April 12, 2024


The 2024 Presidential election will be a rematch of the 2020 race. It’s also clear that many Americans are less than thrilled about the campaign ahead. This puts our community of public media in a tough position. We are committed to being active participants in our respective communities and encouraging participation in our democracy. We are also keenly aware that there has been a sustained feeling of news fatigue and that our non-news programming has been a source of refuge and respite for many listeners. 

This means the upcoming elections in November will impact every station of every format. What we know about past charitable giving during a Presidential election year is that giving to political candidates and causes does not decrease the total amount given to nonprofits. About 12% of Americans gave to political candidates in 2016 (ANES data) and just under half of Americans currently give to charities. Just 1.44% of American adults gave more than $200 to a federal campaign, PAC or Party in 2020. (Open Secrets data) 

Money isn’t necessarily going to be diverted from stations due to donors making commitments to political giving. However, what is going to be diverted is attention. Again, this is not a surprise. We are in an issue-overload moment: wars, inflation, extreme weather, abortion; there are many high-visibility, high-emotion issues that are not only newsworthy but deeply concerning to Americans. The question is how will your station choose to harness this moment to both meet your community’s needs and strengthen your financial footing?

Make a Plan, Start Today!

The best way to start? Construct a plan for the next seven months that will help you navigate this election year and remain flexible enough to adapt to changing conditions. Do not wait until fall to begin your election fundraising strategy. Start planning now. 

If you’re a news station, your election engagement has likely already begun. Your station may also be planning candidate forums or briefs for local elections, producing a voters guide, working with the election office on get-out-the-vote efforts, or working with America Amplified. The kinds of election activities demonstrate public media stations as being well-engaged in the community. They also present the opportunity to ask for funding to support this work from major donors and institutional funders who can act not only as financial partners but also promotional partners. 

Find out now from your news colleagues what election content, events, and resources are planned. Then think critically about ways to communicate and fundraise for or around those plans.

Increase Communications

You must increase the quality and quantity of your communications with donors in the lead-up to the election. Start testing messaging early (like during Public Media Giving Days May 1-2, 2024!) and keep track of what seems to motivate donors to give. Refine your messaging so that by the time you get to late-summer fundraising campaigns, you have a sense of how to use the election as a motivation for giving. Check out Greater Public’s Election 2024 Fundraising Toolkit for creative communication ideas, messaging strategy, dates to watch, sample on-air scripts, spots, and direct mail and email copy.

Here are some great ideas to get started:

  • Send an email with a preview of your new election website to donors a day in advance.
  • Have a journalist join a Zoom meeting for an “Ask a Journalist” conversation with major gift prospects
  • Ask the team to commit to providing election coverage materials for each donor/member newsletter through the election.

Keep in mind: Mailing dates may become crowded with increased political mailings in your community. It is likely that we will see mail delays again this year with the USPS. Securing social media ads may become challenging if restrictions on “political content ads” are once again in place. But the most significant disruption will likely be the distraction among donors because of the issues-overload that many are feeling. The quality and relevance of your communications with donors will more deeply connect them to the work we do for American democracy.

Highlight Impact, Ask Boldly

Americans believe in democracy but only 3 in 10 see democracy functioning well right now. Americans trust nonprofits and they trust public media. As we navigate the issues and concerns in our communities, public media’s role is multifaceted; we inform, educate, inspire, and connect. And that all work takes funding, so we need to ask for it boldly. Invest time now in the organizational conversations that will position you to connect donors to the impact of your works. Then craft your unique case for donors to support your impact on American democracy, especially during this time of heightened distraction and fatigue.