You don’t need us to tell you that 2020 has been one of the most tumultuous and unpredictable years in our collective memory. The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, an accompanying economic downturn and a particularly volatile election cycle in the U.S. have created a triple threat of disruption for the philanthropic landscape. Now, more than ever, strategy and creativity are the keys to generating the vital revenue your organization needs.

The problems that nonprofits work to address have not gone away – in fact, charitable work is more important than ever. Global Impact understands this and we are here to help you and your organization prepare for the end-of-year fundraising push in what will be a busy philanthropic marketplace. In this three-part blog series, we will identify trends and strategies for fundraising during an election year, an economic downturn and COVID-19, as well as offer recommendations to apply these lessons to your 2020 year-end campaign.

With the 2020 election less than a week away, our first installment will cover what to expect during an election year and how this election is different from any other we have ever had – as well as how to apply these lessons to your fundraising campaigns.

Fundraising during an election year
It is a common concern that the extensive donations made to political causes during election years will reduce the pool of money available for charitable donations. However, repeated studies have shown this not to be the case. In fact, when it comes to donations, our analysis tells us that a rising tide lifts all boats.

A survey of donors who have made contributions to political candidates shows that many plan to continue to donate to charity in addition to making a political donation. In 2016, 79% of donors said they supported charitable causes and organizations in addition to their political giving.

Why is this? Politics can shed extra interest on certain hot button issues, which can increase the amount of money flowing to these areas. Being politically active and engaged with issues leads to increased donations to non-political topics, as well.

For example, politically engaged voters gave 0.9% more to charitable causes during election year 2012 over 2011, a non-election year. Additionally, in 2012, 21.2 million households donated to charity while only 1.2 million households donated to politics, meaning less than 1% of potential nonprofit donors give to political candidates.

While headline-grabbing, the concept of “rage giving,” or giving in huge amounts to charities in backlash to election results (as seen in the 2016 presidential election of Donald Trump), has not occurred in significant amounts and, in most cases, those contributions were not sustained beyond the initial donation. That being said, a small group of focused progressive causes and organizations (the ACLU, SPLC, PP, etc.) did see increased giving after the election due, in part, to their ability to tie their programmatic work to issues that voters were passionate about.

In 2016, women led the charge in giving leading up to the election and in the increased giving to progressive causes after the election. The week before the election, women gave an average of $1,586 more than men. The week after the election, that figure increased to $3,905. These findings line up with the vast attention that has been paid to the difference in voting patterns between men and women in 2016 and into 2020.

How 2020 is different
Over $3 billion has been raised during the 2020 election  through political candidates and outside sources, nearly doubling totals from 2016. And the race is not yet finished – it is widely expected to be the most expensive election in history. Near-record voting levels are expected, and only 5% of likely voters are undecided, compared to 14% in 2016. With the pandemic impacting nearly every aspect of life (stay tuned to this series for more on this) the American public is as engaged as we have ever been on an election, as evidenced by the historic levels of fundraising and expected voter turnout. We believe this will translate to a high in philanthropic giving at year’s end. 

Year-end recommendations:

  • Understand what drives your donors. The key for nonprofit organizations is to channel the country’s historic levels of enthusiasm. For some organizations, this will require a balancing act of appealing to passionate donors while not appearing overly partisan. For others, a bolder stance may be required. In these cases, fulfilling your mission may demand leaning into political issues and potentially alienating certain donors. These decisions must be weighed carefully but can result in a big fundraising pay-off from donors seeking authenticity and who want to feel like they are making a difference in the world. When making these tough adjustments, study your donor profiles, analyze which campaigns have generated enthusiasm in the past and trust your gut. Your donors support you for what you stand for and will recognize when you stay true to that mission.
  • Focus on women. The share of households where women are the leading drivers of philanthropic decisions has been steadily increasing for the past 50 years. When it comes to election year giving, women play an even larger role. Political activation is positively correlated with increased giving, and this election is driving historic rates of political engagement among this group. Understanding what drives your female donors to support you and focusing on those issues will allow you to develop meaningful engagement that will lead to both long- and short-term support.
  • Don’t stray from your strategy. While giving does increase in election years, keep in mind that it is only marginal. Organizations with overtly progressive or conservative missions have the ability to greatly benefit from an engaged populous, but solely chasing political donors can be a fool’s errand. You likely already know if your organization aligns neatly with politics or not, so don’t sacrifice the things that have brought success in the past while chasing a fleeting boost in donors. Stick with your core strategy through year-end and you may benefit from the increase in overall philanthropic support during an election without having make any direct political plays.

Please keep an eye on the Give Global blog to catch the next two installments of our year-end giving blog series, as well as other fantastic articles full of tips and news from around the field.