You know what I’m talking about. Something happens and it’s huuuuge. The email starts flying fast and furious, people are abuzz in the kitchen and at each others’ cubes, the instant messenger keeps chiming and the Slack channels are filling up with “OMG DID YOU HEAR?!”

In an election year (and I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we’re in one right now) this “Oh, $%*!” moment might be when your nonprofit’s issue is mentioned in a debate, speech, or otherwise bandied about in the 24-hour news cycle.

Great—you’re in the spotlight. How can you take advantage of the opportunity? What’s the best way to engage to highlight the mission of your organization, set the record straight, and make the most of the moment to increase support?

Blackbaud’s recent report Giving In An Election Year:  How Political Giving Impacts Nonprofit Support has some interesting findings that can inform how nonprofits can make the most of this type of “OMG!” moment.

Here’s some news we can use from the report (read the whole thing, of course—it’s interesting):

  • The assumption that election-year giving to political candidates and campaigns detracts from charitable giving is NOT TRUE. People who give to political candidates actually INCREASE their giving to nonprofits during election years.
  • Millennials (who now make up 25% of the population) showed a huge jump in charitable contributions during an election year—almost 11%, by far the largest in the age categories the authors studied.

Knowing those two things, what should we do?

1. Have a plan.

Spend some time brainstorming now what your nonprofit’s “crunch time” moment is. What is THE THING that, if mentioned by a Presidential candidate during a debate, would cause the pandemonium I described in the first paragraph? Then write down how your organization would respond—both if the comment is positive and praises your organization, or if it attacks you.

2. Don’t be shy.

Tell your supporters what’s going on and why it matters. Use all the channels—email, social media, text messaging—and don’t worry about over-messaging. If you have an update and it matters, tell people—and ask them to give. Indeed, the report indicates a clear correlation between caring for a cause and contributing cash.

3. Build, build build.

Today’s millennials are tomorrow’s prime givers in the sweet spot age of 45-54, and if this report is any indication, they might be more philanthropically inclined than any generation that has come before. So acquire them, get them engaged and donating, and then steward them well for the years to come.

You can hear a discussion between me and digital strategist Emily Goodstein about this very topic on the Acquire & Convert Advocacy Podcast Miniseries from Blackbaud. Check out #4: “Turning OMG Into Opportunity.”

So remember, when it hits the fan, don’t panic! Hang ten and ride the wave. Not only can you capitalize on opportunity, but you’ll also be building a strong future.


Sally Heaven is a senior client success lead at Blackbaud specializing in sustained giving, online fundraising, email marketing, and advocacy. In addition to presenting on sustained giving at last year’s bbcon, she has hosted numerous webinars and user group sessions on the subject. Prior to Blackbaud, she worked at Convio and GetActive®. She also spent seven years as the deputy field director of the Human Rights Campaign, the largest civil rights organization working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans.

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