We have never seen a year quite like 2020. That’s putting it lightly.

A global pandemic. Civil unrest across the nation. Record unemployment. Protests for racial justice. An economy in recession.

If that wasn’t enough to keep nonprofit marketers and fundraisers up at night, there’s that pesky little presidential election coming up in November, too.

But, in the midst of these troubling times, we’re here to offer some good news: The 2020 election most likely will not dampen charitable giving.

That may seem like a bold statement – given all that’s happening across the world – but it’s the truth. Both our experience and independent research have shown that presidential fundraising simply comes from a different pocket than donations to charity.

There are, however, a few things to consider when it comes to your marketing strategy this fall. In this blog post, we’ll go over:

Looking back for insight ahead

In the months leading up to the 2016 election, Blackbaud published a report titled “Giving in an Election Year: How Political Giving Impacts Nonprofit Support.” The research provides an extensive look at the issue based on the data of 400,000 political donors from the 2012 election.

That’s very much in line with what we typically see during elections.

But the most surprising finding was that donors who gave to federal political campaigns actually gave more to charity that year (+0.9%). Donors who did not give to political campaigns gave less to charity (-2.1%).

Still, the unique nature of the 2016 election season left plenty of skeptics. Would 2016 break the mold? Would charities suffer as attention was fixated on the heated, polarizing presidential campaign?

When all the dust settled, we saw that charitable giving held its ground. Donations to nonprofits continued their steady year-over-year rise, increasing by 2.7 percent from 2015 to 2016.

There were some notable trends that stood out. For example, the “Trump bump” and “rage giving” were real trends for many left-leaning, advocacy-oriented organizations in 2016, particularly among female donors.

While election years typically bring unique trends, especially in marketing innovations, donations to nonprofits will continue to come in for those who ask.

What’s different about 2020

From the 10,000-foot level, most nonadvocacy, cause-based nonprofit fundraising will run steady through the 2020 election. When we dip below the clouds, we can begin to see how the landscape looks a little different from prior election years.

From protests to the pandemic, there is certainly no shortage of variables that could shape trends this election year. We can expect that donations to nonprofits on the front lines of COVID-19 (like food banks) will see big jumps in giving this year. Social justice organizations will also likely see a bump up in donations.

However, trust is a big challenge that nonprofits may not even realize.

We’ve written about how nonprofits are earning back trust during the pandemic, but there is still a long way to go. And Rohit Bhargava, author of “Non-Obvious Megatrends,” tackled this issue more recently during his virtual keynote session at the 2020 Bridge Online Conference.

Bhargava said we are dealing with a modern believability crisis. In a world of marketing saturation, fake news and alternative facts, people don’t know what or who to trust.

They want to look to nonprofits and believe in their missions. They want to help make the world more humane, just and compassionate.

But they’re just not sure about your organization.

How nonprofits can prepare

What can nonprofit organizations do about this?

Angel Aloma, the Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of Food for the Poor and recipient of the Max Hart Leadership Award, has some great advice to keep in mind. He says that people in times of crisis want something they can count on and believe in – they want to feel good.

This is how nonprofits must bridge the trust gap and stand out during the election season.

You’re doing good in the world, and you can make donors feel good about their contribution to your cause.

Make sure your messaging reflects how donors are changing lives. Highlight the positives of your mission, in contrast to the negative campaign ads.

Speaking of advertising, you should also prepare to change your approach in digital media. As we near the election, campaign spending will skyrocket in this area. This leads to an increase in costs to bring in donors and gifts online.

As your share of voice goes down, here are some adjustments to consider:

  • Increase your digital media budget to fight through the noise in September and October
  • Dial back your telemarketing fundraising during this same period (but don’t stop thanking mid-major donors via the phone if you’re not asking for money)
  • Shift your focus from widespread prospecting for new donors and toward narrowing in on high-performing specific segments
  • Quickly ramp up your budget, starting on Nov. 4, as the election spigot turns off

We can expect some ebbs and flows in fundraising in the coming months, but it’s crucial to stay in the game. This is no time to pull back fundraising efforts.

2020 has been rough, but we know that organizations that reduce their fundraising budgets in the short term will see a negative impact in the long term.

Therefore, the challenge is not where you should reduce your spending budget to weather the election. It’s how can you adjust and adapt to maximize the current circumstances.