Another year-end is here. Having lived through at least one phase of a global pandemic, organizations around the country continue to perform their missions and communicate with their supporters, many with a great deal of success. According to the Fundraising Effectiveness Project (AFP, 2020), giving was up 7.5% in the first half of 2020, including gifts under $250, as well as mid-level and major-level gifts.
However, potential crises loom ahead:
- Increasing COVID infection rates (happening now)
- A deepening economic crisis
- A real unemployment rate in excess of 15%
- Potential volatility in the stock market depending on who wins the election and majority
- What Congress and the sitting President will do during a recount/lame duck
Will the Election Affect Giving?
According to numerous sources, including 2012 research studies from Blackbaud and the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy1, in general, political donations do not cannibalize charitable giving. However, election decisions have resulted in huge influxes of gifts for progressive causes post-election, particularly in 2016.
And, interestingly, in 2016, the Women’s Philanthropy Institute saw that relevant progressive charities received an increase in donations in the days immediately following the election, and that increase was driven by women donors. So, something to think about for this election.
One area of fundraising that is definitely impacted by the election is advertising, which more and more nonprofits are relying on for donor retention and acquisition. While COVID brought a decrease in CPMs across digital advertising (due to declining retail and other industries’ lack of advertising), the noise from political advertising will affect inventory availability.
Facebook is already responding to pre- and post-election political ads by locking out any new issue ads to run between October 27, 2020 and November 3 (election day),which, sadly, can also include some legitimate cause-focused, non-political nonprofits.
With all this uncertainty on the horizon, there are a few basic principles teams can apply to help maximize fundraising performance. While we don’t know exactly what will come to pass during what will certainly prove the be one of the most intense year-end fundraising seasons in recent memory, by following these five steps, you can stay on a tried and tested path to results.
1. Keep Fundraising
Many organizations questioned the applicability of their case for giving during the COVID-19 outbreak, but those who stayed the course, with messaging relevancy to COVID, met or exceeded fundraising results in both digital and the mail. Your loyal donors are still committed and want to give – we’ve seen the proof of that in the numbers. Making your organizations’ case for additional support in the context of crisis is a key first step. Don’t forget to mention the $300 non-itemized COVID CARES Act tax deduction!
If your Board or senior management raises a flag to stop fundraising, show them the numbers.
2. Create a Crisis or Opportunity Plan
For many organizations, COVID was their first major crisis event. Even if your plan is a simple one, pre-gaming with the folks who need to be involved ahead of a crisis (we suggest a major brainstorm with all your partners and your staff) will help deliver more thoughtful decisions during those tense moments when answers to tough questions are needed. You should be well-seasoned by now, so use the learnings to map out a few scenarios.
Obviously, if the election directly affects your mission, be prepared for appropriate messaging for email, mail, advertising, phones, TV or other channels.
If your messaging is advocacy-focused or will be affected by the election results, it’s best to have responses for both scenarios, as well as a “we don’t know yet” response if you’re going to deliver something in November. Preparing copy around some obvious outcomes can greatly speed up response time, particularly in digital. During your crisis planning session, talk through the likely scenarios and gather the basic tenants of your organization’s response. Then you’ll have a draft to work from when news hits.
If COVID and the economy get even worse, and your mission need increases, (for example, if you’re a food bank), you’ll need to plan ahead for potential, additional mailings and digital deliverables, as well as a constant stream of stewardship communications to convey the need and the impact of donors’ gifts (newsletters, short video updates, etc.) And, don’t forget about the post-giving experience for new donors. Fine-tune or create an automated email series for new donors now and carefully segment and steward these COVID donors.
3. Sustainer Mode Full On
If ever there was a time to double-down on sustainers, it’s now. Ask your current sustainers to upgrade, ask them for an additional gift and consider changing some of your one-time asks to sustaining asks. If the election results directly impact your organization, this could be a great time for a sustainer ask.
Your donation form is the conversion endpoint, so be sure you’ve optimized it for the monthly giving ask – featuring a separate ask string for your monthly offer, a graphic element to draw attention to your monthly ask and a sustainer conversion lightbox that appears after someone clicks on a one-time gift amount.
And, of course, stewardship of your sustainers should be personal and high-touch. They are as valuable, or more, as your mid-level donors so treat them accordingly.
4. Manage Organizational Expectations
Performance markers may change. If you haven’t re-thought any projections you may have made for your year-end performance numbers, now is the time. Be upfront and transparent with your Board and senior leadership about material changes or uncertainty. Report back on the data you gain from every effort and begin mapping your trendlines. Work together with your front-line staff and hear their ideas regarding how to keep those plots up and to the right.
5. More Communication
Increase your frequency of communication — with your team, with your supporters, with partners. It’s better to reasonably overcommunicate in a crisis than to assume everyone understood everything from the get-go. Most organizations think they email too much. Now is a good time to test that assumption.
The hackneyed axiom “it’s not a matter of if, but when…” applies to crisis. A crisis of some form will come, how your organization chooses to engage, reactively or proactively, will have a major impact on your key metrics.
Our advice, be proactive.