Dan Thain

Creative Director & Chief Fundraising Strategist

November 23, 2016

Filed Under

Live From London: Let’s Talk About 2016 Let’s Fight Harder And Better

The Election Will Either Make Or Break Your Year-End Fundraising. What Next?

As America deals with the seismic reverberations and social unrest surrounding Trump’s election, most nonprofits find themselves shoulder deep in their year-end fundraising.

They need to stop and think.

This may sound like Campaigning 101, but all successful campaigns start and finish with an understanding of the audience—the insight that drives both strategy and creative.

And when a significant, national moment of emotion happens, it’s fair to say that there’s going to be an impact on how your audience reacts. Tried and true methods may no longer work.

So the key question to answer before continuing your year-end fundraising program is, “How do I make my mission and cause relevant in this moment?”

If the election just made your campaign:

In the week after Election Day, more than 200,000 people donated to Planned Parenthood, and the ACLU raised a record-breaking $7 million. For advocacy organizations that have been catapulted to the frontlines, girding for war, your supporters are lining up.

  1. Don’t hesitate. Even if you haven’t fully baked your plans, put out a call to action again and again. This is when you should be asking for monthly donations.
  1. Plan for growth. You must invest in building the infrastructure and community you need to win four years of fights. So what should your team look like? Do you have enough organizers, donors, advocates? Does geographic spread matter?
  1. Invest in that plan. Once you’ve mapped that out, take your paid media budget, triple it, and then double it again. Triple the number of emails in the hopper and quadruple the number of tests you had planned. Build landing pages for days. Your supporters are hungry for engagement; meet them where they are with conditional content.
  1. Think beyond today’s donors—and how you can pull people onto the non-monetary steps of the Ladder of Engagement. Given the new landscape, where can you find those untapped pockets of supporters? How can you best mobilize your existing supporters to bring in their friends and colleagues?

Cast sleep aside for the next few weeks. Go out and conquer. There have never been more people than now who are willing to support you. You just need to be there for them.

If the election just messed up your campaign:

Charities, foundations, and international humanitarian organizations may find it more difficult to tap into the zeitgeist. If you are seeing response rates falling, or you fear they will, the beauty about online fundraising is that you have the capacity to pivot and rebuild. Here are the first things you should do to get your campaign (back) on track:

  1. Reevaluate your message and value proposition. You need to learn what works, fast. Create 10 hypotheses about the type of content and stories that you can be speaking about—that sit within your sphere of influence. For example, if you are primarily an international organization, what happens if you start talking about your lesser known domestic programs? Take 10 ideas like this and create five pieces of content around them across email, paid, and social. Look at donor conversion rates, acquisition rates, and average gift for each of the content pieces and see if this new reality has made a certain part of your mission more relevant than has historically been true. Take what works, run with it, and drop the rest.
  1. Find out more about your people. If you work for a charity without a partisan slant, understand that not everyone on the list is feeling as elated or as fearful as you are. A divided America means a divided audience that will likely respond differently to topics and tones. So what to do? Run your email file against a third party Voter File like TargetSmart and pull out likely Democrats and Republicans into different constituent groups. Here’s a possible starting hypothesis: Republicans are seeking upbeat messages, and Democrats want to see more serious plans to stabilize the issues that they care about. Either way, data should be your friend here—but you need the right data to make the right choices.
  1. Emphasize the uncertainty. Even if your work isn’t directly mission affected by Trump’s victory, what is clear is that uncertainty is at an all-time high, and effective non-profit programs rely on certainty. That’s a thread you can weave into your appeals—by highlighting the potential impact of shifting societal and economic conditions, you can create a sense of need and urgency.
  1. Send more good email. Impressions and conversion rates are the data points that will help you find “right” faster (see point 1 above) and ultimately raise the dollars that you need. End of year isn’t the time to be timid, and we’re expecting the yearly escalation of email to jump even higher than usual.  
  1. Send less bad email. Nobody wins if you send content that isn’t interesting and doesn’t inspire a response. You should be brave when you are winning and iterating or admitting defeat when you are not. That means threshold testing appeals with a small portion of the list and doubling down on success when you see it. Throwing out poor-performing creative (no matter how hard you worked on it) should be celebrated in the same way you do when you hit a homerun with a message: Treat your audience with respect and integrity, and they will reward you.

It’s going to be a volatile few weeks between now and December 31st, but remember that long-term relationships and lifetime value are the gravitational elements of any fundraising program. Good luck and keep checking back as we update our blog with thoughts and data as year-end fundraising plays out.

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