We’re all biting our nails thinking about the election. Don’t forget to be in touch with your donors.
All eyes have been glued to the screen these past few days, as an anxious nation tracks the latest updates in the 2020 election. Chances are, the people who support your organization are themselves clicking and scrolling and fretting about the future, even now.
What message, if any, should you be sending your supporters in this fraught moment?
In a politically charged climate, it can be hard to find the right tone, or know which toes shouldn’t be stepped on. For organizations that are reluctant to be perceived as explicitly political, it’s tempting just to sit this one out, wait for the dust to settle. We might find ourselves echoing the indecisive mutterings of T.S. Eliot’s Prufrock, “And should I then presume? / And how should I begin?”
One question at a time, J. Alfred. First, you should definitely presume to message your donors right now.
Why? To paraphrase another famed poet, the one and only Ray Charles, (Election Time Is) the Right Time. Not to be with the one you love, per se, but to remind your donors that you’re thinking of them, that your mission remains urgent, that their support makes all the difference.
But what about attention fatigue, you ask. Aren’t people sick of being talked at, cajoled, strung along? No doubt. But by the same token, a highly charged election serves to fire up people’s political convictions. It turns their imaginations towards the future and the promise it holds—or the doom it foretells. And having animated their convictions and their imaginations, it might also awaken in them a desire to take action as well.
In other words, it’s quite likely that your donors are already primed to give, because of all the election coverage. No better time to sell drinks than when the crowd is thirsty.
So how should you begin? Here are a few ideas:
- For starters, make sure to sound like a person, not a political action committee. Issues are divisive, but feelings are bipartisan. A little bit of the Straight Talk Express about feelings of weariness, apprehension, hope, etc. goes a long way. Digging into the finer points of the Pennsylvania vote count does not.
- The segue is your friend. No, I don’t mean those motorized personal transporters. But with a nimble sentence or two you can swiftly pivot from election talk to your core mission. (e.g. “Basic counting isn’t just difficult for the Nevada elections commission—it’s also a problem for the underserved children struggling with numerical illiteracy whom we serve every day!”) Start by identifying a problem in the world, then make the problem your own.
- Negative partisanship is the only reliable horse in the stable. It’s pretty clear that one of the main factors driving massive turnout in 2020 was not so much love of either candidate than fear of what the opposition would do.
Our imaginations are much livelier when it comes to envisioning threats rather than promises, and so people tend to vote against things, not for them. Use this to your advantage. What are you against? What will your organization put an end to? While nonprofits are often understandably reluctant to forsake “positive” messaging, the fact remains that fear trumps hope when it comes to motivating action.
The bottom line is this: It’s almost always a good idea to be in front of your donors as much as possible . . . especially in turbulent times. Remind them of what the problem is, how your organization solves it, and how they can (and do) help. And, of course, provide a link to your donation page.