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Yes, You Can – and Should – Talk About the Presidential Election in Your Fundraising

This article was written by Ariel Glassman. She is no longer with Ostara, but we want to preserve this piece so that you can learn from her and from the work she did while part of the Ostara team.


The 2016 presidential election has thrown the nonprofit sector a huge year-end curveball. There’s no consensus on how a Trump presidency will affect the nonprofit sector. No one knows what’s next.


But before we can get to what’s next, as a sector, we have to get through what’s now: the month of December, when US nonprofits usually raise 25-30% of their annual philanthropic dollars. Which is why the most common question I’m hearing from client organizations right now is “Can we leverage the election to help raise more money? And should we? How?” 


Sure, political and advocacy organizations are reaping the rewards of charging full steam ahead with election-focused messaging. That makes sense. But where does that leave other types of nonprofits – the arts organizations, the social service agencies, and the education groups – who also need a strong December finish to succeed in 2017?


Some nonprofits are deciding to “keep calm and carry on” with the year-end campaign they planned before the election.  Some are plagued by indecision. If your organization falls in either category right now, here are three reasons why you shouldn’t shy away from talking about the election in your fundraising.


This is what an authentic conversation with your donors looks like right now. In 2016, fundraising is a war of attrition in an attention economy. The best fundraising rides the wave of what’s already relevant to donors, and few things could be more relevant right now. If you’re talking about changing the world without acknowledging the uncertainty the 2016 election brings to the community you serve, you’ll seem tone deaf and out of touch.


Your supporters need to feel like they can make an impact right now. Donors and volunteers give to nonprofits because they want to accomplish something good. You are that something good, and your supporters are awesome people who took action on an issue that mattered to them. And right now, many feel demoralized and lost. They feel out of control. Give them something genuinely motivating to help you with, and their donation will give them back a slice of their agency, and be a force for good. Never forget that your outreach is not a burden to potential donors – it’s an opportunity.


You already have the ingredients you need. How can your messaging highlight the relevance of your mission? Think back to why your donors support you in the first place, and work from there. You already have the tools to make the case:

What do they accomplish by giving to you?

How will your actions continue to serve the community in spite of the fear and uncertainty this election has brought forth?

What would the world look like if the election results compromise your impact and your ability to fulfill your mission?

How can people help ensure that your organization succeeds and continues to provide critical services to the community?


This is an important moment for our sector. Organizations working in every mission space will be impacted by the coming shifts, and many will be more necessary for your communities than before. Art of all kinds will remain critical for dissent and protest. Health care will continue to pose immense challenges to patients, families, and medical professionals, requiring continued innovation to improve health for all. Demand for social services will skyrocket. The list goes on.


Nonprofits are more relevant now than ever. Each of you can contribute your time, energy, and passion towards strengthening the donor base that supports the community at large. You can show your donors where they fit into the bigger picture – that they can take action that matters. And that’s what they need right now.


It’s an honor and a privilege to help organizations take on this challenge. We applaud you for getting up every day to do this work and make change, and we’re with you every step of the way.

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