12.01.2016 Strategy and Design

Is November 2016 an Outlier or the New Normal?

For many, this election cycle and the subsequent aftermath has been a rather unsettling, tumultuous experience. I’m still processing and mapping out what’s next and where to focus my personal resources – but in the nonprofit space, there has already been much conjecture about what this new administration will mean for the industry.

David Callahan wrote up some thoughts for Inside Philanthropy, and among his predictions he listed philanthropy influencing society more and centrist donors rallying to save what they value in society. He states, “we’ll see a wave of funder-backed initiatives aimed at bringing more civility and unity to public life.”

It’s only been a couple weeks, but some of those predictions are coming to fruition.

There has been an immediate urge from half of the country to do something to counter the results. And many spoke with their wallets for causes they want to preserve in a world of unknowns.

In the days following November 8th, individuals came out in droves to fiscally support organizations that serve society’s vulnerable and disenfranchised citizens. Environmental groups saw a spike as well, since our president-elect has said things that indicate he does not view climate change as an issue that warrants action.

For several organizations, the spikes in website traffic and donations in the days following the election exceeded totals from December 31st. If you’re up on your fundraising trivia, you know that’s practically unheard of, save for the instance in which giving swells after a natural disaster.

In fact, this recent surge in philanthropic giving looks similar to that of disaster giving. It’s a clarion call. People felt - and continue to feel - a need to take action and harness control in a world that presents them with so many uncertainties.

Personally, I signed up as a monthly donor to two organizations post-election, and already their autoresponders reflect timely messaging, including what their needs will be moving forward. This immediacy to respond in a way that lines up with my motivations wasn’t just good planning and foresight, it is the new norm and the expectation many users have when they invest money in a cause.

The question is, will this surge in giving follow the model of disaster relief and begin to peter out, or has it become the new normal for a least the next few years? How this new wave of supporters gets treated - how you thank them for their support and engage with them moving forward - could impact their commitment for years to come. How can you keep that charitable fire alive in your hundreds of brand new donors and incite them to action in the future?

Here’s what we’d suggest as a start:

On-boarding. These new donors deserve more than an autoresponder before getting folded into your normal communication stream. Use a welcome series to let them know that you will not let them down, share the ways you will put their dollars to work, and highlight additional ways they can get involved in your mission. Offer opportunities for volunteering, or ways they can get involved at the local v. national level. Provide tangible ways they can take action to feel they are active participants and not just a checkbook to you.

Communicate with them. Just like in any relationship, communication is key. Now more than ever, in part due to the degradation of truth during the election, people are fact-checking and they want to know that you are using funds efficiently. So tell them. Include links to your Charity Navigator profile for full transparency. Send updates where the sole purpose is to report back on what has been accomplished. Nothing makes the donor experience more unsatisfactory than giving to an organization that never closes the loop with you. If you meet a goal, let your new supporters know. If you pass a major milestone for an advocacy effort, let them know. People want to be part of a story, and lack of communication is a leading cause for disengagement. Assume that everyone who donates in the early stages of your campaign wants to know the impact of their gift, regardless of whether that happens months, or even years later. You have more to lose by not sharing this news with them, regardless of how long it takes for your campaign to come full circle.

Don’t be afraid to ask. Monthly donors are the holy grail of supporters for nonprofits. This type of giving makes it easier for organizations to budget when unexpected expenses arise or funding gets cut. So make a strong case for ongoing support and share the long-term impact that it has on your organization and the communities you serve. Some organizations are making monthly giving the focus of their call to action on their site and deploying lightboxes/pop-ups to promote it. This is the exact situation where a lightbox makes sense: it’s timely and relevant to something happening in our lives. People feel motivated to help right now and monthly giving is the most effective way to support missions that matter to them.

Thank them. While telling supporters all the wonderful ways you are working towards making a positive impact is great, it’s ultimately all possible because of them, and they need to know that. This extends beyond personalizing that autoresponder – emails get deleted in a swipe – but consider supplementing that autoresponder with a mailed thank-you note (or test it on a small subset of your file, anyway). Some data suggests that contacting donors through more than one media channel increases giving levels. It can go a long way.

There is no silver bullet for donor retention, but one way to avoid losing these first time/renewed supporters is to engage with them and make them part of the conversation. Offer ways for everyone to participate, either virtually or on the ground. Individuals are looking for what’s next, what can they do to help, and how they can be a part of the solution. Everyone is listening. How are you going to show up for them?

It’s hard to say at this point what we will make of November 2016, whether it will be a statistical anomaly that we exclude in future budget planning, or whether it will be the new norm. Election aside, I hope that you take these principles and reexamine what you have planned for year-end. Tweak the messaging to reflect the new landscape as needed. Determine if your social strategy needs to be revised. Take steps to make your supporters feel more included and part of the narrative. I don’t have any concrete answers. I don’t think any of us will for a while. What I do have is a strong desire to see us all succeed.

At ThinkShout, we are fortunate to be able to help many causes doing important, valuable work on behalf of those in our society that need it the most. My hope is that you can take some of the recommendations I’ve shared and put them to use to help elevate your engagements with your audiences and take your messages even further, for the betterment of the world we all share.

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