“Make America Great Again” … And What This Means to Fundraising

Recently, The Agitator shared its thoughts on some of the “by-products” of the 2016 election, noting we all have learned about the “emolument clause” and what it means to have standing in-court cases. The other result of the election? The unprecedented growth in new donors for many nonprofits.

We have all heard about ACLU’s $24 million weekend. Chronicle of Philanthropy reported that National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) added 55,519 new online donors in November and December compared to 4,050 in 2015; Sierra Club acquired 26,000 new monthly donors in November and December – a 16-fold increase over last year; Planned Parenthood experienced a 40-fold increase in new donors in December … and the list goes on.

The Agitator called this flood of new donors “rage” donors. I like to use the term “outrage donors.” The last time we experienced outrage giving was 9/11, but the number of organizations who were impacted was limited. Of course, we have had dozens of disasters, triggering millions of dollars pouring into relief organizations. We all know that, for the most part, those donors did not become long term donors and supporters. 

These new outrage donors don’t look and behave like former disaster donors. So now what? I believe that nonprofits will need to have some serious pow wows with all key members of their senior leadership together with their fundraising and communications teams to strategize very carefully on how to treat and care for these new donors. 

Where to start? For online donors, start with a customized online acknowledgment along with a mailed thank you that is specifically matched to the campaign, online ad, or donation page the donor responded to. Then, move to an online welcome series tailored to what engaged them in the first place.  Remember, these new donors are looking to you to for praise and recognition for their gift to the specific request they responded to.  Which means that emailing them an evergreen welcome series is simply not good enough.

A special note concerning your new donors who gave online: don’t get cheap and think you can save money by NOT mailing to them. Think about all those catalogues you get in the mail: not many of us send in a reply form, but we still enjoy the mailed catalogue.

What about the new mail donor? The same holds true for the mail: start with your acknowledgment and make sure you’re not using an evergreen thank you letter. Use this opportunity to engage and connect again. And this does NOT mean asking for a gift – find another way to engage your new donor. 

What comes next in the mail over the next 12 months is equally important. Segment these new donors and use specific language in the copy to remind them why they gave to you. And keep doing this for at least the next 12 months. Don’t assume if you have received a second gift, you have retained these outrage donors as long-term supporters.

One last note on engaging these valuable new donors: INVEST in them. Consider inviting them to a telephone Town Hall to meet the leadership and give them an opportunity to share their concerns and hopes with your organization’s leaders. If you can’t personally meet these new very special donors, talking directly to them is the next best thing!

Find the money now to start the new donor stewardship by asking a board member or special friend to invest – don’t wait. And, be careful in your FY18 budget planning. Just how long the outrage will help feed the fundraising bonfires is unclear so don’t let your new donors go up in smoke.

What is not unclear is that these new donors and, of course, your loyal supporters want to know that they are making a difference. Remember, it is not just about your organization’s good works, but what your donors have done to enable those good works. Without them, there is no “you”.