A new term has emerged in the nonprofit world since Donald Trump’s presidential victory: rage donations.
Immediately following Trump’s election, the number of contributions to the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts jumped by 500 percent, according to the group. The Conservation Law Foundation in Boston says it enjoyed a 222 percent surge. California-based Muslim Advocates and the New England office of the Anti-Defamation League reported a 50-fold increase in donations.
Even at the Berkshire Immigrant Center, a tiny nonprofit in Pittsfield that helps newcomers to the United States, more than a third of the gifts it has received this year — 21 of 55 — have arrived since the election. Some were accompanied by “heartfelt notes” from donors lamenting the political turn of events, according to the center’s director, Hilary Greene.
“People are trying to find a way to respond to the outcome of the election,” Greene said, and by donating to nonprofits that oppose Trump “they feel like they’re doing their part, especially combating racism and xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment.”
As many Americans wrestle with a tide of negative emotions unleashed by Trump’s win — from grief to fear to anger to frustration — charitable contributions are gushing into a variety of nonprofits nationwide whose work is potentially threatened by his presidency.
That phenomenon is being fueled by appeals from celebrities such as comedian John Oliver, who urged his viewers to support certain nonprofits, even singling out specific organizations.
A website launched last week called RageDonate also is encouraging the trend by facilitating online gifts to charities that advocate for women, immigrants, and other groups Trump has disparaged. The site reports receiving 10,000 views in its first 48 hours of existence.
“A lot of people are upset now, and you can sit around moping, or go on Twitter or Facebook and complain, or you go on platforms like ours and actually do something,” said Earl Carlson, a Brooklyn product design manager who is one of RageDonate’s creators. “We’re allowing people to take the negative feelings they have and use those feelings to do better in the world through donations.”
That desire is what spurred 41-year-old Milton resident Jessica McDaniel to send holiday cards this year notifying her family and friends that, in lieu of giving them gifts, her family would be making donations to the ACLU, Southern Poverty Law Center, and Planned Parenthood. She encouraged them to do the same.
“It seemed like the election was casting this darkness over everything, so we thought: what can we do to turn that around?” said McDaniel, the owner of Boston Baby Photos, a photography company. She and her husband decided that instead of spending money on craft supplies to make ornaments, soaps, and other homemade gifts, they’ll give that money to charity.
McDaniel acknowledged that she has “some Trump-supporting family” members who may not agree with her holiday card’s political message, “but this is important enough to us that we’re willing to make a statement to the family,” she said.
The Boston affiliate of one of McDaniel’s chosen charities, Planned Parenthood, has enjoyed a 32 percent increase in online donors since the election, nearly 20 percent of which were made in the name of Vice President-elect Mike Pence, an abortion opponent who has tried to defund the organization.
For some people dismayed by the Nov. 8 outcome, public protests have been their preferred means of expressing distress. But for others more comfortable with a quieter form of dissent, charitable giving is an appealing option.
“This giving burst we’re seeing is another way people can have passive resistance to policies they don’t like or believe in,” said Eileen Heisman, chief executive of the National Philanthropic Trust, whose mission is to increase philanthropy in society. “You need to have your voice known, and one way you can have your voice known in the United States of America is to give to nonprofits important to you.”
Charitable groups haven’t been the only financial beneficiaries of public upset over Trump’s election. Nonprofit investigative newsrooms such as ProPublica, one of the organizations singled out by HBO’s Oliver, say they’ve since received an unusually large number of donations. And the Washington Post and New York Times both report a significant surge in subscribers since the election.
The newspapers attribute the increases to readers wanting to ensure aggressive coverage of Trump, especially since he has repeatedly publicly criticized the New York Times for what he calls its “unfair” coverage of him.
Spikes in charitable giving have happened after past presidential elections. Conservative nonprofits have benefited when Democratic presidents were elected. During Barack Obama’s presidency, for example, contributions to the National Rifle Association rose as firearm owners prepared for a renewed emphasis on gun control.
It’s unclear whether the anti-Trump charitable giving will continue at its current volume, as time passes and emotions cool down.
“I’m not sure it’s going to stay to this extreme,” said Heisman, of the National Philanthropic Trust, “but if the policies he starts promoting anger a group of people who wish he would be doing the opposite, we could have continual bursts.”
Heisman noted that no one can say for sure how Trump will govern or what his administration’s policies will be; apprehensions about his presidency are rooted in anxiety over the unknown. “But in the interim,” she said, “people can express their concerns through this giving.”
Jamaica Plain resident Jeff Deutsch, 42, is among those who have turned to philanthropy in reaction to Trump’s election. He recently posted a Facebook message explaining that instead of buying holiday gifts this year, he would be making donations to charities that will “help the fight.”
He’s donating to the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, and he’s asked friends and family to make similar contributions rather than give him presents.
“I wasn’t motivated by rage or anger, but sadness or concern,” Deutsch said. “In some ways, rage is very healthy, but rage has to be channeled, and I think channeling anger toward donations or peaceful protests is more constructive.”Sacha Pfeiffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @SachaPfeiffer.