Presidential Election Years Mean Louder News Cycles. Here’s How Fundraisers Can Cut Through the Noise
Election years can be challenging ones for nonprofit fundraisers, and some are already bracing for an uphill climb. In this polarized time, fundraisers need to work with caution, says Laura MacDonald, principal of Benefactor Group, a fundraising consultancy. “It’s too easy for an organization to even unintentionally say the wrong thing, take a wrong action, and inadvertently alienate some subset of their donors.”
What’s more, donor attention is at a premium. Donors who give to charity also typically give to political campaigns, says Eric Reif, senior vice president of paid media at consulting firm Blue State. “It’s just more battling for donors’ attention and donors’ dollars.”
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Election years can be challenging for nonprofit fundraisers — and some are already bracing for an uphill climb.
With polarization at a fever pitch, fundraisers need to proceed with caution, says Laura MacDonald, principal of Benefactor Group, a fundraising consultancy. “It’s too easy for an organization to even unintentionally say the wrong thing, take a wrong action, and inadvertently alienate some subset of their donors.”
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What’s more, donor attention is at a premium. People who give to charity also typically give to political campaigns, says Eric Reif, senior vice president of paid media at Blue State, a consulting firm that works with political campaigns, nonprofits, and companies. “It’s just more battling for donors’ attention and donors’ dollars.”
Some fundraisers worry that political campaigns will win dollars that would otherwise have gone to charity. Others disagree, saying aggregate giving to charity generally continues to grow in election years.
“Donors make choices based on where they see the need, and if there is both electoral need and other need, they will give to both,” says Matt Derby, a partner at the fundraising consulting firm M+R. “Speak to your audience about the need, and if you demonstrate that well, the competition isn’t between you and Joe Biden’s campaign.”
Not only do fundraisers need to be better communicators during election years, but they also need to be better planners — especially when it comes to scheduling social-media ads. During presidential elections, Meta steps up scrutiny of all Facebook and Instagram ads that touch on social and political issues — as nonprofit fundraising appeals often do. Experts say Meta’s added scrutiny slows down the approval process. It can also label nonprofit ads as political or social speech — whether or not they actually are.
“Organizations that are apolitical could find their content being flagged as one of these topics that is monitored more closely,” says Tony Morain, vice president of communications at Direct Relief, a humanitarian-aid charity. In November, Meta flagged a Direct Relief ad about the anniversary of the 2018 Camp Fire as political because it referenced the fact that climate change accelerates the risk of wildfires.
This broad definition of political and social speech means Meta’s freeze on new political ads before the election will likely affect most nonprofits, Derby says. “Have your creative and ad audiences set up long before the election, and be prepared to not be able to launch anything new until after the election is over.”
In 2020, that freeze lasted longer than anticipated because it took days to determine the winner of the election. Many nonprofits begin year-end fundraising drives in November and would typically launch new ads then. In big election years, Derby recommends nonprofits have any ads they plan to run in mid-November through Meta’s approval process by the start of October.
Good planning helps any kind of appeal succeed. “Schedule your calendar so that you’re not trying to reach your donors in a meaningful way in the last couple of weeks of October and the first week in November,” MacDonald says. Staking out quieter moments before or after the election will help fundraisers get their message heard.