Engaging Major Donors in a Campaign Year

Engaging major donors is a critical component to any nonprofit’s fundraising success.

BUT, it’s even more critical in an election year.


Think about it this way. Regardless of party affiliation, your best donors are going to be receiving more than two dozen requests via e-mail, direct mail, telemarketing and personal visits in the next three months. And that’s just from the national and state political parties and the individual candidates. If you add in the PAC and Super PAC fundraising efforts, it could be double that level of contact for your major donors.

We don’t expect, based on historical analysis, that there will be much cannibalization for most nonprofits. In many cases these audiences are significantly different than those that support political campaigns and candidates.

However…if your nonprofit is involved in advocacy around a politically significant issue (i.e., the environment, poverty, gun rights, women’s issues, etc.), you should expect your best donors are also on the radar of local, state and national campaigns and PACs.

Given all this, how do you stay top of mind and ensure you’re capturing the highest share of wallet from your best donors at this time?

1. If your issue is political, frame the discussion in those terms. Let your donors know what happens if your programs don’t continue.

2. Get in front of donors early and often. You’ve got the upper hand in the cultivation process because your organization is a permanent fixture in the community. They know you won’t just swoop in to pick up checks during the political campaign then be gone for the next 2-4 years. You’ve been there before the campaign and you’ll be there long after as well.

3. Move key asks up on the calendar. If you traditionally make year-end asks in November/December, move them up to September or October to get ahead of the most aggressive political fundraising season and to protect your organization in case of any legal and political turmoil that might take place related to contested election results.

4. Engage your CEO and Board to reach out directly to all of your most committed donors to express your deep appreciation for their ongoing support.

5. Ask for multi-year commitments to help convey that your work extends well beyond the election cycle.

Now for a few activities you’d be wise to avoid this election season:

6. Avoid advocating for or against any specific political candidate or party. This is called electioneering and can cause you to lose your tax exempt status. Feel free to take positions on the issues, just not on specific candidates.

7. Don’t get political with donors who don’t get political with you first. That is, if you aren’t 100% certain where your donor stands politically, it’s best you avoid the issue. Just because they support your organization doesn’t mean they agree 100% with what you believe. Let them lead you in these discussions, not the other way around.

8. Don’t slow or stop your marketing because you’re afraid donors will be overwhelmed by the extra communication. If you go dark that will only cause you to lose money in the short term and donors in the long term.

Here are some additional donor engagement strategies that will help you be successful regardless of whether you’re in an election year or not.



photo credit: Victor L Antunez via photo pin cc

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