The 2020 Election Means Your Nonprofit's Job Just Got Harder

Donors are bombarded with requests during presidential elections. Learn how your nonprofit can still raise funds and awareness—perhaps even amplify impact.

February 19th Articles 6 min read
Fundraising in an election year final websitelg

By Eric Ressler

The year has only just begun, but when it comes to political news, 2020 is already off to the races. With an ongoing impeachment trial and the Iowa caucuses as the dramatic backdrop, news cycles are currently dominated by the run-up to the 2020 presidential election. Election seasons are always noisy. But this one is slated to be especially cacophonous. In many ways, the nation has been gearing up for it since 2016. If there’s one thing the entire country can agree on, it’s that the 2020 presidential election has the potential to be pivotal.

It also has the potential to suck up the lion’s share of attention in multiple channels, from social media to email to texting and phone calls. You know, the very same channels your nonprofit relies on to raise funds and awareness. And with individual candidates and political parties bombarding their bases with donation requests, your usual donors may experience donor fatigue. Which means that for the next year, at least, your job just got a little harder.

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The Election Effect: How the 2020 Presidential Election Will Impact Nonprofits

The 2020 presidential election will likely impact nonprofits in several ways, including both challenges and possible opportunities.

Donor fatigue

The first has to do with donor fatigue. As the democratic party narrows in on a presidential candidate, the remaining presidential hopefuls will continue to make frequent appeals for support in the form of donations. The democratic party only recently began pushing for grassroots, small-dollar donations. While effective, this tactic is in direct competition with other grassroots fundraising. Currently, only about 5% of the population donates money to political campaigns. But it just so happens to be the same demographic that already makes small donations to nonprofits.

In addition, with so many potential candidates still competing to head up the democratic ticket, some democrats may receive multiple appeals from multiple candidates. Unless a clear frontrunner emerges after Super Tuesday, this could continue through the first half of the year. After that, democrats will continue to rally their base to make donations in an effort to match President Trump’s considerable campaigning coffers. All of these persistent requests for donations could add up to donor fatigue. And with the election taking such high priority, nonprofits may get the short end of the stick.

Information overload

The 2020 presidential election is certain to clog channels and hog mindshare. From news reporting to political ads and everything in between, the election cycle will make it much harder for your nonprofit to be heard above the noise. Traditional email appeals will have real competition. Texting-based communication programs will, too.

As a result, your usual marketing and communication efforts may not be enough to move the needle. Traditional email appeals will have real competition.

This year more than ever, the pressure is on to deliver a strong brand and messaging in order to stand out and compete.

Spotlight on issues

Election dialogue and debates hinge on issues. From climate change to healthcare to immigration, this year’s presidential election won’t be any different. Of course, only time will tell which issues will take precedence and how they will be framed in debates and in national discourse. However, the issues that rise to prominence could affect your cause either directly or tangentially.

Depending on your organization’s focus and approach, this wave of attention could boost your ability to rally support. This could result in free earned media and mindshare for your issue. It may even be possible to piggyback on the political spotlight that is shining on your issue and leverage it for increased impact.

You must be nimble and pay attention to what’s happening in the election in order to capitalize on these opportunities. For example, when the Dakota Access Pipeline became a national conversation, the Lakota Law Project used the national coverage as an opportunity to grow their list and raise significant funds.

On the other hand, savvy organizations may find ways to insert their issues into the election cycle. For example, March for Our Lives, a youth-led movement to end gun violence, is calling on mayors to sign a pledge to support a youth voter registration initiative. In addition, they recently hosted a debate about guns and invited candidates to attend. With these tactics, March for Our Lives is working to insert their cause into the election.

How to Ensure Your Nonprofit Stands Out in an Election Year

So, what can you do to ensure that your nonprofit doesn’t get lost in the fray during the 2020 election? It may be helpful to remember that there is still more than enough money to go around. The issue is really about attention. Following are a few tips to help your organization stay top of mind.

  • Make your position clear. In a densely crowded playing field, you must have a strong point of view in order to stand out. Make sure your theory of change is well defined and written simply so your audience can clearly understand it.
  • Produce excellent content. Next, it’s time to use your theory of change to tell compelling stories about what you do and why it matters. You need to produce content that shines. Content that shows what’s at stake with your cause and that makes the human impact apparent. And you must also show how your work is benefiting people and the planet. Learn what matters most to your target audiences, segment your list, and craft content that speaks to each group.
  • Make the ask (but provide value at the same time). Of course, you can’t raise the money you need to further your mission if you don’t ask for it. In a situation like this, you may be tempted to operate out of scarcity and fear. Resist the urge to do so. Don’t say, “we need X amount of money now or we won’t be able to meet our goal of Y.” Instead, make the ask confidently — but don't forget to provide value while you’re at it. Keep in mind that donors are more likely to donate money when they see that it will help an organization (or a political candidate) build on existing momentum. Use storytelling to showcase your organization’s successes and back it up with data that shows the measure of your impact.
  • Make your donation experience seamless. Make sure your digital donation experience doesn’t act as a stumbling block in its own right. The experience must be seamless (and perhaps even delightful) to compete with political fundraising platforms like ActBlue and WinRed.

A final parting thought: Rather than viewing political fundraising as your competition, consider viewing it as an extension of your organization’s activities. Depending on your cause, the outcome of the 2020 presidential election may well be far more impactful than the exact dollar figure you raise this fiscal year.

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