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    July 20, 2008

    Fundraising during presidential campaigns: Do or Don't?

    This post does not have much to do with Gen Y, but I figured every once in a while I might as well share useful information that applies to what most of us do every day-fundraise from seniors and the definitely non-Gen Y crowd.

    This year, I am sure many of us are wondering (and my clients certainly have been) how the presidential election cycle might affect their bottom lines, whether they should "do something" or "not do something" during the run-up to the election, and in general, what this flurry of political activity and asking for dollars means for those of us who ask for dollars on a very regular basis, not just every 4 years.

    This week an article in Fundraising Success describes a whitepaper published by Merkle Inc. that took a look at past presidential cycles and clients' revenue from direct mail campaign: "“Examining the Impact of Political Fundraising on Non-profit Direct Mail Performance.” (note clicking on this link will download the actual whitepaper in PDF.)

    Now full disclosure: I work for Merkle and I happened to have helped write this whitepaper (the majority of the work was done by a very brilliant colleague), which is how I know about this in the first place.  I should also note at this point that my blog in general does not represent the views of Merkle, is not an official company-sponsored blog, etc etc, and that during the daytime I am often to be found lovingly scrutinizing results from very traditional fundraising sources, like direct mail campaigns and do not run around forcing my clients to  "Go Gen Y".

    Back to the paper. The basic gist of what we found is that in general, presidential fundraising has no discernable affect on charitable fundraising. Why? For the most part, because traditional fundraising donors and presidential donors are different groups of people. Presidential donors tend to be younger, male, more mobile, disproportionally concentrated in the Northeast.  Traditional charitable donors are more likely to be female, older, lower income than presidential donors, less mobile, you get the drift.  

    Now, there are some fundraising verticals where these groups of people intersect more and there is an impact, like veterans organizations, for example, and I should note that most of the clients we analyzed are fairly traditional fundraisers, so if you are an organization that says targets people under 20 as your main donor base don't come yelling at me that I might have lied to you about how this election would affect your fundraising. But then I'd be really surprised if you were out there dropping direct mail campaigns.

    If you really want to dig into how we did this, what we looked at, etc, feel free to peruse the whitepaper, but really the big takeaways for me from looking at all this data and trying to make sense of it was:

    1) if you were planning to cut back on your DM, don't, you will may end up hurting your program, not avoiding some potential presidential-election induced disaster

    2) if you are worried about this being an "unprecedented" election, raising more money than ever before, so were the 2000, and 2004 elections-both raised "unprecedented" amounts of public funds and in both election cycles we didn't note a significant dip in our client's programs

    3) if you are going to worry about something, worry about the clutter in your donors' mailboxes toward the end of October/beginning of November-especially ones living in so-called "swing" states. Think about timing whatever campaigns you have going out in the mail around that time to not land in donors mailboxes oh say the first week of November. 

    4) remember-looking back at past behavior is a good predictor of current behavior, but the caveat is the analysis was done on direct mail files-this election is unprecedented in its use of the web and getting donors to give that way, so donors are probably skewing even younger this time around, which is good news for this blog.

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