Fundraising in an Election Year: Much ado about (almost) nothing

are your major donors involved in politics? pay attention to them now.

At some point during every election year, I usually hear nervous fundraisers worrying about the impact the election will have on their revenue.

I’m here to tell you—you have little to worry about. And some of your organizations will even benefit from the election season!

Lots of research has shown elections don’t impact giving to nonprofits very much.

But that doesn’t mean not at all…. So here are some things to keep in mind and (maybe more importantly) tell your board or executive director if they start freaking out about the elections.

What history tells us…

People who donate to political campaigns often give a little more to nonprofits in election years. Emphasis on a little…it’s about 1%. Interestingly, this is true even if your cause isn’t political.

On the flip side, people who aren’t campaign donors may donate a little less in election years. Again, emphasis on a little…it’s about 2%. Nothing to panic about.

So, what exactly should you do with this information?

To be honest, you could probably do exactly what you were planning to do and rest assured…the results you’ll get likely have little to do with the election.

As always, your fundraising success will most depend on things like your story, your offer, your list, etc.

But here are five things to keep in mind as things heat up even more around the elections…

1. Be aware of the times when people will be most focused on the election and plan accordingly. Don’t schedule any important mailings to arrive in the few weeks before election day. And avoid having major events in the days leading up to the election.

2. If you know major donors who are involved in politics, pay extra attention to them now. These folks are some of the sector’s most active donors. And their gifts are often larger than average. The election season makes them ripe for engagement and giving.

3. If you don’t know whether your major donors (or prospects) are political donors, find out! Do a little research; electoral giving is public record (both locally and nationally).

4. If your organization’s issues are getting more media coverage than usual, seize the opportunity to connect this to the importance of donor support for your mission. (Remember “rage giving” after a certain someone was elected?) Make sure your supporters understand the need for your work and the need for their involvement, regardless of what happens on election day.

5. As always, prioritize retention of your supporters by building relationships, having effective donor communications, and telling your contributors that they are appreciated and that their commitment makes a difference.

In short—the elections aren’t going to be what makes it or breaks it for you. The same stuff that always affects your fundraising success is still what matters. So stop worrying and do your job!

Tina Cincotti, owner of Funding Change, is a donor communications expert and general nonprofit nerd.
August 21, 2018

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