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September 20, 2020
Pandemic? Elections? Now's the Time to Plan Yearend Fundraising
By Robin L. Cabral

Robin Cabral 2020
Robin Cabral

The calendar says August, but the end of the calendar year is fast approaching, which means now is usually the time for nonprofits to plan their yearend fundraising campaigns.

This year is no different. But, wait, yes it is.

In an ordinary presidential election year, nonprofits and political campaigns compete for funds, but this year we face an election process quite different from previous ones, a public health crisis on the verge of being out of control, racial injustice, and social unrest. Much of this has strained nonprofits financially, intensifying their need for funds like never before.

It's not your ordinary year, but you still need to plan.

The following recommendations should help you think critically about your upcoming campaign, what it should include, and how to craft your strategy.

  1. Have a plan. And then make another plan. Then plan again. One thing for sure is that this is the year of multiple “back up” plans. Pivoting on a dime. Being agile and flexible, but yet strategic. Develop a Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C, taking into consideration all variables, elements, and possible scenarios.
  2. Make this plan realistic. What we do know is that giving has dropped. The pandemic uncertainty and spike in numbers have caused more economic consternation. Once opened, businesses are finding themselves shuttered and locked down, devoid of activity. The unemployment rate, yet again, took another leap. We are in a recession. Add to that recent history, which shows that people who don't give to political campaigns tend to decrease their charitable giving.

  3. Be sure to plan out the timing of your campaign. October is traditionally the month of election year debates. The first week of November has historically been consumed by election coverage, mailouts, phone calls, and emails. Don’t schedule your campaign mailings to arrive in the few weeks before election day, during major political events, and in the days leading up to the election. Consider avoiding the week after the election because of any political turmoil that may result from what promises to be a tumultuous political year.
  4. Now may be the time to fundraise. Especially if you are a charity focused on the socio-political issues of concern during the election season, including those tied to political causes and key debate issues. Use political debates as an opportunity to highlight your mission and your work. Remember “rage giving” after the last election? “Rage Giving” was a phenomenon first observed as certain U.S. nonprofit organizations began to report surges in their fundraising after the 2016 election, suggesting a growing relationship between politics and charitable giving. Think about “pandemic giving” after COVID-19 first arrived.

  5. Consider donor acquisition through digital and other methods. Especially for charities linked to politically and socially related causes, for which giving tied to elections and movements tends to increase as a result of the spotlight being placed on issues. Become more aware of the main “hot button” debate items.

  6. Consider promoting recurring giving. During and after elections there can be the “election effect,” which drives an increase in recurring donations.

  7. Use October wisely. Consider spending October stewarding your donors and reporting back on the impact of their giving during COVID-19 and in the past year. It will be challenging to get past the noise of the elections. In this highly contentious year, donors may need to feel close to some people who care.
  8. Be ready to “pivot” as needed during this turbulent time. You may need a Plan D or even a Plan E. So, remain flexible and fluid based on how events are trending. The last thing you want is to miss an opportunity to ramp up your efforts or miss the cues that tell you to hold off for a bit.

While no one can say for sure what the fall will bring us, the one thing that you can be assured of is that calendar yearend remains the most popular time for philanthropic giving. And, given that, you must continue to move ahead to create a plan—or plans—that will allow you to meet your goals.

Robin Cabral, principal of Development Consulting Solutions, is a certified fundraising executive who works with mid-sized nonprofits to build capacity and improve fundraising results. Email her at or call 508-685-8899.

August 2020

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