Navigating the storm

January 26, 2017

In the first few days of the Trump administration, signed executive orders have already presented some decisive challenges to the mission, vision, and values of many nonprofits nationwide. Federal funding for the environment, the arts, social justice, community development, and humanitarian causes is also likely to be on the chopping block – as is the question of the future of charitable tax deductions.

Whether these developments have left you personally angry and concerned, or whether this austere, conservative approach to government is what you prefer: These developments will affect fundraising at your nonprofit organization.

If you’re a large national or regional nonprofit with a purpose that’s squarely in the crosshairs of these sweeping political changes, you’re likely to experience increased donations from your current donors, as well as new donations from people who see your organization as a conduit for fighting back. And even if you’re not in the crosshairs now, a day may come when you suddenly are – a day for which you need to be ready.

If you’re a smaller, local-service organization, or have a mission that’s outside of today’s overwhelming political discourse, fundraising might become temporarily tougher because your cause isn’t front and center in the news cycle. It will be easier and more appealing for many people to make donations in support of the giant issues at stake, while assuming that someone else will continue to feed and support the local homeless family for a while, or keep working to save the wild salmon in the local watershed.

Here’s what we do know: Emotions are running high nationwide, and emotions and psychological forces are heavy drivers of fundraising response. While passion and anger can be very powerful motivators for giving, apprehension, fear, nervousness, and helplessness can often be de-motivators. All of these emotions are at play right now.

Here’s what we don’t know: Will giving rise as people are galvanized to do more, or will it soften as people take a pause to work through their emotions and decide what to do? Will average gifts rise or will giving be spread out over more organizations, shrinking the overall revenue at each? (We’ve already seen some anecdotal evidence of greater participation and smaller average gifts in recent campaigns.)

You must be prepared.

  1. Be prepared for revenue fluctuations compared to your budget and have a plan of action for attempting to make up for any lower revenue results.
  2. Be prepared to maximize new donor participation should you experience a surge in giving. Ensure best practices are in place, cross-channel communication plans are solid, and messaging is clear.
  3. Be prepared for an urgent, emergency fundraising or action alert response. Ensure that your printers, letter shops, digital teams, and creative teams are at the ready to deliver a quick response to threats. Ensure that leadership, communications, and fundraising are working as a team, fully in lock-step with each other.
  4. Be prepared to wait. Don’t let your emotions and concerns get the better of you. Don’t go into public crisis mode until it’s actually a crisis. At that time, urgency, passion, and action are critical. But before that time, it risks falling on deaf ears or wearing your constituents out on your message too soon.
  5. Be prepared to steward. With so many new donors coming into organizations, and with more voices than ever demanding attention from prospective donors, building relationships and retaining them will be key. See our posts from January 10 and January 12 for some ideas on keeping donors engaged with your organization instead of watching those dollars shifted to other organizations that are talking to them more often and more effectively.
  6. Be prepared to claim your importance. So maybe you are the local symphony, zoo, or educational organization. Even in these trying political times, what you do matters – and perhaps it matters even more to keep people connected to the full richness that life has to offer. Review your messaging and ensure that it’s passionate and resonant for these times.

No matter what challenges or opportunities arise in this uncertain political climate or any other, you want to be sure that you’re ready to act and that your organization continues to thrive and serve.