With nearly $16.7 billion spent, the 2022 midterm election is the most expensive midterm in US history.  But the story of the midterm is not just one of expenditure, it’s also one of unheralded donor support.  According to reports, the recent election mobilized more small-dollar donations than any other midterm to date.

While there is data that donors (especially small-dollar donors) are likely to fall off this December, midterm fundraising points to a potentially different outcome.  2022 donors –  when engaged and asked — will respond at moments of perceived need. As we look ahead, there are some key lessons that nonprofits and causes can take from our campaign and political efforts and apply to their own end-of-year campaigns.

Know which donors are committed and who is still exploring.

As campaigns reach the final stretch, many shift their focus from reaching swayable voters to ensuring the turnout of committed voters. For nonprofits and organizations fundraising in December, we should be making a similar shift.  While fundraising messages throughout the year may be focused broadly on cultivation and telling the stories of impact, December is time to reach the committed and get out the vote… er, get out the giving. 

Data backs up this strategy. According to new Blue State research, going into December, two out of every five donors have already decided on the causes they want to support. This trend is most pronounced with those over the age of 55 where at least 60% of donors say they’ve made their giving decisions at least a month in advance. They’ve made their decision — and our focus should not be to convince, but rather, to make it as easy as possible to donate. 

Q: When do you typically decide which charities to give to?

And while older donors may already be committed to a set of causes, for donors under 55, up to 60% make their giving decisions in the last few weeks of the year. That’s actionable too!  

While older or more dependable donor segments may benefit from messaging to renew or fulfill their annual donation, younger donors may be better moved by matches, urgent need,  and personal appeals. Reaching these “swayable” donors by 12/31 should be a priority for a more omni-channel push from email, but also SMS and paid, supported by social media.

Lead with tangible impact and need.

While there was a lot on the line this midterm cycle, for many Blue State campaign clients, we found the donors were responsive to more specific requests. Fundraising around general or more existential challenges tended to underperform versus fundraising focused on local issues or tangible giving such as launching a specific media buy or purchasing yard signs in an important district.

For nonprofit clients, we should aim to be as specific as possible with our fundraising appeals. At a time when up to 17% of donors are saying they will give less because of economic factors, causes cannot rely on generalized fundraising requests to inspire and convince donors to give. 

Don’t give up on small donors.

While a number of reports have pointed to a reduction in small-donor fundraising after Covid lockdowns ended, the most recent midterm points to a far different result – donations under $200 are booming. According to data from OpenSecrets, the campaign finance monitor, the 2022 midterm election was one of the most expensive on record –  powered by a historical windfall of small donors.  Donations under $200 increased nearly 23% since the 2018 midterm.

For nonprofits heading into December, don’t sleep on small donations. While the trend in the industry continues to be increased focus on midlevel and larger donations, midterm fundraising suggests we shouldn’t give up on small donors.  After all, no fundraiser would say no to double-digit growth during end-of-year – especially amidst inflation and other macro-economic factors.  

To maximize the value of small-donor cohorts, nonprofits will need to communicate that every donation – regardless of amount – is vital to fulfilling their missions. The “chip in” messaging leveraged by political campaigns has proven largely successful and may have a place in your end-of-year program. Additionally, campaigns that prioritize participation over a specific dollar amount may help small-dollar donors feel their support is meaningful. Smart segmentation and donation form experiments for small-dollar donor cohorts will be critical to balance competing demands.  

While small donors may not make or break an end-of-year fundraising campaign, ensuring these audiences are engaged and see their support as meaningful will lead to continued loyalty – and, as we saw in the midterms, can be a foundation for resiliency and revenue growth amidst a challenging economic climate.

Don’t be shy (or boring). Attention and inboxes are stretched to capacity.

Many nonprofit organizations saw disappointing online fundraising results in October while the midterm fundraising hit the final stretch. While Google’s pilot around political emails likely drove inbox saturation for many individuals, the midterm crunch likely mirrored the inbox competition many organizations will experience on December 31st.  

The campaigns and causes that were able to break through were those that tested a variety of senders and asks and didn’t shy away from offering clear and urgent funding requests to their audiences.  

Put the piece together before December 31st.

The fundraising forecast for December is unclear with many mixed economic signals.  

While many donors have already made up their minds on the causes they’ll support, there remain promising populations to reach and inspire. For those swayable donors, the weeks ahead will determine whether the economic and political factors have negatively impacted philanthropy or if — like Covid giving in the past few years —  there remains resilience amongst donors in the United States.  

Despite the unknowns, the fundamentals of online fundraising remain. Organizations should engage their communities, first and foremost, as people with a shared interest in helping others. From this foundation, communicating both impact and need will be critical. Finally, given the many unknowns of this December, organizations should give themselves the best opportunity for success through smart testing and segmentation to maximize the value of every supporter.

We’ve seen these fundamentals on display throughout the midterm fundraising cycle. Political candidates and campaigns have shown that giving can rise, despite the economic uncertainty.  

The coming weeks will determine if nonprofit organizations have the runway and time to apply the lessons of the midterms.  Our work suggests that — even in a challenging economic climate — smart testing, segmentation, and storytelling can drive revenue growth.  
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