How The 2020 Election Will Impact Nonprofit Fundraising — in a Good Way

As November 2020 looms, we’re in the midst of perhaps the most charged political fundraising season in history. And every marketer who works in fundraising has the same question in mind: Will the presidential campaigns affect our organization?

The answer is, Yes.

Yes, because donors are interested in national politics, which can divert attention from solving problems at the local level. Donors are activists — not necessarily in the traditional sense — but they are active in supporting the causes they care about, most often locally.

Yes, because some organizations have been able to capitalize on emotional reactions in the wake of recent elections. The “Trump bump” and “rage giving” were real trends for many left- leaning advocacy organizations in 2016. Meanwhile, right- leaning advocacy groups have experienced a news-driven fundraising bump more recently. Fundraisers who live in the wake of election-related issues on both sides have already ramped up efforts to strike while the election iron is hot and will continue for the coming months.

Yes, because competition for attention is more intense — and the effect will go beyond political causes. Channel activity is increasing dramatically as donors and prospects receive more mail, more email, more targeted ads, more phone calls, and more texts this year.

Yes, because election cycles have a history of evolving the channels we use to connect as people — and therefore change the way we market as nonprofits. In 1960, television forever changed campaigns with the Kennedy-Nixon debates. The Obama presidential campaign set new trends nonprofits have emulated in the savvy use of online fundraising and neuropsychology. In 2016, we saw how Twitter can be used to connect directly to people, bypassing traditional mass media outlets, like TV.

The election will most certainly have an impact, but less than you might think in purely financial terms. In 2016, grassroots Americans contributed a combined $1.5 billion to the Republican and Democrat presidential campaigns. In the same year, Americans gave $390 billion to charities not including political campaigns. Donors aren’t going to empty their wallets on politicians and leave nothing for your charity.

Furthermore, these four-year cycles have a way of propelling us forward in innovation.

And innovation is key for us all, especially because of pains we’re all facing, such as growing retention problems, rising competition among nonprofits, and impending regulations … the list goes on.

So, what should we, as a sector, do this year?

First off, buckle up. With hyper- partisanship gripping Washington and the country, we know we’re in for a wild ride.

Nonprofits need to maintain discipline around a focused strategic plan. It’s time to take a hard look at your organization’s needs and determine a clear and compelling fundraising approach designed to help you grow.

Once you’ve got your plan in motion, take time to step back during the election cycle, examine the changes in how candidates use new marketing tools to capture attention and dollars, and consider how they can fit into your marketing strategy.

In other words, over the course of the next months, try your best to work on your marketing and fundraising, not just in your marketing and fundraising — always learning, always growing, always committed to best practices, regardless of the political tempest du jour.

By Tim Kersten, CEO, RKD Group