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What’s Inspiring Anti-Trump Charity Donations? Hope, Not Anger

The first year of Trump’s term has seen an explosion of charitable giving. But calling it “rage philanthropy” isn’t exactly accurate.

What’s Inspiring Anti-Trump Charity Donations? Hope, Not Anger
[Source Photos: Flickr user Gage Skidmore, Artush/iStock (pattern)]

The term “rage philanthropy” was coined after the 2016 election, describing the surge in donations to causes that seemed threatened by the president’s isolationist and ethnocentric viewpoint.

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As time has gone on, however, the rage-inspired name is becoming somewhat misplaced. The theory has proven too reductive: A new survey found that the people inspired by political events to give to charity this year are more motivated by hope than rage, and it’s fueling a smaller, but more sustainable push toward charitable giving.

[Photo: Flickr user Gage Skidmore]
Based on a recent national survey of nearly 900 people who made at least one donation over the course of 2017, about one-fifth of all donors did so as the direct result of a political or social shift that seemed to oppose their own values. Edge Research, the nonprofit marketing research firm behind the report, now christens those people as “reactive” givers, rather than rageful givers, because most don’t report anger as their prime motivator. They’re powered more now by feelings of hope and empowerment. And 86% of this group plans to continue giving as much or more in the future. “For many, these donations were not just about heartstrings being pulled, but about ‘standing up’ for beliefs,” notes the report.

This optimism may have to do with who exactly is being activated. Nearly one-third of this group are millennials (or younger) and are twice as likely to be engaging in their first charitable experience (20% of all reactive givers are first-time donors, compared 10% among traditional donors last year).

[Photo: Flickr user Gage Skidmore]

After hope and empowerment, which well over half of all respondents reported feeling (the averages were 63% and 58%, respectively) other key drivers appear to be sadness and joy. Anger ranks fifth overall, with only about of a quarter of those giving citing it as a primary motivation, just ahead of anxiety.

These “reactive givers” appear to be fairly equally spread around the country. About half identify as Democrats, with the other large chunk being Independents. Republicans admit to giving reactively, but account for just about one-tenth of the total. And this style of giving appears particularly attractive to African Americans, who make up 20% of reactive givers.

For nonprofits interested in courting these donors, though, there’s an extra wrinkle. Most reactive givers appear to be identifying the cause they want to support first, and then seeking out what group under that umbrella should receive a contribution. That means they’re not necessarily receptive to direct solicitations from individual organizations. Rather, they’re looking at an organization’s body of work.

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The causes they most commonly back include poverty and homelessness, followed by LGBTQ rights, and environmental issues. Racial justice and equality, health services, and broader anti-discrimination efforts also ranked highly. And now it’s up to cause groups to prove they deserve repeat contributions. Only 23% of reactive givers currently think the actual group they backed is being “very effective.”

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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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