Political Divide Creates Dangerous Chasm for Nonprofit Organizations

By Clint Demeritt

Political tensions between conservative and progressive ideals seem like they have come to a boiling point in this country, making one wonder whether the name “the United States of America” is still accurate.

This tension has put pressure on organizations, including nonprofits, to take a stand on the political spectrum. While this may not be difficult for some organizations that lean in partisan directions, like Planned Parenthood and the National Rifle Association, many nonprofits just want to stay out of the fray.

A recent Washington Post article titled “Nearly Half of Liberals Don’t Even Like to Be Around Trump Supporters” shows the danger of getting too political. Citing a recent Pew Research Center survey, the article says about 47 percent of liberal Democrats said a friend supporting Trump would put a strain on their relationship. But that strain rate is only 35 percent when Democrats in general are asked, and only 13 percent of Republicans said a friend supporting Hillary Clinton would harm their relationship.

With political tension on the rise, many organizations saw large donation bumps after the election of President Donald Trump. But is it worth it for nonprofits to wade into the political muck to goose their donation rates?

Planned Parenthood saw a surge of donations after Trump’s election. The women’s health organization saw 300,000 donations in the six weeks after the election, 40 times the normal rate, according to a Guardian report. The article also says about 50 percent were millennials and 70 percent were first-time givers to Planned Parenthood.

Another progressive organization, the ACLU, saw a giant surge in donations for a few days following Trump’s first executive order barring travel from several Muslim-majority countries, The New York Times reported. The ACLU raised more than $24 million in online donations from 356,306 donors, and the legal organization thought about two-thirds were new donors. To compare, the ACLU raised about $3.5 million online in 2015.

Living in these politically interesting times can be good for donations, but shifting winds may also mean government support for nonprofits could be cut off. We have already seen budget proposals from the current administration aimed at cutting funds to organizations like Planned Parenthood. Support for Community Development Block Grants and funding for the arts are also on the chopping block in Trump’s 2018 budget proposal.

The potential loss of government funding would be a huge blow for organizations such as Planned Parenthood, which receives about 40 percent of its budget from government health services reimbursements and grants, according to its annual report. That is $554.6 million.

Looking at those numbers, we see that Planned Parenthood and the ACLU both attracted more than 300,000 individual donations in response to these news events. Though Planned Parenthood hasn’t shared the hard numbers behind the donation boost yet, it’s safe to assume the total donation amount is close to the $24 million the ACLU received.

That means it’s hard for donors to make up the $500 million shortfall from the cut of government support. And with political-crisis fatigue setting in and distracting national news complete with salacious Russian-collusion stories, it’s going to be difficult for nonprofits to attract the attention they need if grants and government support dry up.

One thing is clear: Nonprofits need to think long and hard about where they fit into the political spectrum when approaching donors.

For help navigating these troubled political waters, make sure you check out the DMA presentation “Crystal Ball: Whether Yours is Red or Blue, We Have Something for You.” Speakers Tiffany Neill, partner at Lautman Maska Neill & Company; John Mini, CEO of John Mini Consulting, Inc.; Jenn Mercer, president of Thrive Marketing Group; and Jack Doyle, president of Amergent will explore the short- and long-term effects the new clashes in our nation’s capital will have on fundraising and how to thrive whether you fall in the red or blue category.

The session will also see how civic elders, boomers and millennials play in this political fundraising climate and whether they should be treated like activists, donors or a combination of both.

Make your plans now to join us and hundreds of fundraising and marketing professionals at the 2017 Chicago Nonprofit Conference, a two-day event where you can exchange innovative marketing and fundraising ideas, generate insightful solutions, and think creatively to help make your relationship with your donors even stronger.

This conference will be the platform for improving public awareness of and receptivity to direct and interactive market-driven philanthropy. You’ll also hear case studies from your colleagues that will offer a more realistic view of the issues, challenges and successes you face every day.

This article is brought to you by the DMA. Click here to register for the Nonprofit Federation Conference, Aug. 28-30, 2017, in Chicago.