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As a registered Democrat, I have been receiving emails asking for donations to the Obama campaign since the previous election finished. In the U.S., although candidates receive a certain amount of public money towards campaigning, the vast majority of their election spend comes from private donations. In the case of Obama, his win in 2008 was very much down to the grassroots support he received - small donations from many people, as opposed to his opponent, who received large donations from fewer numbers of people. In American elections, often, he who has the biggest budgets wins - because that candidate will have more money for TV and radio coverage.
I can understand why the Obama campaign has been raising money for this election since 2008 - it could make or break the President's re-election bid.
About a year ago, as the campaign got going in earnest, those emails started coming more frequently and as an Obama supporter, I dutifully followed a link in one of those emails in order to make a donation, only to be confronted with a page that required a U.S. address in order to make a payment:
There was no way to pay if the address at which the credit card was registered was outside of the U.S.
So I used the contact form to enquire about what I should do. I was sent a link to a page, supposedly for citizens abroad which turned out to be the exact same page. I decided to leave it, thinking they'd sort it out at some point.
More recently, as the campaign has built, I tried again to make a donation - nothing had changed. So I took a different approach and tried to buy some merchandise, thinking that surely as it is a shop, anyone could order. Never mind the fact that in order to access a 'Checkout' button the user has to guess that they should go into their Shopping Cart - the store has a field for 'Country', but only provides one option:
So again, if my billing information is outside the U.S. - I can't order anything. So I gave up.
Then I received an email which incited my ire:
According to our records associated with this email address -- hopefully it's yours if you're reading this! -- here's your online giving history for this organization:
-- Your supporter ID number is: 1010561759
-- Your most recent online donation was: $0
-- Total amount donated online in 2012: $0
It looks like you haven't made an online donation to the campaign yet. If you were waiting for the last minute, you're pretty much there.
Tonight at midnight is one of the most important deadlines we've faced -- it's one we set ourselves. We're figuring out tomorrow morning what resources we have for the final push and what we can do with them. We're making some of the final decisions of this campaign.
The President is counting on people like you to step up now, in these last weeks, and this is one of your last opportunities to do it. Don't let him down."
Like, EXCUSE ME?!?!?
I had tried - on multiple occasions - to donate money, I'd even contacted them about my issue, I'd tweeted at them several times as well with no response - and now they were guilt-tripping me?
I immediately sent another contact to them as follows:
"Dear the Obama Campaign,
Thank you ever so much for your 6x a day pleas for cash. I have now tried to donate money to the campaign on multiple occasions, only to be defeated by your pathetic attempt at a website.
I am a US citizen living in Europe (something even this form does not recognise as a possibility). Months ago (last year, in fact) I was kicked into a donation page for US residents after clicking on a link. I cleared my cookies to try and get to a page where I could enter my actual address - not the one where I registered to vote - it didn't help. I even emailed via your website previously explaining the problem and was sent to a page supposedly for non-US residents, which also kicked me into a page requiring a US mailing address.
The fact I would have LOVED to have donated money to a president I feel has done his utmost to live up to his promises of 4 years ago has been infinitely frustrating, made worse by the consistent spam you drop in my inbox. I do not need multiple emails a day encouraging me to vote - it's way too many. I especially do not need multiple pleas each day to donate money via a website I cannot use.
This, however, is beyond the pale. Guilt tripping me about my lack of donations which your own technical incompetence has caused is, frankly, offensive. Luckily I realise my vote is more important than proving a point - or it might have p***ed me off enough to go independent.
Next time you people run a campaign, scale back the emails and make sure your website works.
Mindy Gofton, a registered voter who would have given you money, but couldn't, because you hired the wrong web developer."
After roughly 15 more emails asking for money, I finally received a templated response:
Thank you for offering your financial support to President Obama’s re-election campaign. The President knows that as an American living abroad, you recognize how important it is for our country to set a global example of moral leadership. You witness firsthand how our nation’s policies impact the rest of the world and we appreciate the unique perspective you bring to this campaign.
To donate to the campaign, please visit the Americans Abroad section of our donation page. The direct link is: https://donate.barackobama.com/page/contribute/o2012-americans-abroad-donate?source=donate_footer.
If you are still unable to donate after visiting our Americans Abroad page, please respond to this email and provide your full billing address and we would be happy to look into it further.
Unfortunately, we are currently unable to accommodate merchandise orders or entries into the Dinner with Barack Contest from Americans living abroad.
Please note that only U.S. citizens and lawfully-admitted permanent residents can donate to federal campaigns, and that Obama for America does not accept contributions from corporations, PACs or Washington lobbyists.
We appreciate your support and thank you for being a part of the Obama for America community.
BarackObama.com Support Team"
Not only had Brian clearly not read my email - if so he'd have seen me say I'm a U.S. citizen and that I have no U.S. address - and he'd have known I was already angry and hopefully would have apologised, but his response turned out to be utterly useless which he should have known, knowing how the website works, and the problem as I explained it. If you click on the link in his response, you will see the following page:
On this page I can, in fact, indicate that I am living in the UK - but it still requires a U.S. address, presumably indicating the address where I'm registered to vote. What I can't tell, however, is whether I can use a UK credit card to pay and whether it will give me the option of entering a different Payment Address. The result? It was confusing and so I didn't try it. I also cannot be bothered getting back in touch and waiting days for a reply - by that point it will be far too late.
The conclusion: Obviously, the whole experience has made me extremely angry and frustrated - not angry enough to vote for Romney, mind, but certainly the thought did cross my mind that if Obama's team can't even get their website right - and then respond to issues regarding the website effectively - then how can they possibly run a country?
Certainly I will not be the only American voter living overseas who has no American bank account or credit card - or whose American credit card is registered to a foreign address. If even small donations of $5 are going to make a difference - how much money have they lost because they simply didn't get this right on their website?
The lesson: Usability is of the utmost importance to anybody doing business on the web. You may think that something that only affects a few customers each month or something that is only a minor irritant is not a big deal - but if someone else does it right, you will lose custom. And 10 or 15 sales a month of even £5 quickly add up to hundreds and then thousands of pounds.
So my question is this? Can your business afford to throw away thousands of pounds?