The Catholic Fundraiser

Tips to Use and Habits to Lose: How Election Years Affect Nonprofits

Posted by National Catholic Development Conference on 4/6/16 10:41 AM


Joan Garry, a nonprofit consultant, wrote an article recently on her website ( entitled: Are People Giving to Candidates Instead of Causes? In the article she decided to seek the advice of others by posing the following question: “In Presidential election years, donors have another outlet to make a gift. What steps can nonprofits take to drive donations in 2016?”

Joan received some interesting advice, which is the foundation of this month’s Habits to Lose and Tips to Use.

Lose It!

Jennifer McCrea, CEO/Co-Founder of Born Free Africa recommends that we move away from a mindset of scarcity, which places our charities in competition with everyone else seeking financial support. Her point is reiterated by Kerry Robinson of the Catholic Roundtable. Kerry encourages us in her book, Imagining Abundance, not to look at the world and see limitations and obstacles, but instead, believe our missions are transformative and can make a positive impact.

Henri Nouwen said it this way, “Every time we approach people for money, we must be sure that we are inviting them into this vision of fruitfulness and into a vision that is fruitful.” And, of course, Jesus told the Apostles to cast their nets just one more time, after they had caught nothing all day. We all know how abundantly successful that fishing campaign was.

Use It!

Amy Sample Ward, CEO of NTEN suggests using the politically charged issues getting media attention as an opportunity to highlight how the mission of your organization is addressing these issues effectively. In other words, don’t be as concerned about what the politicians are saying about the issue as telling your constituents, your donors, your publics what your institution is doing about the issue. How does your mission address this issue? What are the outcomes of your efforts in this regard?

Lose it!

In a Presidential election year, many fundraisers change what they are doing in order to adapt to the additional variables identified with all the campaigning. Some build decreases in anticipated income into their budgets. Others change one or more of their normally scheduled direct response campaigns. Others simply shake their heads or fret a little more than normal.   

Seth Rosen, an associate with Joan Garry Consulting, suggests that, “nonprofits should not be doing anything different during a Presidential election year…”  Deciding to communicate less with our donors because we believe their mailboxes, both electronic and front porch, are saturated with political mail can be a mistake. This decision can actually be more of a cause of reduced revenue than, perhaps, the losses we are accrediting to the election year campaigning itself.

Use it!

Pamela Grow, a fundraising coach, warns us not to become “overly concerned” about the competition for donors’ dollars during the time of the presidential campaigns. Grow boldly states, “I’m not concerned because I don’t believe in competition. I don’t think anything can trump anything as committed as enthusiastic, impassioned giving, really.”

Henri Nouwen said it this way, “Fundraising is proclaiming what we believe in such a way that we offer other people the opportunity to participate with us in our vision and mission. Fundraising is precisely the opposite of begging.

When we seek to raise funds we are not saying, ‘Please, could you help us out because lately it’s been hard.’ Rather, we are declaring, ‘We have a vision that is amazing and exciting. We are inviting you to invest yourself through the resources that God has given you — your energy, your prayers and your money — in this work to which God has called us.’” (Spirituality of Fundraising)

Lose It!

Several of the responders as well as others who commented on the posting spoke about being more, not less assertive, in a Presidential election year. While the presidential election process can be a huge distraction, it should not distract us from proclaiming our missions, telling our stories and telling our donors how vitally important they are to what we are about.

Use It!

Observe and study the political strategies used during a Presidential election year to forward a candidate’s or a party’s agenda. It doesn’t matter if we like what they are doing or saying. Some candidates have already dropped from the race. How did they lose their momentum?

We can learn much from the Presidential campaigns about how to build excitement and create support. Pamela Grow recommends that fundraisers subscribe to candidates’ emails. See what works and what doesn’t work so well. Listen to what gets attention and what doesn’t, and how they continue to promote the core values of their vision through the media.

In 2008, then candidate, Barack Obama, revolutionized campaigning by creating a virtual community of support through social networking. No candidate had ever done this before, or at least not to the extent of the Obama campaign. Most of us can still remember watching him text on his phone to his supporters during the Inaugural Parade almost eight years ago. He created a volunteer and giving network electronically that was never before seen in the political arena.

You could go to his site and get the latest information and a “personal” message from him, as well as click to learn how to learn more or advocate for certain issues. In fact, there was even a page of how to throw a party to support the candidate with step by step instructions and links to everything needed to make the party successful.

That virtual community grew into a unified political movement that created excitement and enthusiasm around the candidate and the whole election process. Do you have a “how to hold a party in support of your mission tab” on your website or donor page? If you don’t, it might be worth thinking about.

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Topics: Tips to Use & Habits to Lose

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In this weekly blog we share tips, tactics and case studies for professionals in the Catholic fundraising community. Learn how to advance your mission with articles on technology, donor engagement, nonprofit leadership, social media, and emerging trends.

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