9.18 How Will the Election Impact Our Fundraising Efforts?

Dear Kim:

I am the development director for a community organizing program focused on building a movement to fix up some abandoned apartment buildings in a very poor neighborhood and use them for low income and affordable housing.  We raise money from churches, some unions, individuals and we have some county money.  Recently I have had several people tell me that “other donors” won’t be giving us money the rest of this year because all their money is going into the election, but no one has actually told me that to my face or to any of my board members.  What is your sense of the effect of the election on fundraising for a program like ours? 

~Worry Wart

Dear Wart:

I don’t think anyone really knows what the effect of this presidential election will be on the annual campaigns of nonprofits.  As you know, when all is said and done, at least one billion dollars will have been spent by both parties on just the presidential election, and there are state and local elections also raising millions of dollars.  Historically, people who give to candidates and are involved in electoral politics are either not particularly good givers to nonprofits, or maintain a separate budget for their electoral and their nonprofit giving, and so the cost of elections have not ever had much of an impact on other fundraising.  However, this year could well be different:  so much is at stake and the amount of money dwarfs anything we have seen before.  

Like all giant events, whether tsunamis, earthquakes, elections, wars and all the stuff we have lived through in the past 12 years, what will happen is that some people will stop their regular giving to focus on the crisis at hand, some donors will increase their giving to address the crisis and maintain the groups that are committed to, some will just keep giving to their regular groups and still others will begin giving for the first time.

You need to keep asking.  Make sure you are asking your most faithful, most loyal donors for increases in their giving, that you are respectful of anyone who drops out of giving this year to focus on the elections, and that you continue your acquisition efforts.  It sounds like you have a good diversity of sources and I am hoping your board is involved in helping you.  As the new cliché goes, “Flat is the new up.”  Keep that in mind as you set your goals.  Your work is very important and if you ask enough people, you will raise them money you need.