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Client Advisory – Annual Giving and Presidential Elections

Every four years, our democracy has the opportunity to elect our next president. An increasingly important aspect of these elections is political campaign fundraising. During our past few election cycles, the fundraising has begun earlier, and the strategies used have multiplied. Each time, our industry has faced increased headwinds when running our annual giving programs. Let’s examine what these election cycles mean to nonprofits and what our organizations can learn from these competitors.

Noisy Environment
The proliferation of nonprofits over the past decade has meant greater competition for everyone. According to the most recent data from the National Center for Charitable Statistics, there are more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations in the United States today. Presidential election years increase exponentially our already prevalent competing appeals. In addition to all that the candidates, their parties, and PACs are sending out, the media is consistently running polls. In order to be successful in these crowded times, it is absolutely critical for organizations to pay special attention to timing, messaging, channels, and data to avoid constituent fatigue.

Annual Giving Strategies

Learning from Candidate’s Techniques

Candidates ask for additional gifts often. Successful candidates ask for additional gifts regularly. This is not a recommendation to become candidate-like in terms of asking for gifts. Candidates run only every four years, and their audience has the potential to change significantly over time. Those in education have a more stable audience and should remember that alumni and parents (to a far lesser extent) have a lifelong relationship with your institution. You don’t want to make a short-term decision that negatively impacts a long-term relationship. That said, there is no need to limit yourself to one solicitation a year. Giving days, targeted initiatives, or crowdfunding projects are all great ways to engage donors multiple times in a year.

Additionally, you can and should develop a strategy for recurring giving—one that focuses on online giving. Reducing barriers to giving is critical. Technology, with multiple platforms and service providers, can help make this possible for even small charities. We know the earlier we can engage someone with a recurring gift, the less we have to worry about the noise from presidential candidates or anyone else.

Presidential candidates are well known for having their key messages and sticking to them, no matter what questions they are being asked. Talking points at nonprofit organizations tend to originate from the mission and vision statements. It is important that your team finds different ways to tell the story, but that the message should stay consistent over time and across channels. Finding people to share their experiences—both donors and beneficiaries—is a powerful way to communicate your case and donor’s impact.
The presidential candidates have figured out the value of cell phones, texting, and social media as communications channels. They also regularly rely on volunteers to make calls and to participate in door-knocking. The most important takeaway from this is the importance of meeting people where they are. Organizations need to build awareness online and remember to utilize volunteers appropriately. Creating online ambassadors to go with your volunteer callers and letter writers is important. Not only do we need to speak the same language as those we hope to engage, but we need to go to where they are to engage them.
Candidates learned that if they could get “likes” on Facebook and people to retweet their messages or share their cell phone numbers (for text updates), they had access to an incredible number of data points on their followers to inform effective strategies. While your organization may not have access to Facebook or other social media interaction data all of these techniques hold true for nonprofits as well. Annual giving needs data to help effectively allocate resources. With limits on time, staff, and financial resources, those places that can focus their attention most productively will make the greatest strides. By tracking past response rates, we can build profiles to help segment, and we can use models to see who within the database has the highest likelihood of taking action like one of our donors.

With Presidential primary season nearly on us, and the 2016 fall general election around the corner, we can learn from the candidates and their strategies. Ultimately, if organizations use the above strategies to keep their messages clear, targeted, and well timed, they can cut through the noise of the season and generate the revenue and donors that our organizations need.

Together we transform philanthropy—contact us at (952) 921-0111 or visit www.bwf.com to learn more.

Originally published December 9, 2015

Copyright © 2015 Bentz Whaley Flessner & Associates, Inc.

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