AccuList’s nonprofit fundraising clients are entering a presidential election year, arguably one that is more contentious and partisan than usual. Will that be good or bad for fundraising? What strategies will help navigate the political crosscurrents to reap donations?
Political Ferment Can Churn Up Donations for Some
Research by online fundraising platform Classy has found that an “election effect” can drive an “unprecedented increase” in recurring donations for some nonprofits aligned with politically charged issues. For example, Classy reports that, after the 2016 presidential election, nonprofits directly opposed to President Trump’s policies, actions, or ideology saw a “surge in donations.” As another example, research by the Lily Family School of Philanthropy found donations increased significantly for “charities associated with progressive or liberal causes mentioned during the election” in the week after the 2016 election. Per 2019 Classy research, 46% of respondents said their political beliefs dictate the organizations or causes that will receive their donations. Classy suggests some basic strategies to use political winds to propel efforts to bump up new donors and recurring donations: 1) go back through donor data from the 2016 election to see how donations were affected before and after election day, taking into account political party as well as demographics and the timing of spikes; 2) pay attention to news about political issues that my relate to your cause for timely and targeted positioning of appeals; 3) reach out to existing donors and ask how the 2020 election is impacting plans to donate in order to decide how and when it’s best to ask for a donation; and 4) embrace flexibility in strategy so that you can adjust efforts to shifts in the national conversation.
Other Fundraising Efforts Can Be Pushed Offstage
Not all nonprofit causes can be linked to political issues. In a Forbes magazine post, Gloria Horsley, founder of Open to Hope Foundation, acknowledges the positive “election effect” for fundraisers that align with political agendas but notes a potentially negative impact on other nonprofits when more politically charged sectors noisily take center stage and siphon donor attention. She urges nonprofits that can’t find a way to make a connection to a political issue to reemphasize why the mission is just as critical despite the election noise. One approach is to illustrate how helping the nonprofit can produce tangible results, in contrast to the less certain outcomes of political efforts. People like to know they are making a difference and to have an emotional connection to a cause. Donors with an emotional connection to an organization will dig deeper and stay longer—even in an election year. That’s where good storytelling content makes a difference. In a post for the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), fundraising consultant Linda Wise McNay cites storytelling as one of the top eight 2020 trends that nonprofits should embrace. She urges messaging to provide donors and prospects with a compelling case for support by collecting intimate, personal stories about beneficiaries of the nonprofit’s work, and then sharing those stories in print, online, on the phone and in person.
Taking Sides Can Result in Donor Losses, Too
Of course, McNay of AFP also lists the election as a major trend affecting nonprofits in 2020, but she sounds a note of caution: “Our conversations public and private are filled with comments and opinions on candidates and issues. Be wary of saying anything too controversial to your constituents that may be considered taking a position on one side or the other. Double up your efforts to fulfill the mission and goals of your organization, being careful not to take any political stance that might offend your donors and prospects and thwart your fundraising efforts. Your goal is to be still operating after the election, no matter which side wins the election in November.” One way to stay on the right side of your audience is to know them and target appropriately, and that means leveraging another key 2020 trend cited by McNay: access to, and analysis of, high-quality data on existing donors and prospects. AccuList will be happy to help with that data!