September 2016
Why Give?

Annual Giving & Elections

Should churches be concerned about their pledgers giving less this year?

While church and state are separate entities, there is ongoing debate as to the impact a presidential election might have on annual giving to a parish. Researching past giving trends, I was tickled to find this quote:

Many fundraisers are facing the remaining months of 1984 with great trepidation… Indeed, there is reason to be concerned. Many people with limited amounts of money to give away may feel forced to prioritize an election. And it is difficult to argue with those who choose as first priority defeating Ronald Reagan in his campaign for a second term as president. Those of us whose organizations are working to create a more egalitarian, just, and peaceful society also see defeating Reagan as a high priority.”

- “Fundraising During an Election Year.” Grassroots Fundraising Journal, July 1984.

Thirty-two years later we are still asking about the impact of presidential elections on annual giving at parishes. In March 2016, Blackbaud Inc, a provider of services to the global philanthropic community released a new report, Giving in an Election Year, featuring the giving habits of 400,000 political donors based on data from the 2012 presidential race.
“Fundraisers have long debated whether or not political fundraising affects charitable giving, and for decades, important fundraising decisions in election years have been based largely on the conventional belief of a fixed giving pie,” said Chuck Longfield, co-presenter of the report and Blackbaud’s chief scientist. Data from the Giving in an Election Year Study demonstrated that political giving does affect charitable giving in the following ways:

  • Donors who gave to federal political campaigns in 2012 gave 0.9% more to the charitable organizations studied in 2012 than they had in 2011.
  • Donors who did not give to political campaigns reduced their giving to the charities studied in 2012 by 2.1%.
  • These findings held true across all subsectors as well as the demographic segments of age range, household income, and head of household gender.

“The study’s overall assertion is that political giving during the 2012 election did not, in fact, suppress charitable giving. Donors to political campaigns continued their support of charitable causes,” reports Longfield. This data indicates that there are effective strategies for annual giving this fall.   

These strategies include:

1. Remember the “Why.” In his blog “Finding God’s purpose in your Capital Campaign,” Maurice Seaton reminds us that what we do is less important than a clear understanding of why we do things.

Are you fundraising to simply meet your annual budget?

Or, are you working to live more fully into your parish’s mission? Perhaps you are inviting donors into transformation in the process of giving their resources to the kingdom of God. Articulating the ‘why’ is vital to the success of any fundraising effort.

2. Approach Major Donors Before November. If possible, try to have an in-person conversation with major donor in September and October. This will provide parishioners a chance to discuss any potential pastoral concerns. A major donor may need to discuss their anxiety about the election. This is an important opportunity of formation both to pray and talk about a theology of stewardship rooted in faith.

3. Fear Not! Linda Buskirk recently blogged, “Fear Not the Capital Campaign.” She reminds us, “Angels in the Bible often say, ‘Fear not!’ as they are about to deliver some awesome news from God.” Linda also notes she has found, “Do not be afraid,” to be a needed preface to many conversations.”

“Fear not” is the foundation of fundraising ministries. In an election year, parishes may determine annual giving as lost due to a fixed pie mentality. Volunteer efforts are diminished as some will ask, “What’s the point if we know donors will be giving to campaigns or waiting to pledge till after the election?”

Fear not! The only way to truly fail in fundraising is not to try.

4. Do not assume your annual giving will decrease. In the Vestry Papers article “Lessons from Fundraising Volunteers,” I write about this fixed pie mentality:

“There’s a visualization exercise I do with people to help change their perception about fixed capacity:

“I like pie. To help people overcome their perception that giving capacity is fixed, I invite them to picture a pie as representing donors’ dollars. And then I ask them to visualize cutting the pie into slices to represent their budget. Now here’s the twist: Once they have the picture of a pie in their mind, I invite them to visualize a bigger pie, rather than cutting the smaller pie differently. “

Charitable donations are not a fixed pie. In fact, the Blackbaud study indicates donors who gave to federal political campaigns in 2012 gave 0.9% more to the charitable organizations studied in 2012 than they had in 2011. Now is the time to increase your efforts.

5. Use this as an opportunity to make specific increased invitations. During the course of your one-to-one conversations, you may find particular major donors will be decreasing a gift. This is a wonderful opportunity to identify new major donor to “prioritize their giving.” Often potential donors are giving to a number of worthy nonprofits in a single year and need to be asked to make your parish their top priority. With a pledge decrease comes the chance to directly invite others to increase their pledge by 2-4%.

What is your experience with giving in a presidential election year?

Erin Weber-Johnson is the Episcopal Church Foundation's Program Director for Strategic Resources. She works with Episcopal leaders to faithfully answer the following questions, “What is God calling this organization to be/do?” and “How do we respond?”

Erin provides financial and leadership resources through a broad range of services. She has facilitated diocesan workshops, vestry retreats, and live webinars on annual giving, volunteer engagement, generational giving characteristics, and debt retirement. Utilizing a year-round stewardship model, Erin has worked with parishes on annual giving and successfully completed capital campaigns widely ranging in size.

Previously, Erin was a grants officer at Trinity Wall Street in New York City, a consultant for the United Thank Offering (UTO), and she and her husband served as missionaries in Taiwan. Erin holds a master’s degree in public administration from New York University and is a member of St. John the Evangelist Church in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Try This   

Invite others on your vestry or stewardship committee to watch “Start With Why,” Simon Sinek’s 18 minute TED talk. He shares a simple but powerful model for how leaders can inspire action, starting with a golden circle and the question “why?”

In small groups, share why you are involved in this ministry and what you believe, recording responses to both share with the wider group and to refer to when crafting your message. Then reflect on – and talk about – why anyone else should care about this. Again, keep notes from the conversation to reference later. 


  • The 2% Campaign” by Carla Roland Guzman, ECF Vital Practices’ Vestry Papers
  • "Why I Give" by Holly Stoeker, ECF Vital Practices' blog 

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This article is part of the September 2016 Vestry Papers issue on Why Give?