Midterm Elections Are Here– What Nonprofits Can Do To Break Through

November 6, 2018

Tomorrow marks the Midterm Elections in the United States, a time that has always been notable on the political calendar, though, perhaps never as important nor as highly contested as they are this year.

And that’s largely because, for the first time since the 2016 Presidential Election, Americans across the nation have the opportunity to use their vote as a way to say something to the current presidential administration – as a way to express their sentiments of agreement or disagreement with the current national narrative.

In 2018, there seems to be more at stake than ever before; in fact, opposing sides have characterized the positive outcome of the other as a potentially treacherous turning point in the state of our democracy. Everything is heightened in the lead up to tomorrow’s events. And that’s really par for the course for what has been one of the more controversial presidencies of our time, and in turn, a time of changing dynamics for the nonprofit sector.

The New Donor is Here to Stay

Our worlds and the worlds of our constituents have undergone tremendous change. Leading up to, and months following the election of President Donald Trump, the upswing in donations and advocacy became an undeniable force that our sector grappled with – mainly, in how to connect with, and activate both the heightened intent to give and the desire to participate more meaningfully in impacting change. But once fatigue set in, the new challenge became how to continue engaging and motivating when those initial phases of rage subsided, and the threat never seemed move diverse or widespread. That challenge still continues today.

And while, arguably, these changing donor behaviors may have been initiated in response to what happened in the political realm, they are really a much larger reflection of how today’s modern donor is different than the donor we knew three to five years ago, and it’s causing a shift in the way the nonprofit sector operates itself. No longer are the days of donors being loyally committed to a single cause; rather today, threats of all kinds and sizes, and evolving needs, are transforming behaviors and expectations entirely. People want to feel more connected to not only the mission being worked towards at scale, but to their own personal, everyday efforts to impact their communities at a micro level. And that has critical implications for the ways nonprofit build programs, fundraise, and message around both their brand and unique value proposition for their cause.

Breaking Through the Midterm Elections Noise

This year’s Midterm Elections are just another moment in time where all of these changing dynamics are present. And there’s more noise than ever. According to Comcast’s FreeWheel Advertisers, political media spending from May through October is 15% higher than during the same period in 2016. And total political spending is projected to top $5 billion, per research from the Center for Responsive Politics. Though we haven’t seen any doomsday trends that point to revenue being down, what nonprofits do between now through end-of-year will be critical, not just from a revenue standpoint, but from a positioning one too.

So, when the national narrative is charged, and with so many critical causes at play, what is the message donors need from you? And, how can nonprofits combat any potential fatigue?

1. Great Storytelling is Essential – Own Your Story

End-of-year has progressively become less focused on pure direct response fundraising asks, and more about blending in broader storytelling efforts. While #GivingTuesday has, in many cases, become an anchor for those leadup storytelling efforts, providing engaging content and focusing on stronger brand awareness plays are tactics that need to be emphasized throughout the entire year, and end-of-year giving season. Storytelling through social media, email and video content is something many nonprofits have shown great improvement in, but just general storytelling isn’t enough to captivate today’s donor audience. Find the story that your organization can authentically own, and build on it. In the divisive political ecosystem, and with the larger issues around fake news, donors will never be more critical of authenticity than they are today.

What real stories about the people or communities you’re impacting can you collect, and weave alongside your appeals? Who is out there advocating and using their own voice to drive your mission, and how can you use the power of those communities to amplify the collective voice? Because politics today are often criticized for creating rifts in communities, donors look to nonprofits to be the conduit for reconnecting people with people. That’s why it’s important to remember that the organization’s narrative should ultimately come secondary to the stories of how donor dollars directly impact the lives and causes they care about.

2. Maintain Strong Stewardship Efforts November through End-of-Year

Much like after the 2016 President Election, the big “what if” for end-of-year fundraising is the question of whether donors will be in a state of fatigue after this election season comes to a close. While we don’t see any trends that suggest mass fatigue, there will certainly be pockets of your audience that may need a little extra love from your organization to get them re-energized about giving. And for nonprofits that must be in market for Veterans Day, this applies even more, with the height of your campaigns happening so close to the Midterms.

Stewardship efforts are key for mobilizing your supporters throughout the year, but particularly for this year, starting in early November and carrying out beyond Giving Tuesday is important for a successful end-of-year. And, you can start with something as simple as recognition. Say “thank you” and recognize your donors’ contributions in meaningful and personalized ways. Give them access to volunteer or other advocacy-focused opportunities that speak to their own personal motivation for giving back. From a tactical perspective, consider a series of content – whether that be through email or social media – that celebrates donor impact, highlights compelling stories and emphasizes building and maintaining an authentic relationship with your donors.

3. Use Empathy as a Key Ingredient in Tone

Maintaining a sensitivity to tone in your marketing efforts and fundraising appeals is absolutely critical, especially during this time of year. Empathy is key when it comes to engaging people – in fact, the most important thing to remember is that your donors and constituents are people. When you’re building messaging for campaigns, consider these questions: How is my donor feeling right now? What is his or her environment like, and more specifically, what is it like, now? What other external factors are influencing my donor’s intent to give? Making an impact with donors begins with listening to them, and utilizing empathy to build trust and relevance.

Being that Americans have been flooded with election news and scores of political advertising, how does that environment impact their mindset? Keep this in mind as you’re planning for end-of-year campaigns – whether that be through the photography you’re using, the messaging you’re leading with, or the cadence of outreach.

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