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5 Political Campaign Lessons That Nonprofits Can Learn From

In major election years, political campaigns are at the top of everyone’s minds. Your organization’s supporters receive political advertisements and donation appeals alongside those from your nonprofit, and donors may even wonder where your organization stands on key election issues.

While 501(c)(3) nonprofits are prohibited from participating in or supporting specific political campaigns, that doesn’t mean you should ignore them. Not only can election results impact your organization’s work in the future, but there are also plenty of lessons you can learn from political campaign strategies to improve your own fundraising and marketing campaigns.

We’ll cover five concepts that political campaign staff understand well and explore how you can apply them to your nonprofit’s strategies.

1. Time is of the Essence

Since every political campaign runs on a hard deadline, they understand the importance of urgency in every facet of their operations. Political campaign staff plot out detailed field plans, campaign timelines, and editorial calendars to ensure that every action contributes to the ultimate goal of winning the election. They hit the ground running, leveraging volunteers to speak with hundreds of voters at a time about supporting their candidate.

You can approach your fundraising campaigns with the same mindset to increase their momentum and drive results. Try infusing more urgency into your nonprofit’s campaigns by:

  • Writing urgent calls to action. The calls to action (CTAs) that you include in fundraising appeals, social media posts, and emails should convey the importance of your nonprofit’s work and empower supporters to act now. For instance, the CTA “Donate to save a turtle today!” inspires more urgency than “Donate here.”
  • Hosting a phonathon. Political campaigns use phone and text banking to connect with many voters in short time spans. Your nonprofit can do the same by hosting a phonathon in which volunteers call and connect with numerous donors in one day using a standardized script.
  • Leveraging automation to connect with donors immediately. Marketing automation tools can help you increase the speed at which you reach out to supporters and drive more action. By automatically sending emails or texts immediately after a donor gives, for example, you can quickly strengthen that relationship and inspire further involvement.

Additionally, make sure to frequently update donors on the progress of your campaigns, projects, and programs to show them that your nonprofit is working urgently to put their donations to good use.

2. Public Opinion is Paramount

Political campaign strategists spend plenty of time and resources researching the opinions of voters and crafting messages that will resonate with them. They understand that voters get a candidate elected, just like a nonprofit’s donors enable it to further its mission, and they prioritize voter opinion effectively.

Donors’ opinions, priorities, and concerns should play a central role in your nonprofit’s strategy development, guiding how you approach marketing and fundraising campaigns.

To better understand and speak to your audience’s motivations, send out periodic surveys to ask for their feedback directly. Ask questions like:

  • Why do you donate to our nonprofit?
  • What do you consider to be the most important aspects of our cause?
  • What other causes are you interested in?
  • What kinds of programs do you want to see from us in the future?
  • If you could change one thing about our organization, what would it be?

Along with asking your donors directly, take into account research on the opinions of the general public. For example, 77% of consumers want to purchase from companies with corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives like matching gift programs. With this in mind, your nonprofit might prioritize your matching gift fundraising campaigns to appeal to the public’s interest in CSR.

3. Volunteers are Drivers of Change

Similar to nonprofits, most political campaigns don’t have large teams and therefore have to rely on volunteers for major efforts like canvassing and phone banking.

Because these efforts are so critical to the success of political campaigns, campaign staff understand and value their volunteers’ power to enact change. Some campaigns even use distributed organizing tactics, giving leadership positions to select volunteers and empowering them to lead their own volunteer teams on behalf of the campaign.

Your nonprofit can take inspiration from these tactics by improving your volunteer program and empowering volunteers to act. Use the following strategies to do so:

  • Emphasize skill development. No matter what kind of volunteer opportunities you offer, they involve certain skills that volunteers get to develop when they participate. Highlight the opportunity to improve soft skills like leadership and communication along with relevant hard skills like gardening or teaching.
  • Host peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns. Let volunteers take the lead on fundraising by hosting a peer-to-peer campaign in which they raise money on behalf of your nonprofit. These campaigns give volunteers a chance to develop their fundraising skills and deepen their relationship with your nonprofit.
  • Show appreciation to volunteers often. Volunteers are more likely to stay involved with your organization when they feel like their participation is appreciated and makes a genuine difference to your mission. Appreciate volunteers by sending thank-you emails, giving them small gifts, and regularly asking for their feedback.

With a more empowered, involved volunteer force at your disposal, your nonprofit can start taking advantage of corporate volunteering programs, too. Invite volunteers to tap into their employers’ volunteer grant initiatives to make an even greater impact on your cause.

4. Digital Channels Make a Difference

Your nonprofit likely already uses a variety of digital communication channels to connect with donors and spread greater awareness of your nonprofit’s work. But are you leveraging these channels to their full extent?

For political campaigns, digital marketing and outreach is a top priority. They use digital tools like text banking software, canvassing apps, and social media outreach tools to get their message in front of voters across as many channels as possible. They also use a mix of paid and non-paid advertising methods to reach new online audiences.

Think about the digital channels your organization hasn’t yet explored and how they could give your fundraising campaigns a boost. You might try tapping into video marketing, for instance. Or, you could leverage free programs like the Google Ad Grant to try out search advertising. Take stock of the resources you have at your disposal, then choose a few new digital avenues to tap into.

5. Mobilization Requires Multiple Touchpoints

Political campaigns don’t stick to one canvassing or volunteer recruitment method — they use a combination of phone banking, door-to-door canvassing, text messages, social media advertising, email, and more. Campaign staff understand that one message or conversation isn’t enough to mobilize voters and volunteers.

The same is true for nonprofits. To truly inspire action from your supporters, you need a multi-channel fundraising strategy that provides plenty of touchpoints with current and prospective donors. This may include channels like email, text, social media, direct mail, your website, and more.

For the best results, segment your audience based on factors like their donation histories, past involvement, and communication preferences. Then, tailor your outreach and fundraising appeals to the interests of each group to make every touchpoint more meaningful.

Applying These Lessons to Matching Gift Fundraising

Political campaigns and nonprofits may seem different on the surface, but both aim to enact change by touching the hearts and minds of their supporters. This is especially true when it comes to matching gifts — by mobilizing your donors to request matching gifts from their employers, you’ll inspire them to double their impact on the causes they care about.

To apply these political campaign lessons to your matching gift fundraising strategy, try taking the following steps:

  1. Use a matching gift automation tool to immediately follow up with match-eligible donors and instill urgency in your appeals.
  2. Solicit feedback from donors who have requested matching gifts before and use their opinions to guide your matching gift fundraising strategy.
  3. Promote matching gifts across all your online channels to create multiple digital touchpoints with match-eligible donors.

By incorporating these lessons into your organization’s next matching gift fundraising campaign, you can find new ways to engage supporters and mobilize them to act.