As Americans were processing the results of the highly contentious 2016 presidential election, certain U.S. nonprofit organizations began to report surges in their fundraising — referred to as “rage giving” by some media outlets, suggesting a growing relationship between politics and charitable giving.
The Women’s Philanthropy Institute released a study this week that examined whether donations in fact increased after the election and if so, which causes benefited. Researchers also sought to understand whether gender differences were a factor in this giving.
They found that overall donations were lower just after the 2016 vote than would be expected in years without a national election. They also found that lower giving at this time was concentrated among men.
Women’s post-election giving rose compared with men’s, and this giving significantly increased for progressive nonprofits that had relevance to key election issues.
For purposes of the research, “relevant progressive” was defined as “a perceived liberal or progressive political leaning.” Nonprofits such as Planned Parenthood Federation, American Civil Liberties Union, National Immigration Law Center and Southern Poverty Law Center fell into this category.
The study used daily transaction data from Charity Navigator, a national online donation platform, whose gift data were merged with organizational information on recipient 501(c)(3) organizations as well as demographic information about donors, including gender.
Using these data, researchers tested whether charitable giving patterns changed in the week before and the week after the 2016 election. It looked only at the period around the 2016 election, compared with similar periods in 2015 and 2017.
According to the study results, women gave an average of $1,586 more than men to the top organizations in the data set in the week before the election. In the week following the election, this difference shot up to $3,905.
“These findings suggest that some Americans who were moved to action following the 2016 election expressed that desire to engage with issues they care about through their philanthropy,” WPI director Debra Mesch said in a statement.
“Women led this charge, embracing charitable giving as an extension of their political engagement and using their growing financial assets to advance causes including minority rights, reproductive rights and climate action.”
The WPI was careful to note that charitable organizations in the data were classified according to perceived political leaning as well as relevance to issues raised during the 2016 election cycle. Because this was the first study of its kind, it said, it was unknown whether a similar effect would be seen among relevant conservative charitable organizations in a year with different election results.
Why did women’s charitable giving rise after the 2016 election, compared with men’s giving? The report gave no definitive reasons, but looked to other research for possible explanations.
For one thing, different motivations tend to influence women’s and men’s giving to charity. Women are likelier to be motivated by empathy and altruism, and tend to give to help others, while men focus on the benefits they receive from giving.
Many of the relevant progressive nonprofits in the study focus on “other-centered” issues that may increase their appeal to women, such as immigration rights, minority rights and human rights.
In addition, the report said the WPI had previously used what is called the social identification theory of care in its research, which posits that donors are motivated to give to people with whom they identify.
Because several relevant progressive nonprofits in the data set advocate for or otherwise support women’s reproductive rights, women may increase giving to these causes more than men because they identify more closely with those who benefit from services those nonprofits provide.