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How Philanthropists Are Responding to Political Shift in DC

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As President Donald Trump’s 100th day in the Oval Office approaches, Exponent Philanthropy on Tuesday released findings from a Pulse Check survey of its 2,000 members, showing that 82% of grant makers expect philanthropy to play a significant role in society as a result of recent changes in Washington.

Fifty-three percent of survey respondents agreed with the statement “In light of recent changes in Washington, I expect philanthropy to play a more important role in our society moving forward,” and 29% strongly agreed with it.

Exponent Philanthropy noted that the phrase “changes in Washington” referred to the following:

  • An aggressive congressional agenda

  • The potential for sweeping policy changes

  • The unconventional style of the new administration

A report in Tuesday’s New York Times said the president both rejected grading his first 100 days in office, and was assiduously pursuing a grade “A.”

Survey respondents were invited to support their quantitative answers with anonymous comments, several of which Exponent Philanthropy selected for release.

Some expressed increased urgency to address funding gaps created by proposed government cuts to social programs.

One donor said: “Philanthropy does not have the resources to replace government programs, so it will force giving away from ‘nice to have programs’ to a stopgap effort of trying to fill holes in basic services … It’s an unsettling time for the vulnerable among us.”

Indeed, charities and foundations are on edge about how the stated policies of the Trump administration and the Republican-majority Congress will play out in the coming year.

Other comments by survey respondents pointed to a need for greater advocacy around specific causes. “If the changes in Washington lead to less government regulation and interference in society, our philanthropic goals will have greater effect,” another donor said.

Still others spoke to the opportunity for a more vigorous philanthropy sector, driven by the anticipation of robust financial markets.

“I’m hoping that we will soon see a more robust growth in the U.S. economy,” a third donor said. “We are hopeful that our investment returns (the Trump bump) will enable us to increase philanthropy to [causes we care about].”

Exponent Philanthropy, which describes itself as a nonpartisan organization, said in a statement that it uses its Pulse Check surveys to gauge membership opinions on important and timely topics. Information is collected anonymously, and the full surveys are neither published nor available for dissemination to the public.

On occasion, as with this survey, the organization publically shares findings from its polls when it deems the topics or findings relevant and useful to the philanthropy sector at large.

Grant Making and Investment

According to the survey, 22% of respondents expected to change their philanthropic giving this year in direct response to recent changes in the capital. The report noted that “philanthropic giving” encompasses grant making, giving strategy and causes supported.

Of the subset that expects to make changes, 33% planned to increase giving in 2017, while a mere 3% planned to decrease giving.

A recent report predicted that charitable giving would increase this year and in 2018.

Fifty-six percent of grant makers surveyed said they would change giving allocations to specific funding areas, and 34% said they would give more general operating grants.

The survey showed that 60% of philanthropists planned no changes to their investments as a direct result of the altered Washington scene, while 30% said they may make changes.

Only 9% of respondents said they expected to make changes. Of these, 63% will likely change their asset allocation mix.

Others said they would explore impact investing opportunities, make more program/mission-related investments or consider more alternative investments.

— Check out Vanguard Offers Guidance to Donors Wary of Tax Reform on ThinkAdvisor.