Staying Nimble in a Time of Change | npENGAGE

Staying Nimble in a Time of Change

By on Apr 29, 2017


CFL leading a pack of outdated, dark incandescent lightbulbs

These are unprecedented times.

It’s a phrase we often hear from the mass media, and even the words that may filter into conversations with our families, friends and colleagues. The 2016 Presidential election, and its outcome, signaled a significant shift in America – certain voices became louder and new perspectives came closer to the forefront. It has impacted the way we interact and understand one another, and has changed the way some Americans think about what we value most.

As a result, nonprofits find themselves in an equally unprecedented situation, where passion, advocacy and cause demonstration are at an all-time high. Current events continue to have a massive impact on consumer sentiment, and how and why they are motivated to give to nonprofit organizations.

The inauguration of Donald Trump, in particular, reinforced how rapidly charitable interests shift based on political and cultural climate. In the days leading up to, and months following the inauguration, large-scale media coverage of a variety of issues and causes piqued the interest of advocators, and provoked widespread action. With the wide variety of issues impacted by the administration’s agenda, we were intrigued to see whether the flurry of advocacy activity – both out in the field and throughout the digital sphere – would translate to giving.

Changes are happening…we need to be aware

In collaboration with research firm, the National Research Group, we set out to break down the giving landscape across the American population, reflecting on differences amongst political groups, generations and other contributing factors that drive donors to act. We fielded the original study on January 27th 2017, shortly after the inauguration and Women’s March. 1,000 Adults in the US, aged 18 and over were surveyed, and we chose to target those who had donated to a charitable cause over the past 12 months.

Who is giving, and how is giving behavior changing?

While we’ve seen what some may consider unconventional presidential elections in the past, none have impacted giving attitudes as much as the election of President Donald Trump has. Of the 1,000 consumers we surveyed, nearly one quarter reported planning to give more to charitable causes under the Trump administration. Reflective of that trend, the average individual giving amount is on pace to grow from $901 in 2016 to $1,140 in 2017, according to data fielded in the study.

Small donors, classified as those who donated $100 or under in 2016, show the most dramatic increase in planned giving over the upcoming year, jumping by 107% from an average of $37 in 2016 to $107 throughout 2017. While not quite as large a jump, those who donated between $100 and $499 in 2016, plan to give an average of 72% higher dollar amount donations.

When it comes to Trump versus Clinton voters, the data told a similar story about giving increases, but the two populations’ behavior is influenced by very different reasoning. Trump supporters, for instance, plan to increase their giving more than twice that of the increases Clinton supporters are planning – much in part due to the personal financial optimism Trump voters are feeling. Clinton voters are less self-motivated, and more focused on which of their causes may suffer due to Trump administration policies. According to our study, 69% of Clinton voters demonstrated concern that that organizations they support will lose significant funding, or will be defunded all together under President Trump; in fact, 72% pointed to women’s causes, 62% to environmental causes, and 57% to civil liberty and social causes as the types of organizations that will likely continue to be most vulnerable.

Media’s rampant impact on donor awareness and action

Turn on any of the local or national news channels at all points of the day, and the stories almost always revolve around an event related to President Trump. Today, the press is not only empowered through traditional modes of media, but also through digital and social means – meaning, the media is in a much stronger position to influence people’s decision making around advocacy and giving.

With the social sphere buzzing with conversations across the political spectrum, we didn’t find it necessarily surprising that social media has, and continues to play a large role in consumer media consumption. 57% of donors under 45 surveyed pointed to social media as their main source of news media. Particularly with many of the top new publishes on Facebook, people can now get everything they need (while, not always the most accurate) right within their social newsfeeds. This type of ongoing, 24-7 access to the world’s events, makes social a critical environment for nonprofits to be engaging their followers, while the discussions are heated and the passion is high.

So, what does this all mean?

As we continue down this uncertain path, we cannot choose to linger by the sidelines. In fact, nonprofits have the most significant opportunity to now capture intent and the elevated levels of passion around advocacy – but doing so may involve a substantial shift in the way organizations have traditionally operated. It is more important than ever to remain hyper-sensitive to current events, and be nimble enough to respond quickly through relevant messaging and strategy.

1. Decision makers must work together towards a more rapid response – based strategy – emphasize the importance of executing a campaign quickly and efficiently, while being careful not to dilute the message

Operational speed is everything today, but it can also be a real challenge. While it may traditionally take several months to get a campaign in gear and out the door, reacting in a shorter time frame to the conversation is crucial to capturing giving intent. As part of strategic planning, sitting down with the decision makers and asking, “How can we execute a campaign quickly and more efficiently?” is a good first step towards a more operationally nimble process. Organizations steeped in disaster-response fundraising can shed light on how to plan around “emergency catalysts” but through a sustained strategy –which, is ultimately a balance that all organizations should work towards.

2. Segmentation Strategy – at a minimum, you may consider using age and political affiliation as overlays for your segmentation strategy, in combination with media preferences

Considering the varying media preferences, political affiliation and generational differences of your audience, content should be segmented accordingly to resonate with the right donors in the right environments. For instance, when creating your video strategy, considering the storyboard through both a conservative and a more progressive lens will likely drive the type content that is produced and served to your audiences.

Now is a crucial time to ensure your donor data house is in order – and it might perhaps be the time to invest in more sophisticated solutions. A clearer picture of the data, not just of donors, but of their behavior across media channels, will be a game changing advantage for organizations that want to step up to the plate when the conversation is hot.

3. Be who you are, and who your donors and constituents expect you to be, but don’t be afraid to be bold. We cannot afford to sit on the sidelines.

The rules of great storytelling have not changed, and today, amplifying the story for reach while still maintaining the emotional connection with donors is where nonprofits can find their sweet spot. While it’s important to maintain the messaging quintessential to your brand, it’s also important to understand how to blend that key message with relevant cultural events. Now is not the time to stick our heads in the sand, or keep trucking along with the same campaigns played out in the past. Take a stand alongside your donors, and support their passions through engaging content and clear CTAs. This doesn’t mean you need to step completely outside the bounds of who you are – donors will pick up on anything that doesn’t seem authentic – but don’t let inaction be an option.

For organizations not caught directly in “the line of fire”, there is still an opportunity to join the conversation appropriately. For example, an organization revolving around health can focus on reaching and educating people about the balance of exercise, community service and healthy wellbeing – taking in the daily news’ events in small doses, and really paying it forward through kindness and community. 

 For access to our live webinar recording Charitable Giving & Advocacy in the Trump Era follow this link, and to access the PDF version, follow this link.

With Trump’s 100 days in office recently completed, we’ll be releasing the next installment of our study over the upcoming month. Stay tuned!


Bethany is a skilled marketer with over 16 years of experience, both at local and national nonprofits as well as in agencies. With a proven track record of online advocacy, peer-to-peer event and direct response fundraising success for her clients, Bethany has been privileged to serve some of the nation’s top nonprofits such as the Alzheimer’s Association, American Diabetes Association, U.S. Olympic Committee, Sierra Club, Paralyzed Veterans of America, American Heart Association, Boys & Girls Club of America, PetSmart Charities, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Metropolitan Ministries, Bowery Mission, Salvation Army, Mercy Corps, COPD Foundation and Children’s Cancer Research Fund. Bethany is a thought leader in the nonprofit industry and is a frequent speaker at events and author of blogs and articles.

As Vice President of Nonprofit Strategy at PMX Agency, Bethany works with clients to develop strategies to build optimized digital experiences for constituents that bring the most value to them and the organization. She coordinates the execution and measurement of tactics to support those strategies across our expert practice groups in SEO, SEM, display, social media, direct mail, email and on-site content and technical development.

Comments (3)

  • Cassie says:

    I like how you itemized type of Missions that Clinton voters were more apt to support. I’m curious to see Trump voters breakdown as well for better contrast comparison.

    • Sara says:

      Hi Cassie,

      Check out the link to our study! Faith-based organizations and Military/Veteran causes led the pack for Trump voters. We’re curious to see how things may or may not have changed over Trump’s first 100 days in office – stay tuned for our next study, coming out shortly!

  • Adrienne says:

    At we have most definitely seen an increase in the desire to give as the torch was passed to the new president as well. More people than ever are now interested in helping others. Although the world may seem like a scary place, we are certainly seeing some good push its way through the cracks.

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