ActiveGiver was founded in January 2015 to put the power of pushing issues forward and enacting favorable legislation into the hands of the every-person.
As of October 2015, 158 U.S. families and the companies they operate provided $176 million, nearly half, of the political contributions during the first phase of campaign fundraising for the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Not since the early 1970s have so few people provided that much early money to campaigns, according to The New York Times. Stats like that are one of the reasons ActiveGiver exists.
“You realize that basically, our political landscape has been hijacked by a few very wealthy people. And it’s great for them, it works for them, but I’m not sure it works for the rest of us,” Safra said.
ActiveGiver acts as the middleman between donors and political campaigns. The platform organizes all publicly available campaign information by cause, instead of by political candidate. A user could select an issue and support multiple campaigns if she chooses. ActiveGiver is nonpartisan, and does not collect the money or distribute funds. It only acts as a connector, to enable the donor to give directly to the campaign. The company collects a small convenience fee of $1 for the service.
“Money doesn’t flow through us — we’re not a bank,” Safra said. “What I want is an information system where people can see how policies are related to campaigns and you can take action.”
Today’s political campaigns have been able to improve website metrics, reach a larger audience, and shift to smaller, more numerous donations. But what campaigns haven’t been able to do is change the basic rules.
“Government is much more involved in our day-to-day life than you think,” Safra said. “If we as donors align ourselves with campaigns, and we tell them what we want and empower them so the right (candidates) get elected, then (voters) can have (their) way eventually.”
According to Safra’s research, only 4 percent of Americans donate to political campaigns.
“If we get 20 percent or 40 percent of people to give small amounts just to see an outcome, then we’ve really done our job. And that will take time,” Safra said.
More than 2,500 users have registered online with ActiveGiver since the beginning of the year, with more than 350 causes launched.
ActiveGiver in an early stage startup. It hasn’t begun any formal fundraising, and Safra said they have a long way to go before his vision is fully realized.
“There’s a lot of steps between, ‘I don’t know you guys,’ and, ‘Now I’m giving you money,’” Safra said.
For campaigns, the incentive to participate is easier. As a campaign receives donations through the ActiveGiver platform, it is able to see the cause the donation is attached to.
“(Presidential candidate) Bernie Sanders raised millions of dollars and … he knows because he’s polling people. But he got a lump sum and has to do all the research on the back end,” Safra said. “In our case, every dollar that people give, there’s a cause associated with it. As a campaign, you get a dashboard and you see exactly what people want the most.”
Safra is a serial entrepreneur at heart, having started, worked on, and exited from five startups since the late 1990s. But he’s new to campaign finance, having worked many years in digital advertising and rich media. So why politics?
“It’s the right vertical because it’s ripe for disruption. The technology is finally affordable enough, responsive enough, and fast enough to really be able to morph it into what we need exactly,” Safra said.
This article originally appeared in the July 2016 issue of “425 Business.”