It’s Not Political: How World Events Impact Fundraising

Jay Denison
Jay Denison
Executive Vice President
Founding Partner

It was April, 1980.

I was a young, enthusiastic account manager responsible for a new member acquisition program for a Zoological Society on the eastern seaboard.

We had a solid, proven list plan. A tried and true offer. Flawless execution.

The mailing arrived in home as scheduled on April 24, 1980 – the same day when a bold attempt to rescue 52 American hostages held in Iran ended in disaster. And our membership campaign resulted in less than 10% of our goal.

That was the day I learned that national and international events can hijack even the best laid fundraising plans.

Predicting revenue in an unpredictable world
Despite our methodical approach to budgeting and projections, the world around us simply refuses to be predictable. And that can throw all our finely tuned revenue targets out of whack.

When the Dow slumps over 1,300 points in a month’s time as it did between December, 2015 and January, 2016, fundraisers feel the pain. When the airwaves are held captive by a contentious presidential election, our donors can get distracted.

The best strategy, the best creative and the best execution can be significantly impacted by external events. All too often, many of us as fundraisers forget that we do not operate in a bubble.

The outside world does have an impact – positive and negative – on the great work we all do together.

How can fundraisers protect themselves?
We’ve seen good times and we’ve seen bad times. And while we understand that you can’t control external factors, you can mitigate them. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Keep senior management apprised of the trends, both when they’re in your favor – and when they’re not. Be prepared to deliver a modified message. Take advantage of the digital channel that allows for a more nimble reaction to external conditions.
  • Don’t overreact when times are tough. Many organizations significantly cut back on investment programs during an economic downturn. Those decisions have a long-term impact that can be difficult to reverse. Understand your numbers and the potential impact of investment decisions made today on the future. Those that stayed the course during difficult economic times are reaping the benefits today with a healthy donor file that is delivering increased revenue.
  • Capitalize on opportunities. The most successful groups know that when the wind is at your back it is the best time to be even more aggressive. Results may be up, but that doesn’t mean that this is the time to cut back. Keep pushing, keep growing, continue to innovate and don’t let up.
  • Be agile and prepare to change course. You may not be able to plan for all external factors or events, but you can have an understanding of what levers may need to be pulled or pushed on relatively short notice.

This past year has been filled with surprises – some pleasant, some less pleasant. The outcome of the presidential election and its impact on our efforts to fund important missions is yet to be seen.

It may be a boon, it may not, but the better prepared we are for any eventuality, the better equipped our fundraising programs will be for the year ahead.

To continue this conversation with the team at THD, click here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *