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Election Year Is Double-Edged Sword for Nonprofit Fundraisers

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!

 

 

 

Most Nonprofits Upbeat on 2019 Fundraising Growth

The most recent survey of nonprofits and donors by the Nonprofit Research Collaborative (NRC), a coalition of professional fundraising associations, finds that 60% of respondents expect to raise more money this year than they did in 2018! That’s encouraging news for AccuList’s many fundraising clients as they head into their key year-end giving campaigns.

Tax Law Impact Not As Averse As Expected

Many fundraisers feared the new tax law would undercut giving, but the survey found that only a 17% minority reported a negative impact from the tax changes, and only 16% of donors said they would change the amount or method of their gift this year because of changes to the tax law. It is true that certain continuing tax trends prove challenging for fundraisers, such as bundling or bunching, in which donors provide multiyear support but give a large donation for an itemized filing in just one tax year and then skip contributions in the following year or years. Since most nonprofits rely heavily on year-end gifts from loyal donors, the bunching is problematic. Still, only 30% of nonprofit respondents reported that some donors were bundling.

Feared Donation Drop Doesn’t Materialize

Based on various reports of reduced giving, many nonprofits were concerned about fundraising growth, yet the NRC online survey of individual donors in March of this year found 56% said they gave the same amount in 2018 as in 2017, 33% gave more, and only 11% gave less. As a result, 63% of fundraisers said their charities did raise more money in 2018 than the previous year. Overall, 73% said they met their 2018 fundraising goals. It’s no wonder most fundraisers (60%) are confident they will raise even more in 2019. Not all charities participated equally in 2018 growth, of course. Charities with budgets of $3 million to $49 million reported the most fundraising increases in 2018 over 2017 levels. And environmental and animal charities in particular were most likely to meet 2018 fundraising goals.

Multi-Channel, Multi-Contact Strategy Remains Key

Melissa Brown, author of the report and manager of the NRC, stresses that the upbeat forecast for fundraising needs to be undergirded by targeted, relevant, engaging direct mail and e-mail contacts. While most channels remained essentially flat in 2018 in terms of dollars raised compared with prior years, direct mail fundraising growth dipped slightly, with 41% of charity respondents saying they saw growth in fundraising through direct mail compared with 50% in 2017. Overall, the survey supports both the need for a multi-channel fundraising strategy and frequent contacts with donors. On average, after the first gift, organizations send about 3 more appeals by mail, an average of 4 appeals by e-mail, and invitations to events, including stewardship/recognition activities. However, both direct mail and digital communications are most effective when they go beyond dollar demands to provide meaningful connections with the mission and explanation of the impact of a gift, per the survey “One of the biggest reasons people stop giving is they feel like they’re becoming ATMs instead of being partners,” Brown warns. See the full survey 

Demographic Trends Drive Growth in Pet-Owner Spending

Direct mail and e-mail lists and data services targeting pet owners are one of AccuList USA’s high-demand markets, and we expect trends in pet ownership to grow that marketing interest–and the competition that makes quality data and targeting even more essential.

Demographics Fuel Pet-Owner Spending

A recent post for The Marketing Insider highlights the demographic trends that are making pet owners such attractive targets: “Americans now own 305 million cats and dogs, an increase of 85 million over the past 10 years. The  50+ demographic is responsible for 60% of that growth. With 50+ population expected to grow twice as rapidly as the 18-49 segment over the next 10 years, brands that include 50+ pet owners in their marketing strategies will improve their odds of maximizing revenue growth,” asserts columnist Mark Bradbury.

Older Pet Owners Offer Big Opportunities

Bradbury makes the point that marketers hoping to cash in on the older pet-owning market will need to adjust their buyer profiles given that 50+ pet owners are mainly empty-nesters (80%), retired (one-in-three), and three times more likely than younger pet owners to be divorced, widowed or separated–leaving more time and disposable income to devote to pet members of the family. Bradbury points to statistical proof that older owners are on a pet-spending splurge: People 50+ spent over $15.6 billion on their pets in the last year, more than all of the other generations combined, according to PetBusinessProfessor.com.

Growing Market Also Draws Big Competition

The opportunity to market pet-pampering products is expanding, but so is the competition for slices of the pet-owner pie. Using marketing tactics of the past may either miss the mark with the older generation of pet owners, or get lost in the crowd vying for their attention. Bradbury suggests several tactics that put the focus squarely on the growing Baby Boomer pet market, including messaging that celebrates a pet-centric Boomer life stage. Multi-channel campaigning is a must for this market as well. In addition to digital marketing via online, social and e-mail, Boomers are also still heavy users, and responders, of direct mail, magazines and television, Bradbury points out. “Synergistic cross-media marketing plans” are required to maximize reach at every stage in the purchase funnel, he advises. Plus, though Boomers like to spend to dote on their pets, they also want to spend wisely and are attracted to savings opportunities. Direct marketers will want to include discounts or loyalty reward programs to win brand fans.

For more of Bradbury’s pet marketing suggestions, see https://www.mediapost.com/publications/article/314521/the-inside-track-on-the-booming-pet-market.html