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How to Keep Your Fundraising Strong in an Election Year

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Are you worried about the US presidential election?

I sure am.  But I’m not much worried about how the election will affect fundraising.

The good news is, as noisy and anxiety-provoking as elections can be, the impact is small.

I’m more nervous about what fundraisers might do to themselves because of their fears about the election. Because a lot of the election-related harm is self-inflicted.

And if you’re not in the US, this still may be relevant in your state or region or country at election time too.

Yes, our US presidential elections last a long time. And they do take up almost all of the national media’s attention. And they flood some people’s mailboxes (those who live in battleground states especially) with epic amounts of direct mail – political fundraising and campaign materials.

But elections are not the universal revenue-crushing monster you might have heard about. For some, there’s a short dip in response in the weeks before the election. For others, there’s no impact at all.

Want some evidence? Check out this post at the Analytical Ones blog: Election Year Giving

It shows giving to more than 50 US nonprofits during the last four months of each year for 10 years (2013 through 2022). The top two giving years were 2020 (an election year) and 2021 (not an election year). Third best was 2022. The other election year in the period, 2016, is in the middle of the pack. The “worst” year is 2017, very much not an election year.

If elections had been crushing fundraising, you’d expect the two election years, and maybe the midterm years (the other even-numbered years) to be clustered at the bottom. They just aren’t.

There’s no visible correlation between money raised and election years.

But here’s the most important thing you need to know about fundraising in an election year:

The worst thing you can do is cut back or cancel fundraising activities. Doing that is guaranteed to hurt your bottom line.

Just ignoring the election and carrying on as if it isn’t happening might hurt you. But probably not.

If you cut back on your fundraising during the 4th quarter because you’re afraid of the election — that will hurt you. The more you cut, the bigger the hurt.

Here’s an important fact that matters about fundraising around election time: Donors to political campaigns and donors to charity are mostly different people. Very few people redirect their normal charitable giving toward political candidates.

The one thing that might touch your fundraising in the time before the coming election is noise. Distraction. Mailboxes and inboxes packed full with political messages — fundraising and campaigning. News about the campaign is loud, breathless, dramatic, and everywhere. All that might distract some donors, some of the time, away from charitable giving.

But don’t cancel your fourth-quarter fundraising because you’re afraid of the election. That’s the one thing that will do grave and unrecoverable damage to your fundraising!

One election precaution you can take if your donors live in one of the big battleground states: Think about how to clear some space in your fundraising calendar around the election – from the week or two before until immediately after. Leave a little open space so your messages aren’t landing in over-crowded mailboxes, but don’t cancel anything!

As is so often the case in fundraising, the things people do out of fear are much more dangerous than the things they are afraid of!

The only thing you have to fear is fear itself.

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Author

  • Jeff Brooks

    Jeff Brooks is a Fundraisingologist at Moceanic. He has more than 30 years of experience in fundraising, and has worked as a writer and creative director on behalf of top nonprofits around the world, including CARE, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Feeding America, and many others.

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1 Comment. Leave new

  • Sarah Woodard
    June 8, 2024 7:37 am

    This is funny because we have been working with someone who keeps asking about how the election will affect us and if we are worried and saying there is often a dip – and I have never heard of such a thing! And I looked at our history around elections – no impact. It’s so weird!

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