Our Take on Fundraising in an Election Year

August 20, 2020 - by Lisa Maska, CFRE

Wondering about the impact of the election and the USPS this fall?

If so, you’re not alone!

It’s a big topic here at Lautman. After all, the majority of our fundraising campaigns are entrusted to the USPS to deliver in homes to your donors and prospects. And so we are always looking at what's happening in the world around us, and how it could impact fundraising.

While there are a lot of unknowns this fall — such as the impact of COVID and the fluctuating economy — fundraising during an election year is something we do know about. We’ve been dealing with this every four years for decades, and plan our fall campaigns with the election in mind.

So, what do we know?

Historical results have shown that election years don’t really impact giving for our nonprofit clients. Your donors care about your mission, and they often have in mind what they plan to contribute to you. They may support political campaigns too, but there is a lot of data (including what we see with our own clients) that says that donors make those political contributions in addition to their nonprofit giving, not in place of it.

That’s why throughout the year, our priority is to make sure our clients’ donors feel appreciated and stewarded — by reporting back on the impact of their giving in the renewal mailings we send, and thanking them through special cultivation efforts. We never want to take their giving for granted.

What we do worry about is:

Distraction. One of the factors we worry about is distraction. When something dominates the news for a few days, it can decrease response to anything that lands in mail boxes during that time. So it’s important not to have everything riding on just one campaign. That's why we recommend having several campaigns in the mail throughout the fall, so that if there are any really crazy news cycles/events, we still have other campaigns to help pick up the slack. 

Decision Delay. It’s safe to say this is an election cycle unlike any we have seen before, and there may be the added complexity of the election not being decided by the next morning. We’re expecting that mailed ballots will take longer to process, so it might be some time before a winner is announced. This is another reason why it’s important to have several year-end opportunities for your donors to give.

Delivery. Political mail, like first-class mail, is a different category of mail than nonprofit mail. The USPS is allowed to set aside nonprofit mail in order to process the political mail, which is deemed more time-sensitive, first. So, we plan for some delivery delays in the Fall, but we also balance not mailing holiday-themed campaigns too early.

Some Additional Thoughts on Postal Delivery

The USPS was already struggling with being short-staffed and under-funded as we came into 2020. Then when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, mail volume got lower, but package volume increased. And with the recent changes made by the new Postmaster General, there has been concern about increased delays. It’s clear that lawmakers and state AGs are paying attention and doing their best to ensure that the USPS service is uninterrupted. But there will be increased volume with many voters mailing in their ballots ahead of the election.

There is no reason to doubt that the USPS will be doing its job this Fall, but we have seen evidence of some small regional delays, especially for marketing mail (which includes the nonprofit category).

What can we do?

Choose mail dates wisely. As mentioned above, we don’t want holiday campaigns to arrive too early, but we don’t want them to be too late either. We have chosen mail dates for our clients’ campaigns with deliberate care.

Do some of the USPS’s job for them by delivering mail at the local level. For our meals-on-wheels clients, the mail is concentrated in specific areas, so we have always been able to use the NDC (“national distribution center,” formerly known as the “bulk mail center”) presort that trucks mail from the lettershop to the local NDC. This is the most cost-effective presort that results in the most savings. So, something we’ve always done has the added benefit now of eliminating some of the potential for delay.

Track the mail. We use a tracking service to monitor when the mail is moving through the system and arriving in homes. This is very helpful as we analyze results and make recommendations for subsequent campaigns.

One of Lautman’s Production Directors sits on the Mailers Technical Advisory Council, so we are staying abreast of what’s happening within the postal system. We are also in close contact with all of our industry partners who monitor these issues. These connections, along with what we learn from our vendors, help keep us informed so we can make the best decisions for the mail.

Where does this leave us?

We don’t have a crystal ball, but based on what we do know — we anticipate there could be slightly longer mail delivery delays this election season. But we also know that donors continue to care about — and support — the nonprofits they love. In fact, this spring, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, results for our meals-on-wheels groups are up more than 200%.

Don’t be afraid to ask for your donors’ continued support (by mail and email) from now through year-end.

The one thing that is certain? If you don’t ask, you don’t get.

If you have any questions that we can help with, please let us know! We are happy to chat. You can email us at coop@lautmandc.com.