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How the 2020 election will impact nonprofit fundraising – in a good way

As November 2020 looms, we’re entering perhaps the most charged political fundraising season in history. And every marketer who works in nonprofit fundraising has the same question in mind: Will the 2020 election affect my organization?

The answer is yes.

YES, BECAUSE DONORS ARE INTERESTED IN NATIONAL POLITICS.

This can divert attention from solving problems at the local level. Donors are activists – not necessarily in the traditional mindset. But they are active in supporting the causes they care about, most often locally.

YES, BECAUSE SOME ORGANIZATIONS WILL BENEFIT.

In the wake of recent election cycles, some nonprofit groups have capitalized on trends and raised emotions around their politicized causes.

The "Trump bump" and "rage giving" were real trends for many left-leaning advocacy-oriented organizations in 2016, particularly among female donors. And right-leaning organizations ginned up donations in advance of Barack Obama’s election.

Organizations that live in the wake of election-related causes will ramp up donor acquisition and cultivation efforts to strike while the election iron is hot.

YES, BECAUSE COMPETITION FOR ATTENTION WILL GET MORE INTENSE.

And the effect will go beyond political-related causes.  Donors and prospects will receive more mail, more email, more targeted ads, more phone calls, and more text messages in the coming year.

As a sector, we’re going to see channel activity increase.

YES, BECAUSE ELECTION CYCLES HAVE A HISTORY OF MARKETING EVOLUTION.

The channels we use to connect as people continue to change, and therefore the way we market as nonprofits continues to change.

In 1960, television forever changed election campaigns with the Kennedy-Nixon debates. In 2012, the Obama presidential campaign set new trends nonprofits have sought to emulate 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 charity not including political campaigns.

Donors aren’t going to empty their wallets on politicians and leave nothing for your charity.  Political giving is a small blip compared to charitable giving.

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

And innovation is key for all of us, because of other evolution pains that we're facing. Growing retention problems, rising competition among nonprofits and impending data-privacy regulations – the list goes on.

So, what should we, as a sector, do as 2020 looms?

1. BUCKLE UP.

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

2. PLAN THE TRIP AHEAD.

The uncertainty ahead underscores the necessity for nonprofits 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 that is designed to help you grow.

Be the ant, not the grasshopper.

3. ENJOY THE RIDE.

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

In other words, over the course of the next year, 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 latest political tempest du jour.

Note: This article originally appeared in the November newsletter for the Direct Marketing Fundraisers Association.

Tim Kersten

Widely regarded as one of the nation’s top direct response fundraising, strategic and creative talents, Tim Kersten brings more than 40 years of experience to his role as CEO of RKD Group. Prior to joining RKD, he served as Chief Creative Officer and Executive Creative Director at two national advertising agencies and ran his own successful direct response fundraising consultancy for nearly 25 years.

Some of the nation’s largest and most respected nonprofit organizations that have benefited from Tim’s insightful and persuasive communication strategies include the Smithsonian Institution, American Red Cross, The Salvation Army, National Park Foundation, Covenant House, and dozens of others. Tim’s work has been recognized by his receipt of four Direct Marketing Association Echo Awards (gold, leader and two silver from 1986 to 2010) and a prestigious International Caples Award (2010).

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