'Civility in public discourse is gone. The parties and candidates are at each others' throats. The nation's attention is riveted on an unending volley of insults and accusations."
Sound familiar? That was the lament in 1828 about the presidential race between John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. The Adams campaign fliers, known as coffin bills, accused Jackson of being an adulterer and his mother of being a prostitute.
And in 2012? Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.
Presidential elections may provoke heated supper-table debates, but do they impact fundraising? And if so, what can direct-response marketers do to optimize results during an election season?
The presidential election of 2000 found America without a clear winner for the first time in history. The Supreme Court and the recounters finally confirmed the tally, but the uncertainty held the nation's attention hostage for 36 days, and anecdotally at least, fundraising results dropped precipitously for many organizations (especially in Florida), as people were more engaged with hanging chads than response devices.
Back in 1992, Bill Clinton and Al Gore ended 12 years of Reagan-Bush rule, and many environmental organizations, still aglow from the victory, found their revenue dropped — because their donors figured that with the election, they had won the battle.
If we move beyond anecdotal evidence, there is precious little data to prove whether the presidential fundraising season helps or hinders direct-response fundraising results for nonprofits — either for acquisition or cultivation. According to Giving USA, "the Center on Philanthropy's statistical analysis of total giving and individual giving shows no correlation between rates of change in giving and presidential elections — either the year before the election or the year of the election."
Presidential elections do mean:
- More clutter in the mailbox
- Deliverability challenges
- More competition for funds and attention
- Airtime is more expensive and less available
- Media attention can turn away from causes that nonprofits address (poverty, hunger, international needs, health care research, etc.) and focus more on the horse race.
Here are some smart strategies for election-season fundraising:
Tom Harrison is the former chair of Russ Reid and Omnicom's Nonprofit Group of Agencies. He served as chair of the NonProfit PRO Editorial Advisory Board.