Fundraising in the 2024 Election Year – The Noisy Spring


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.

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  Or go here to see how we help organizations like yours!

Not All Complaints are Equal

Not all complaints are equal. 

For instance, a complaint from a non-donor who is subscribed to your email newsletter should be given less time and attention than a complaint from a beneficiary or staff member.

So, a smart organization responds differently to different complaints.

As an organization responds to a complaint, there are three main “variables”:

  • Change the level of energy put into the response
  • Change the fundraising the complainer receives in the future
  • Change the fundraising all donors receive in the future

Change the Level of Energy

You can vary how much energy you respond to a complaint with.

For instance, the complainer can receive a pre-written email that acknowledges their complaint and thanks them for submitting it… or be met for coffee and an hour-long conversation… or anywhere in between.

Don’t spend more energy than needed when responding to complaints.

Note: this principle also applies to an organization’s internal response to complaints.  A complaint can kick-start worried discussions and hijack future meetings… or it can be quickly submitted into a system and handled professionally.

Change What the Complainer Receives

You can vary the amount or selection of fundraising you send to the person who complains. 

Perhaps they only want to receive a certain type of your fundraising impacts, like your newsletters but not your appeals.  Or they’d like to receive fewer overall pieces.

Code that person’s record in your CRM appropriately and/or make notes to future list pulls, and move along.

Change What Everyone Receives

You can change all of your fundraising that every donor receives.

This is making changes like, “We can’t ever use that phrase again” or “Let’s reduce the number of mail pieces and emails we send.”

This is the most drastic approach.  It’s the approach that smaller nonprofits tend to gravitate towards because of fears that the complainer is speaking for untold numbers of people.  But it’s the approach least used by larger organizations, because they know that one complainer does not speak for anyone but themselves.

Right-Sized Response

The trick is to right-size your response. 

Our advice is to always value complaints and the person making them.  It’s important to respond warmly  because when a person complains, the response or interaction they have with the organization is often the only customized, personal interaction they’ve ever had with the organization.  The person will form a lot of their opinion about the organization based on this interaction.

And at the same time, respond to each complaint with the right amount of energy and the right level of response. Over-reaction gives recipients more power than they deserve.

In a nutshell, one person’s fundraising preferences should not drive your organization’s fundraising strategy.

Read the series:

  1. Getting Used to Complaints
  2. Outline for How to Respond to a Complaint
  3. Not All Complaints are Equal (this post)
  4. Natural, But Not Productive
  5. The Two Times Smaller Orgs Get More Complaints
  6. So. Many. Reasons. To. Complain.
  7. The Harmful Big Assumption
  8. Turning Complaints into Gifts
  9. “Friendly Fire” — Complaints from Internal Audiences
  10. Our Final Thoughts on Complaints

You Need to *Not* Do Some Things in 2019

All Strategy is Sacrifice

This month we’re posting about the fundraising strategies and tactics that worked well in 2018.

Here’s a piece of hard-won advice: if you want to raise more this year, you need to actively decide not to do some of the things you’ve done in previous years.

Here’s this strategy in a catchy quote:

All strategy is sacrifice.

And here’s how I explain this in a simple decision tree:

  1. You have limited resources (time and money)
  2. You have to decide what to do with your time and money
  3. Which means you also have to decide what not to do with your time and money.

Smaller nonprofits, in my experience, are bad at deciding what not to do. Specifically…

Smaller Nonprofits Have a Hard Time Stopping Doing Things

They have a harder time cutting projects and strategies that are no longer the highest use of limited resources.

I suspect this is mostly because of the collaborative nature of fundraising and communications in small- to medium-sized nonprofits. There’s always somebody who values a thing you’ve done in the past. Here are some recognizable examples:

  • You keep mailing printed annual reports to all donors because some board member or major donor rep says that they simply must have it.
  • You keep doing an event that loses money each year (not to mention the investment of time) because a major donor loves it and has made it their pet project.
  • You write, format and send out an e-newsletter every month because “we have to tell people what we’ve been doing” even though 1 out of 20 people actually open the email.

Sound familiar? And in a collaborative environment, it’s hard to tell stakeholders that their project is going to be cut.

It’s especially hard when the fundraising that’s actually raising the money (and keeping your donors) isn’t well-measured. Because when no one can point to a line on a spreadsheet and say, “Look, THIS is where we raise most of our money, we should do more of this” … then all projects are equal.

And when all projects are equal, the stakeholder with the loudest voice / most passion / highest ranking wins.

Your Nonprofit Needs to Make Hard Choices

Here’s my advice in a nutshell:

Measure and track what really produces your fundraising net revenue.

Then relentlessly focus your resources on doing more of those things.

Be willing to endure some interpersonal conflict in exchange for raising more money and doing more good.

There’s no silver bullet here. For most nonprofits it’s about making hard choices, measuring, and being “sold out” to doing more good – instead of doing what someone thinks is best.

If This Is Your Organization and You Want to Change…

We have one piece of advice for you: measure your fundraising inputs and outputs.

If you don’t already know, figure out how much everything costs and how much everything raises. That’s your preparation for starting the hard conversations.

Data doesn’t always win, but it sure helps. And the practice of gathering and evaluating data is a skill that is incredibly valuable in the nonprofit world.

Final Days of the Sale

Our sale ends in a few days! You can raise more money in 2019, and have more time to focus on important projects, by having Better Fundraising create your appeals, e-appeals and newsletters.

And you can save thousands of dollars.

Visit this page to learn more and fill out a simple form if you’re interested. We’re genuinely excited about how 2018 went for our clients, and would love to work with you in 2019!