How Much Will the Georgia Runoffs Hurt Nonprofit Year-End Fundraising?

Online fundraising

My email inbox cries every day, battered by endless reminders that Control Of The Senate Is On The Line, We Are Being Outspent and You Can Make a Difference if you Let Me Level With You about the latest Bad News. If you thought online fundraisers might give Democratic donors a rest after November 3rd, hah! The Georgia Senate runoffs demand our dollars, even as both Democratic candidates raise more money than I suspect they can spend efficiently.

Besides our collective patience, the main victims of the onslaught may be nonprofit organizations, many of whom raise the bulk of their year-end digital donations in the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Before I hit my limit and left Warnock’s list, I received four, five or six fundraising messages a day — and despite unsubscribing, a couple screamed for my attention this week. Even if you’ve unsubscribed from Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock’s own messages, they’ll get to you through AOC, new Arizona Senator Mark Kelly, the DSCC, the DNC, et cetera ad nauseum.

Though they’ve raised more than $100 MILLION dollars apiece, the two candidates apparently still need our money, in part to counter big spending by millionaire-funded “independent” political groups on the Right. With Georgia airwaves satured with campaign ads already, however, I have a hard time understanding how much difference the next few million dollars can practically make. TV inventory has to be gone (and facing diminishing marginal returns in any case), leaving the two campaigns to spend on digital outreach and field organizing — both of which are usually far more cost-effective than broadcast TV advertising. Unless they’re going to put every Democratic voter on the payroll, how many community organizers can they actually hire?

Meanwhile, nonprofits struggle for attention. Local service organizations will probably fare the best, since they can appeal to people who’ll never end up in a political fundraiser’s sights. Left-leaning advocacy organizations? They compete directly for dollars against campaigns on which the Mothership has landed. Unlike candidates, nonprofits don’t have the luxury of burning out a list — they have to maintain donor relationships for the long term. For them, “churn and burn” fundraising rarely works.

What happens if the Georgia races siphon too much money away from progressive advocates? Quite possibly, less public support for Democrats’ agendas in the year to come. If advocacy organizations don’t have the money to do their jobs, they can’t help educate and mobilize activists and constituents to push for the changes Democrats want to make. Farmers know they can’t grow anything next year if they eat their seed corn now; if only more political fundraisers were so wise.


Written by
Colin Delany
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