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Trump-Inspired Rage Philanthropy May Be Burning Out

Democrats sustained a huge burst of giving to causes they felt were threatened by the Trump administration–but that level of giving might be proving unsustainable.

Trump-Inspired Rage Philanthropy May Be Burning Out
[Photo: Flickr user Andrew]

In 2017, the inauguration of Donald Trump sparked an unprecedented rise in charitable donations as people concerned about the new administration’s stance on everything from women’s health to social justice, civil liberties, and immigration began giving heavily to nonprofits supporting those causes.

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A year later, however, the fire for so-called “rage philanthropy” is burning down a bit. According to a recent report by the National Research Group and PMX, a marketing group, the amount of both charitable giving and advocacy has returned to around pre-inauguration levels.

The effect is true for both Democrats and Republicans, who have also been giving more to their own causes as a result of feeling more secure in the economy. But the decline is particularly pronounced among those with blue pocketbooks, who have reached a dispiriting financial reality: “The vast majority of Democratic voters are more concerned than ever before that the organizations they support will be defunded,” notes the report. “Their intention or ability to give more to every threatened cause, however, is not keeping pace with their increased levels of concern.”

[Image: PMX Agency/National Research Group]

This is the third survey by PMX, which polled voters about what they intended to give over the next year directly following the inauguration, around the 100 days in office mark, and then again when Trump was just shy of a year into service.

At the 100-day mark, Democrats were projecting to give about 50% more than their usual average, while Republicans planned to give 28% more. However, the estimated decline for both groups is even–a 33% reduction from those 100-day estimates for both parties.

Republicans always reported they’d be giving more, albeit largely to religious groups and military and veteran organizations. To that end, Republican donors still plan to part with about twice the amount their Democratic counterparts, whose individual totals now hover in the $750 range.

Part of the issue may be Trump’s tax plan, which doubled the standardized deduction, making it less necessary for as many Americans to itemize their charitable contributions as a way to reduce their reported take-home pay. Tax experts put the total loss for the entire philanthropy sector at between $12 and $20 billion annually.

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[Image: PMX Agency/National Research Group]

About three out of four Democrats are now concerned that organizations they support will be defunded under the Trump administration, according to the report findings. That’s a number that has remained fairly consistent, even as people become more divided about how to spend their money.

The biggest ranking concern used to be women’s causes. That’s since been replaced by environmental issues after Trump backed out of the Paris Climate Accord, and a year-long rash of natural disasters worldwide. The third most important issue among Democrats is civil liberty protections.

It’s understandable that people concerned with their own finances–and a vast majority of Democrats making less than $60,000 a year definitely are, perhaps because they no longer feel their class concerns are being fairly represented–might decrease giving.

The bigger concern among change-makers may be that people’s passion for fighting the power is beginning to snuff out too. “Despite these causes being perceived as the most threatened under the Trump administration [one] year in, Democratic Voters’ support for these causes has experienced a slight drop off, indicating that their overall enthusiasm may have plateaued,” notes the report.

Turns out, prolonged rage philanthropy may lead to another condition being dubbed “advocacy fatigue.” To succeed, nonprofits can’t just accept donations. They have to find creative ways to keep supporters inspired.

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About the author

Ben Paynter is a senior writer at Fast Company covering social impact, the future of philanthropy, and innovative food companies. His work has appeared in Wired, Bloomberg Businessweek, and the New York Times, among other places.

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