Fundraising in the 2024 Election Year – The Election Storm

Election storm.

This is our third post to help with your election-year fundraising.  (Be sure to read about what to do in The Noisy Spring and The Summer Slump.)

Today’s topic is The Election Storm (September through Election Day).

The Election Storm

As the political campaigns reach their peak, and media attention is laser-focused on the election, fundraising for non-political organizations tends to drop.

During this period, you should expect a lull in giving. That September appeal that’s always a winner won’t work quite as well.  Those major donors who always buy a table at your event… a couple of them won’t do it this year.

Here’s how to make the most of this period, and set yourself up for a strong year-end:

  1. Run the campaigns you normally run. Just be aware that they probably won’t raise as much as normal.  And try to avoid any important fundraising communications in the 10 days before the election. 
  2. Continue to communicate with your donors. Share stories of success, and tell your donors the powerful difference their gift has made. Your donors will be inundated with a lot of negative news – be the bright spot in their day!
  3. Maintain an active presence on social media. As we saw during the pandemic, many people are eager to talk, read, and hear about things other than the “News.” Your social media followers will be grateful for the positive things they see in their feed.

Don’t panic if giving looks different from typical years. Work your plan and get everything in place for what’s coming next… The Year-End Rally!

Fundraising in the 2024 Election Year – The Noisy Spring

Noise.

Fundraising during a presidential election year can be tricky.

But if you base your plan for this year on what’s worked best in previous presidential election years, this COULD be one of your best fundraising years since the pandemic.

There are four distinct phases of the election cycle that will impact your fundraising efforts:

Phase 1: The Noisy Spring (that’s right now!)

Phase 2: The Summer Slump

Phase 3: The Election Storm

Phase 4: The Year-End Rally

Today’s post shows you what do NOW, during the Noisy Spring (April through June).  Our next three posts will be about the next three phases.

The Noisy Spring

You may have already noticed election coverage ramping up. Political messages are flooding TV, print and radio, mail and inboxes, and social media feeds.

This makes your job harder (though not impossible by any means). But you will need to work harder to capture donors’ attention and inspire them to give.

Here’s how to break through the noise:

  1. Communicate with your donors more frequently and assertively. This means ratcheting up your digital communications (e-appeals, e-stories, social media posts) and adding creative tactics with direct mail packages (think colored and odd-sized envelopes, handwritten addresses, etc.).
  2. Increase the urgency in your appeals, highlighting the critical needs of your beneficiaries and the incredible changes your donor’s giving makes. Lean into storytelling to create emotional responses in your donors. Don’t shy away from talking about the needs of your beneficiaries and the problems your organization solves. An election year is not the time to sugarcoat the situation for your donors.
  3. Ask for larger gifts and trust that committed donors will rise to the occasion despite the distractions of the election. This is especially true for major donors. Ask a donor for more than you think they will give you, then if the donor chooses to give you less, they’ve made that choice.  Don’t make the choice for them!

Right now is the time to get your strategy set for The Noisy Spring of the 2024 election year. They key is to break through the noise and communicate with your donors, increase the urgency, and ask for big gifts with confidence!

Next time… what to do during The Summer Slump.

Practice

Band practice.

When you’re in a band, it’s much more enjoyable to walk onstage when you know how to put on a good show. 

But when your band performs its first shows, you don’t know yet how to put on a good show.  You need to perform a lot of shows before you get good, before you have that “earned confidence” when you walk out in front of a crowd.

It’s the same thing with your fundraising materials; it’s much more enjoyable to send out a letter when you know it’s a good appeal.

But when you send your first appeals, you don’t know yet how to write or design a good appeal.  You need to send a lot of appeals before you get good, before you have that earned confidence that “this appeal is going to raise a lot of money for us.”

Just like with the band, you have to practice before you get good. 

The incredible thing is that in fundraising, you don’t need confidence when you start!  Your audience is friendly to your fundraising.  Your donors care about the cause you’re working on, and they want to help!

It is on you to get started, though.

Time to get in touch with your printer…

Printer.

Here’s a quick public service announcement: the sooner you get in touch with your printer about your fall mailings, the better.

A lot of mail is going to be sent:

  • In the couple of months before the election by both sides 
  • In the couple of months after the election by the losing side

So contact your printer now.  Tell them your drop date, your mail quantity, your paper needs.

When you start hearing stories about nonprofits not being about to send out their mailings on time this fall, your future self will thank you!

Podcastapalooza!

Podcast.

Interested in listening instead of reading? 

I’ve been a guest on a number of podcasts lately, and here are the top three if you’d like to take a listen…

Build Good with Mike Duerkson

This conversation was mostly about fundraising offers – what they are, how they make your fundraising more inclusive (and raise more!), and how to build one for your organization. 

Here’s a 3-minute clip that got a lot of attention.

Confessions with Jess and Cindy

Just released last week – such a fun conversation!  This was mostly about the business-side of The Better Fundraising Company.  Listen to this one if you’ve ever thought about being a consultant to nonprofits or starting a business in the nonprofit world. 

Nonprofit Nation with Julia Campbell

This episode is about “what to do when your fundraising results are flat” and we get tactical!  We cover:

  • The beliefs that prevent us from fundraising effectively
  • Why donor fatigue is a myth 
  • How to communicate to donors in the best way possible 
  • Why getting complaints is actually a GOOD thing – and how to reframe them

Happy listening!

Could Your Fundraising Be More Accessible?

Accessible.

Here’s a goal for your fundraising in 2024 – make it more accessible.

The ethical reasons are clear: we should not make unnecessary design and language choices that make it harder for people to see, read and understand.

Additionally, the financial reasons are clear:

  • When more people can easily read your fundraising, more of your fundraising will be consumed, and you’ll raise more money.
  • When more people can quickly understand your fundraising, more people will keep reading, and you’ll raise more money.

Our next three blog posts will be full of tips for how you can make your fundraising more accessible.  All of the tactics we’ll share, as well as the overall idea, are part of the Universal Design movement.  (But we just call it smart fundraising 🙂 )

In the meantime, take a look at your fundraising and ask yourself:

  • Is the text easy for an older person to read?
  • Is the design easy for a “scanner” to quickly know what’s most important?
  • Is the copy written so that the reader needs a college education to understand it, or is it accessible to people with less education?

It’s emotionally stretching for an organization to make their fundraising more accessible.  But you’ll be doing the right thing.  And in my experience, you’ll also raise more money.

The Core Four

Core four.

“We want to raise more than 1 million dollars each year from our individual donors.  What should we do?”

That, my friend, is a great question that more small nonprofits should be asking. 

We were curious, so we looked at our clients that had broken the “raise $1mm in a year from individual donors” barrier.

This post shares the four strategies that had the largest effect.  And how using all four strategies at the same time had a supercharging effect…

Optimized Events

They professionalized their events by having a tighter schedule, fewer people on stage, a tighter script, and left the “we have to convince people to give” thinking at home.

Perhaps most importantly, they changed their content strategy.  The first thing they did was to figure out what the ask would be for, and then designed the content of the event to make the ask as powerful as possible.

They raised more money at the event, and their donors had a better time.

Strategic Major Donor Systems

They installed a proven system to manage their major donors.

Major donors were identified and ranked, relationships were cultivated, and the right amount of time was spent on the right donors.

The systematic approach retained more major donors year over year, and lifted more major donors to higher levels of giving.

More Donor Communications

They increased the amount of fundraising sent to individual donors beyond what they previously believed was possible

They saw that they were not going to grow into a larger organization until they embraced one of the key behaviors of larger organizations: communicating more often.

And they started raising more money every year.

Segment Appropriate Messaging

They embraced the wisdom that different audiences should be communicated to differently.  So they spoke differently to a Foundation, and differently in an email to individual donors, and differently to a long time major donor.

This caused consternation among staff, but the organizations started raising more money.

The Flywheel

Those four strategies work together like the proverbial “flywheel” to accelerate growth…

  • Because the event is optimized, more people come back the next year, plus more people invite their friends.  So there are more people at the event, and they tend to give more because the event is well constructed…
  • The major donors are identified, and then systematically cultivated, so the organization has a growing major donor file…
  • Because segment-appropriate messaging is used, each piece of fundraising raises more money because it’s relevant to that audience…
  • Because there are more donor communications, the organization raises more and retains more donors…
  • This leads to more donors going to the event… and the circle continues.

To show you what it looks like when it all comes together, here’s the event performance for an organization that we began serving in 2016:

Gross revenue chart.

Impressive, eh?

Virtuous Circle

Those are the “Core Four” strategies that, working together, create a self-reinforcing virtuous circle that helps organizations experience crazy growth.

Which of the Core Four could your organization improve at? If you’d like help, send an email to info@betterfundraising.com.  Or go here to see how we help organizations like yours!

There Is No Secret Meeting

Secret meeting.

For small nonprofits that are struggling to raise money, it’s tempting to imagine that there’s a secret meeting.

You know, the meeting where all the donors from your town get together on Zoom and decide not support your organization.

If your fundraising life feels that way, you might consider asking yourself a couple of questions. 

  • Does your fundraising make it clear what will happen when the donor gives a gift, stated in concrete (not conceptual) language?
  • Have you told people how a gift to your organization will improve a situation that they care about?
  • If donating to your organization might feel risky to donors, what can you do to make it feel less risky?
  • When donors have given to your organization in the past, did your organization take the credit (“Look at what our team accomplished!”) or did you give the credit away to donors (“Look at what you and your generosity accomplished!”)?
  • Does your fundraising make it clear that you need their help?  If not, are you able to boldly and vulnerably ask for support?

When a nonprofit feels like the biggest secret in town, it’s usually something about their fundraising that’s keeping it that way.

The Danger of Focusing on One Metric

Secret meeting.

A friend who’s a Fundraiser recently shared a story with me.  It was about a nonprofit who received a pitch from a consultant that he would increase their average gift size.

Sounds great, doesn’t it?  What nonprofit wouldn’t want all of their donors giving more?

So the nonprofit hired the consultant.  And their average gift size went up! 

Sounds great, doesn’t it?

Too bad what also happened is that their response rates went down.  And their retention rates went down.  So despite the increase in average gift, the organization is raising less total money than they used to be.  And they have fewer donors.

That doesn’t sound great.

This is a great illustration of the danger of focusing too much on one fundraising metric.  All the main metrics are important, but none of them exist in a vacuum.

It’s relatively easy to increase any one metric.  Need higher response rates to your direct mail?  Include a freemium!  (Your response rate will go up… but your package now costs more.)  Want to increase the ROI on your next campaign?  Don’t send direct mail, only send email!  (Your ROI will go up because you’ve lowered costs by so much, but you’ll raise less money overall.)

The trick is understanding the whole system and the tradeoffs made with every tactic.

Any time someone wants to optimize one metric, always be wary.  Ask what the consequences will be to the other metrics.

And always remember: the only metric you can use to pay for programs is Net Revenue.