Red, Blue or Indifferent: The Election Changed Fundraising



November 8, 2016 marked a turning point in fundraising in the United States. The unanticipated outcome of the presidential election resulted in a surge in donors. Many organizations adjusted fundraising strategies and are now asking, “what’s next.”

A panel of experts from the Association of Direct Response Fundraising Counsel aimed to answer that question during the 2017 DMA Nonprofit Conference in Chicago in a session titled “Crystal Ball: Whether Yours is Red or Blue, We Have Something for You.” Jennifer Mercer of Thrive Marketing Group, John Mini of John Mini Consulting, Jack Doyle of Amergent and Tiffany Neill of Lautman Maska Neill & Company, shared insights about the factors impacting donor behavior in the post-election world.

The election fell when the demographic and psychographic composition of donors was already shifting. Both “rage donating” and “celebration donating” yielded large numbers of new donors to some organizations, but overall giving remained flat. With more donors aged 85 and older than ever before, there was also an increase in the percentage of younger people giving. Regardless of age, all donors are comfortable with technology and expect the tools used by nonprofits to be easy to use, and work ever time.

The new administration is likely to make changes to the tax structure that will have a dramatic impact on nonprofits. It is unclear whether the charitable deduction will remain as is, or if it will be capped or eliminated. The December 31 deadline for giving might become meaningless, and many savvy donors are front-loading giving to take advantage of current tax code. Many donors are choosing to do this by funding Donor Advised Funds, and charities are finding new ways to solicit these gifts.

The unexpected election results have resulted in charities asking donors to take advocacy positions for the first time. For example, health organizations who previously raised money for research or patient care encouraged donors to call Congress about proposed changes to the Affordable Care Act. And the new messages resonate with donors. Likewise, religious organizations asked donors to take stands on immigration, inclusion and unity, replacing traditional messages.

Finally, progressive advocacy organizations who acquired a lot of new donors in the days after the election are working hard to keep donors engaged. Organizations saw a surge in new donors coming online, as well as new monthly donors, and are using an array of communications (online, offline, text, and social) to keep them engaged. The good news is that organizations are seeing donor activation rates remain high and monthly donors are remaining loyal after six months at a higher rate than seen before the election.

The bottom line from the panel is to continue to communicate to donors through all channels with current, authentic messages that reflects the reality of the post-election world.