Politics and Charitable Giving (Do Go Together)
With the presidential election fewer than eight months away, fundraisers, once again, are faced with the uncertainty of whether political giving this year will impact contributions to their respective organizations. It’s only natural for nonprofit executives and fundraisers to be nervous about how the 2016 presidential campaign will impact contributions to their organizations—especially when you consider how much candidates seeking political offices are expected to raise.
It’s been estimated that the cost of this year’s presidential election could approach or surpass $5 billion. This means that political fundraisers will be scrambling to raise yet another record amount in political contributions, surpassing the previous record of $4.2 billion raised during the 2012 campaign, according to The Week. During the 2008 election, candidates and parties raised $3.8 billion in contributions.
Presidential hopefuls appear to be launching their campaigns earlier and earlier; placing greater importance and urgency on raising “early money.” That’s why it’s not surprising that in the 2012 presidential election, contributions were being made up to 20 months before Election Day, albeit the bulk of revenue was given two to three months prior.
Party affiliation does not appear to be much of a factor as during the last election an equal percentage of Democrats and Republicans (about 16 percent each) made political contributions, according to Pew Research Center. The difference was in how they gave. Democrats were more apt to give online than Republicans, who continue to prefer more traditional channels, such as U.S. mail and/or telephone.
So what does all this mean to non-political fundraising this year? Should nonprofits expect less revenue from individual donors and/or should they alter the cadence of their fundraising campaigns to work around the peak giving months? To help answer this question, Merkle worked with several large, national nonprofits to compare individual giving in years with and without presidential elections and found that elections appear to have very little, if any, adverse effect on direct-response revenue.
The primary reason, we at Merkle found, is that political donors and traditional donors are different. Political donors tend to be younger, are more likely to be evenly split between men and women, and reside in more diverse and urban communities than the typical person who regularly donates to their favorite charity.
The outcome of our analysis has been reinforced by several other studies, including a recent survey conducted by Campbell Rinker. It concluded that political giving to presidential candidates this year “won’t dampen support for charities,” citing that the vast majority of respondents indicated they would give the same or more in 2016 as they gave in 2015.
The thing we really know for sure is that, on Nov. 4, 2016, Americans will elect a new president of the United States. How it plays out, no one knows. But what is absolutely certain is that nonprofits must remain aggressive in their fundraising, as we can expect that all Americans, including our donors and prospects, will be bombarded with political ads, get-out-to-vote campaign messages and, of course, requests for financial support.
Take this opportunity to advance your fundraising strategies; strengthen your case for giving; evolve your fundraising story—make it more compelling and relevant; and perfect your ability to effectively communicate your message across all fundraising channels and programs. If you do these things, odds are you’ll once again weather this year’s political storm.
Greg Fox is vice president of nonprofit vertical strategy at Merkle. He joined the company in 2000 to establish a data-driven, strategic fundraising agency group. Fox is a 30-year veteran of direct response fundraising, with expertise in developing innovative fundraising marketing strategies and solutions. He has helped raise hundreds of millions of dollars for many of the largest and most respected fundraising brands in America, and while he has broad-based fundraising experience, he is highly regarded as a leader in the national health-charity sector. Prior to joining Merkle, Fox was a founding partner in TheraCom, a leading provider of full-service specialty pharmacy solutions and marketing strategies that served the healthcare and charitable industries. He also served as vice president of direct response fundraising at the National Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, where he started his career and created the organization’s first national direct response program. Fox is an industry thought-leader, frequent speaker at industry conferences and an active participant in the DMA nonprofit federation. He graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va.