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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!

 

 

 

Tech & Data Trends Spur 2019 Fundraising Opportunities

Despite 2019’s many challenges for nonprofit marketers, including competing for attention with political fundraising noise, trends in data analytics and technology offer good news for AccuList’s fundraising clients.

Fundraising Can Leverage Digital Innovations

Consider trends highlighted in this spring’s Nonprofit Technology Conference in Oregon. For example, nonprofit tech pros reported success using Digital Wallets, such as Apple Pay, Paypal and Google Pay, to make donating easier for donors and to increase conversions. AI and chatbots are another boon cited by tech experts, not just because they free up staff from time-consuming interfaces but because they can be used to segment audiences and tailor communications to boost donor acquisition, value and retention. Meanwhile mobile text messaging and mobile giving not only continue to grow in use, but nonprofits are learning to leverage SMS to trigger response, scale donor relationships and engage and motivate communities more fully. Online giving continues its growth path, but there are now more online giving services and their offerings are expanding. For example, Give Lively has free online fundraising tools for text-to-give, peer-to-peer, events, and integration with social media platforms such as Facebook. Finally, virtual-assistant voice services have entered the fundraising arena; for example, Amazon’s Alexa now can help donors verbally contribute up to $10,000.

It All Comes Back to Targeted Data

But for tech innovations to be effective, quality data and data analytics are essential. For example, fundraising efforts can use data to identify and segment those groups of current or inactive donors more likely to increase their donation dollars or flag donors to tap as future legacy donors. And data analytics can combine with real-time marketing automation, triggered e-mail series and variable data printing of personalized direct mail for improved donor acquisition. While the task of data collection and analysis can seem overwhelming, nonprofits don’t need to vacuum up every bit of big data for better results. The key is to collect and track the information in the donor database, or to select the key response factors to target in prospect lists, which are most likely to lead to success. Beyond the basics of name, address/contact, gender, age and date and amount of last donation, data targeting can be enhanced with parameters indicating donor capacity (the ability to give) and donor affinity (the willingness to give). Indicators of donor capacity include personal income/wealth measures, real estate ownership, business title, stock ownership, etc., while donor affinity parameters include the RFM (recency, frequency, monetary) of the donor or prospect giving history, past relationship/interest in a specific cause or affiliated appeal, and political affiliation and giving. Check out this article on donor data from Candid’s Philantopic blog for data management tips.

Beware Assumptions About Donor Data

A good database policy also includes regular hygiene and updating as well as an ongoing check for knowledge/data gaps. Classy, the online fundraising software provider, suggests challenging assumptions of donor knowledge by making sure analytics can deliver on these questions:

  • When are donors most likely to donate?
  • What is the average donation amount?
  • What is the average donation amount?
  • Are there different types of donors?
  • What is the reason for donation?
  • How does the donor liked to be thanked?
  • What is the donor’s communication channel preference?
  • What value does the donor get from donating?

See the rest of Classy’s suggestions on using data for fundraising.

Pet Charity Mailer’s Creative Opens Hearts & Wallets

AccuList USA has a long and successful history with mailing lists and data services targeting “pet parents” and organizations offering pet-related products, services and causes. One of the surefire ways to engage an audience is to use adorable animal pictures combined with copy crafted to open hearts–and wallets. So here’s a recent example of direct mail to inspire our pet marketing clients, courtesy of a post by Target Marketing magazine.

Envelope That Uses Hard-to-Say-No Pictures & Teasers

Best Friends, which runs the largest no-kill U.S. animal sanctuary across multiple locations, was seeking donations for its mission of ending pet homelessness. The outer envelope of their newsletter package immediately grabs attention with a picture of one of the nonprofit’s doggie stars. The heart-tugging gaze is hard to ignore, especially coupled with an intriguing teaser: “Hey, whatever happened to Justin? Find out inside!”

Emotionally Moving Letter With Up-Front Reply Form

When recipients open the envelope, they find a newsletter showcasing the sad story of a pup who had a rough start, including a photo to tug at donor heartstrings. And once emotions are triggered, the format makes it easy to act by putting a donation reply form and call-to-action right at the top of the letter.

Including Proof of Dollar Impact & Mission Value

If prospective donors still hesitate, the Best Friends’ copy offers data on the importance and urgency of action by providing examples of the impact that specific dollar-amount donations will have. The copy also educates recipients on the organization’s mission, vision and history so they connect with the larger cause.

Since a picture, especially one of a winsome pup, is worth a thousand words, take a look at the actual mail piece by going to the article.

Positive 2017 Fundraising Trends Create Opportunities

While 2017 is starting as a year of uncertainty, especially in politics, a recent CauseVox post provides some good news for AccuList USA’s current and future nonprofit direct marketing clients. CauseVox staff writer Tina Jepson spotlights 10 fundraising trends that offer opportunities for greater success this year, and we’ll pass along a few here.

Increased Individual, Corporate & Recurring Giving

Donation forecasts are upbeat, Jepson shares: Philanthropy Outlook 2016 & 2017 predicts that an increase in individual and household income will help to boost fundraising efforts for nonprofits, charities, and NGOs by as much as 3.8% in 2017.  Plus, with Gross Domestic Product and business savings on the rise, total corporate giving is predicted to rise by 4.7% in 2017. And monthly giving, which accounts for 17% of online revenue, also will continue increasing per the 2016 M+R Benchmarks report. The trick with individual donors is to catch the wave with smart targeting, inspiring creative and campaigns to get existing donors to boost giving, says Jepson, while, for corporate giving, nonprofits would do well to maximize gift matching, to court business leaders and to keep tabs on company arrivals and growth locally. Plus, Jepson urges nonprofits to amp up their monthly giving strategy, making monthly giving the first option for donors on the website and a marketing priority in e-letters, direct mail and e-mail.

Donor Retention at a Record High

Donor retention rates are at the highest rate since 2008 at 45.9%, and nonprofits and charities clearly should make retention a marketing priority to capitalize on this powerful fundraising engine, Jepson notes. She suggests capitalizing on the trend with tactics such as personalization; prior gift recognition; leveraging donors’ preferred channels; donor education via videos, infographics or pamphlets; and donor activation with engagement opportunities such as volunteering or advocacy.

More Donor Data Than Ever Before

Digital interactions—websites, e-mail, social media and now the Internet of Things (IoT)—combine with traditional channels such as direct mail to generate a wealth of data about existing and potential donors. A key goal for 2017 is to gather, analyze and use actionable data effectively. Jepson lists a few ways to do so: Tracking analytics on your website and social media posts to learn the demographics and behavior of your paid, earned and owned media audience; using Facebook and Instagram Ads and Business Manager to target ads to donors likely to give; and turning around data learning to share with, and inspire, donors in real-time online via options such as a website ROI ticker that tracks return on investment (possibly in lives changed) per average donation.

Social Media & Mobile Marketing Challenges

In social and mobile marketing, nonprofits face challenges as well as opportunities. Social media platforms, including Facebook, now are promoting organic content that prioritizes the audience’s friends and family over nonprofit messages. Jepson points out that this means that effective social media marketing will need to rely more on purchased ads and targeting of key demographics, as well as creating viral content that inspires shares. Meanwhile, if your nonprofit hasn’t invested in mobile optimization of websites and e-mails, you’re missing a key donation source: Mobile giving makes up 17% of all online giving now and is projected to rise further in 2017.

For more trends and Jepson’s suggestions on maximizing their fundraising impact, see https://www.causevox.com/blog/fundraising-trends-2017/