There’s one key to fundraising in a downturn, and you either have it or you don’t

As the 2024 cycle picks up, whether campaigns will be fundraising in a recession, or just a downturn, it's going to be tough sledding ahead. There's one key element to a successful fundraising effort that will make or break campaigns in a tough economy.

by | Sep 14, 2022

With rocketing inflation and no relief in sight, the US economy is in for some difficult times ahead. As the 2024 cycle picks up, whether campaigns will be fundraising in a recession, or just a downturn, it’s going to be tough sledding ahead. There’s one key element to a successful fundraising effort that will make or break organizations going through a tough economy.

Some campaigns seem to not only survive but thrive during economic downturns. What’s the secret to their success, while others go under? In talking with many successful fundraising and political leaders, and based on 20 years of experience in marketing and tech for political movements, there’s one strategic advantage that keeps leaders above the rocky waves of a difficult fundraising environment.

If you look at fundraising success stories, it’s clear the difference maker is the strength of their relationships with their donors.

A lot of campaigns can find success in good times. They find more bundlers, small donors, and PAC checks. They might ride the wave of a good news cycle to translate visibility into small donor contributions. They might spend breathtaking sums to acquire prospecting lists that they can hit with direct mail in hopes of breaking even.

But ultimately, major donors will cut back on donations when their portfolio tanks. The news cycle will move on, and small donors will too. And all the prospecting in the world won’t open the door to people who have closed their wallets.

The real success factor for campaign fundraising in a recession is having deep, personal, authentic relationships with donors who sincerely believe in your candidacy and — this is the real difference — will sacrifice to support your cause.

Imagine a donor watching the rapid rise of unchecked inflation, and the corresponding drop in their stocks. Even for high net worth donors, these trends hit them emotionally — and that’s the key. Political giving, and especially contributions to advocacy organizations, is almost never a financial decision. It is an emotional decision.

If the donor’s emotional ties to your campaign are weaker than their emotional response to the market, then guess which one wins?

However, if you have spent the good years of growth and prosperity investing in developing personal relationships with both large and small donors, and communicating with them authentically about the important work of your cause — work that aligns with their own values and priorities — then even in hard times they will see your work as important.

Be careful that you don’t fall into the trap of trying to convince them that your work is important to you. Basic Values Theory tells us that most people will prioritize their own families before the needs of society at large. Your donors need to know that your work is important to their own futures, and their families’ futures.

In order to develop donor relationships that will survive in a downturn, you need a team focused on nurturing those relationships, and the technology to maintain them.

At Datrmin, we have spent years building a platform specifically to empower this deep level of personal relationship with supporters. In the cold jargon of marketing, donors and supporters — the very lifeblood of your mission — are referred to as “contacts” or the even more crude label: “data”.

As more data privacy policies like GDPR become law, and browsers crack down on the cookies that have traditionally helped online advertisers reach target audiences, there has been more of a focus on “first-party data”. Which, to the marketer, means those people who actually know about you and have given you permission to contact them.

When an economic downturn collides with increasing online privacy, “first-party data” is really the only data you can rely on. This “data” is actually an audience of people who know you and listen to you. You have permission to foster a relationship with them. Why would you not take great care to foster that relationship well?

To maximize the relationship with your supporters, quality is really more important than quantity in your communications. Here are a few things you can do today to help shore up your relationships with donors so their support survives the coming economic crisis:

  1. Pay special care to email subject lines and content. Is your content created for your supporters?
  2. Segment your email lists to send different messages to people who currently support you, versus those who are on your list, but do not give.
  3. Take time to call or text key supporters. Reach as many as you can on a regular schedule.
  4. Send personal notes. Re-enforce how important they are to you, and how much you appreciate them.
  5. Keep notes of both your interactions with supporters, as well as their personal lives. It’s not enough to know they have children or grandchildren. How many? What ages? What are their interests? Are they going to college?
  6. Collaborate as a team. Invite your staff to build relationships with your donors as well. This both helps your donors see the team doing the work they are funding, and helps your staff to understand the people who keep the lights on. If you have concerns about your staff “stealing” donors, then you have the wrong staff.

When you can align your work with the impact you will have on the people most important to your donors — and do this authentically — you have the potential to not only survive a difficult time for fundraising, but thrive.

If you are looking for a CRM to help you build stronger relationships with your supporters, so they continue to support your fundraising efforts even in hard times, then I’d love for you to check out our platform It is built specifically for non-profits and advocacy organizations who want to get all of their supporters in one place, segment their audience into lists, and take action. Start a 14-day free trial at

Allen Fuller is the founder of Flat Creek, a venture studio that blends advocacy & technology to advance freedom & opportunity, and Datrmin, the #1 CRM for politics. Connect with Allen on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Get email updates