Will #CharitableGiving Suffer Because of the Election?

[Publisher’s Note: This post is part of a series highlighting some of the sessions from the 2016 Association of Fundraising Professionals International Fundraising Conference. This week, I focus on “Giving in an Election Year – How Political Giving Impacts Nonprofit Support” which was presented by Chuck Longfield, Senior Vice President and Chief Scientist at Blackbaud, and Sally Ehrenfried, Blackbaud’s Community Relations Manager.]

 

Since the end of February 2016, the US Presidential candidates and their allied Super PACs have raised close to $1 billion. Some pundits believe that the candidates could spend up to $5 billion before the November General Election. And that’s just looking at the Presidential candidates. Candidates for other offices will also raise enormous sums of money.

The question for the nonprofit sector is this: Will charitable giving suffer because of the election this year?

Democratic Donkey and Republican Elephant by DonkeyHotey via FlickrBlackbaud researched the question and presented the findings of its report in the session “Giving in an Election Year – How Political Giving Impacts Nonprofit Support” at the 2016 AFP International Fundraising Conference.

The study examined the giving behavior of over 400,000 donors during the 2012 campaign year when Barack Obama and Mitt Romney battled for The White House. Researchers looked at giving data about those who did and did not contribute to political campaigns in 2012 and compared the information with charitable giving information from 2011.

Chuck Longfield, Senior Vice President and Chief Scientist at Blackbaud, observes:

Fundraisers have long debated whether or not political fundraising affects charitable giving and, for decades, important fundraising decisions in election years have been based largely on the conventional belief of a fixed giving pie. The study’s overall assertion is that political giving during the 2012 election did not, in fact, suppress charitable giving. Donors to political campaigns continued their support of charitable causes.”

According to the study, donors who gave to federal political campaigns in 2012 gave 0.9 percent more to charitable organizations in 2012 compared to 2011. By contrast, donors who did not give to political campaigns reduced their giving to charities in 2012 by 2.1 percent. These data findings held true across all sub-sectors as well as the demographic segments of age range, household income, and head of household gender.

The report acknowledges that the data paints a picture of 2012 without providing a prediction for 2016. More research is needed. Nevertheless, based on the Blackbaud report and multi-decade data from Giving USA, it’s likely that political giving will not negatively affect the nonprofit sector this year.

In the Foreword to the report, Andrew Watt, President and CEO of AFP, wrote:

What we are looking at is the giving of individuals who prize [civic] engagement — who see community action as a positive and who are interested in the full political and social spectrum of how we go about achieving change.”

The report supports Watts’ point:

We would expect that nonprofits involved in missions and programs touched by prominent campaign issues would benefit from political discourse on those themes. We would also expect that nonprofits focused on public policy advocacy would benefit most. These expectations are fulfilled in the increased giving to Public and Society Benefit, and Environment sub-sectors.”

However, increased giving was not limited to those two sub-sectors. Most other sub-sectors also saw gains, though those gains were not as large. This is a positive sign for the nonprofit sector in general.

For 2016, the report offers five key recommendations for the nonprofit sector:

  1. While alignment of campaign issues, organization mission, and programs can be a good bet, decisions about new donor acquisition, and reinstating intermediate and long-term lapsed donors should be based on an assessment of the aggressiveness of 2016 campaign fundraising and the status of consumer confidence heading into the fall.
  2. This study illustrates a clear connection between passion for a cause and contributions, and nonprofits should use 2016 as an opportunity to align their advocacy and fundraising teams internally toward shared goals.
  3. There is much to be learned from political campaign fundraising tactics. In 2012, Barack Obama’s campaign galvanized supporters through opt-ins, segmentation, and personalized outreach, so nonprofits should take heed and look for opportunities to rally advocates around their cause.
  4. Pay attention to major donors whose engagement in politics is known, especially if an organization’s mission and program has relevance to the elections. Donors who give to political campaigns while increasing nonprofit support provide clear evidence of their capacity by doing so.
  5. For general fundraising, continue to emphasize retention by cultivating existing donors and reinstate recently lapsed donors.

To download a free copy of Blackbaud’s report Giving in an Election Year, click here.

So, what do you think? Are you finding fundraising to be more difficult, easier, or about the same this year?

That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?

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