How to Ride the Wave and Raise Money During the 2020 Elections

July 29, 2020 - by Lesley Hostetter

Every election year, we ask ourselves if nonprofit fundraising will be impacted by political fundraising — after all Election Day hits at the start of year-end.

In almost every year that I can remember, nonprofit fundraising has either no change — or better yet, a positive change — during and after an election. Certainly, we saw this in 2016 with the “Trump Bump” donors and subsequent surge in sustainer giving. Donors show time and again their loyalty to causes they feel passionate about.

But this is 2020. Everything is turned upside down. Anything could happen.

Here’s what we expect to hold true:

The frequency of political emails sent by 2020 candidates and political organizations will be at an all-time high. Text messages — whether by SMS or Hustle — will skyrocket as groups try to skirt the inbox and get noticed. Other methods like canvassing and door to door are not possible … expect to see more digital organizing, Zoom calls, and GOTV apps that guide people to get out the vote amongst their own personal networks.

The election year hitting during this time when we are working remotely, and adapting to new tools, can work in the nonprofit sector’s favor. People are being exposed to new ways of thinking and collaborating — and digital interaction and exploration is a huge piece of this. We expect this to lead to greater numbers of donors turning to online giving, sustainer giving, and mobile adaptation in the future.

So what can fundraisers do to continue raising critical funds and remain relevant to donors this political cycle?

1. Stay in your lane. If your mission is to save animals or to respond when natural disasters strike, then talk about saving animals and the disaster relief work you are doing! Your supporters are with you because they care about your mission and that won’t change.

2. Focus on list hygiene. Now is not the time to be emailing everyone who has ever given you their email address. Deliverability is a bigger threat to your list than political emails, so use tools like engagement scores, and create a re-engagement strategy to keep at-risk supporters active.

3. Continue your plans — but plan ahead!  Direct mail is tried and true. But deliverability — which is always an issue during election years — could be slower than ever this year due to COVID-19 and Vote-By-Mail initiatives in many states. Revisit your results from during and after the 2016 election. If you’re in the political space, be prepared with multiple versions of copy for your November – January mail. Order your canary paper now for the inevitable buckslips we will all need. And stick to your schedules!

4. Be smart with your advertising dollars. Political campaigns will be driving up the cost to advertise to certain audiences, especially at key election moments, like around debates or early voting deadlines. Lighten up your advertising spend at those moments and get creative with who you are targeting and how you are messaging.

5. Push monthly giving. We see it more and more as the years go on – in the aftermath of an emergency, and leading up to, and after, an election — donors are willing to give monthly. Get ready, because this year we have BOTH. And no matter who wins the election, you will have an opportunity to make a case for monthly giving, and even if you’re not political … ride the wave!

6. Invest in new channels. People may not be opening every email, but they are opening their text messages. If you don’t have one, consider investing in a mobile program. This could include both broadcast messaging, which works like email in that one message goes to your list, and peer-to-peer, which requires a person to send every text.

7. Build relationships. The difference between campaigns and nonprofits is that nonprofits need to cultivate donor relationships for the long haul. Just because a campaign emails five times a day and is asking for a $1 donation doesn’t mean you should. Donor-centric language is always the right answer!


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