How to use the 2019 election to your fundraising advantage

As appeared in F&P Magazine  – Issue #77 – December 2018/January 2019

Dearne Cameron, Pareto Fundraising’s CEO, explains how, in the 2019 election year, your fundraising could get a boost if organisational mission and election issues coincide.

There’s no doubt that charitable giving can be disrupted by external events, like federal elections. And I don’t think we should ever ignore the impact that it could potentially have on fundraising revenue.

But, in my fundraising experience, there’s actually little to be wary of.

Yes, donors can sometimes ‘defer’ their giving pre-election because their focus is on candidates – not causes.

But, I’ve also found that their generosity tends to bounce back quickly once election day is over. And in the long-term, there’s little, if any, adverse effect on direct-response revenue.

In fact, for some Pareto clients whose issues have been in the political spotlight – both in election and non-election times – they have seized the opportunity to raise more money as their mission received more attention than it has ever had before.

How the political climate can work for fundraising

The Pareto team have helped a number of clients convert active media and public engagement with a political issue into strong results on key metrics like advertising cost per lead (low), lead volume (high) and donor conversion rates by telephone (strong). 

In the 2016 election year, we helped Lifeline call for an increase in government funding for suicide prevention. And then worked with them post-election to maintain the campaign’s relevance and lengthen its life.

And in 2017, although outside an election period, we worked with The Wilderness Society to call for a halt on all plans to drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight.

Both of these were highly politicised issues. And both organisations built successful lead conversion campaigns that responded to a political debate with high public engagement. 

But, as we’ve also found at Pareto, your organisation’s mission does not have to be in the public eye to make a difference. You can still take advantage of the political climate by reminding your donors that your not-for-profit needs to keep the pressure on for true, lasting change beyond the election.

Pareto has run successful lead generation campaigns for clients around non-politicised issues that people find interesting – like obscure Australian wildlife – or that carry an element of self-interest – like the impact of their lifestyle on heart health and risk of diabetes.

In fact, at election time, politically-minded donors can be more excited about making donations to their favourite causes, whether the cause is political or not.

The challenge for fundraisers then, is to adapt their messages accordingly so that during an election campaign, their mission becomes more relevant to donors. You can do that by:

– Taking advantage of the political climate and using it to align your program/advocacy and fundraising teams for lead generation and acquisition increase.

– Being agile and flexible to external events and the policy narrative (that’s relevant to your cause) and adapt your message accordingly.

– Plan for different election outcomes so you can respond quickly and relevantly.

For example, if you work with refugees and asylum seekers, what will be your organisation’s response if any political party announces policy aimed at sharply cutting our asylum seeker intake, or launches strong anti-refugee rhetoric?

Lessons we can learn from the 2016 US election

There are vast differences between the American and Australian electoral systems, but there are also valuable insights that we can gain from the 2016 US election.

In the days and weeks following the election of President Donald Trump, charities whose missions were in the political spotlight saw unprecedented increases in charitable giving.

As The Washington Post reported:[1]

 – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) received more than $15 million from 241,000 donors – over half coming in the five days after the election result. 

– Planned Parenthood saw a similar rush of support, receiving over 260,000 donations, with a quarter pledging to be monthly givers.

The pro-environment Sierra Club received 9,000 new monthly donors in the aftermath of the election.

Hundreds of thousands of donors reacted by taking action in response to an election result that they feared would leave many groups and many issues vulnerable.

They opened their hearts – and their wallets – and made donations to not-for-profits that work on behalf of those issues.

And it was the charities that had stayed agile during the campaign – and adapted their messages accordingly pre- and post-election – that reaped the rewards.

They became more relevant to donors than they ever had before.

Be flexible but don’t make major strategy changes

On the other hand, even though it’s critical to be flexible with your messaging during an election campaign, I also don’t recommend that you ever step away from your fundraising strategy.

Despite some donors taking a ‘wait-and-see’ attitude, your fundraising results should remain strong if your case for support is compelling. And you have spent the time building good relationships with your donors.

Yes, Australians will be distracted by the election, but take the opportunity to advance your fundraising strategy:

– Give donors a compelling reason to give

– Share the best stories that you have

– Thank your donors

– Remind donors constantly of the impact of their gifts

– Be consistent in your messaging across all channels.

Importantly, as we learnt from the 2016 US campaign, keep the communication going post-election. Be ready to respond quickly to your donors about any big policy changes that impact the programs and services that your organisation funds.

Our 4 top tips to keep in mind

 1. Remain on strategy. Regardless of the election outcome, your organisation’s work will be just as important the next day. But where you can, take advantage of the political climate when the media and debate are focusing on your issues.

 2. Elections are made for donor relationship building. Emphasise retention and re-activation for recently lapsed donors. And keep it going after the election.

 3. Review your mailing and delivery schedules with your mail house. Consider not having anything arrive in the mail box or inbox in the week of the election.

 4. Consider your DRTV, radio, online or television advertising schedule. In the 2016 election, 75% of all TV ad spending happened in the final two weeks of campaigning[2]. You may not want to compete with that.

In 2019, the federal election will not make or break your fundraising year. The same issues that always affect your fundraising will still be what matters. But, there will be opportunities to take advantage of the election and seize the opportunity to give your fundraising a boost.


[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/inspired-life/wp/2016/11/30/its-unprecedented-in-our-history-after-trumps-election-millions-of-dollars-poured-into-nonprofits/?utm_term=.086c3a23f83d

[2] https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/federal-election-2016-advertising-experts-predict-a-tsunami-of-ads-before-july-2-20160613-gphn6s.html

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