As we approach the 2024 US presidential election, many nonprofit professionals wonder if and how politics will affect this year’s charitable giving landscape. Read on as we examine research that helps us understand the relationship between nonprofit fundraising and political giving.

Research on how the US presidential election years impact giving is limited. We should look thoughtfully at 2020, the last election cycle, as the COVID-19 pandemic had unprecedented effects on the economy and how Americans gave. The following is what the data suggests about philanthropy in election years.

Philanthropy for Enhanced Democracy

While we don’t know if charitable giving will mimic 2020, recent grants indicate that donors, including mega donors, are willing to give to increase voter participation. The Open Society Foundations granted $50 million in December 2023 to encourage young people and women to vote, while MacKenzie Scott gave $10 million to the State Infrastructure Fund for increased voting participation and protected voting rights.

Aggregate giving in election years

The 2023 Philanthropic Landscape reveals that charitable giving increased in nine of the last 10 presidential election years, save for 2008 during the global financial crisis.  The charitable giving numbers for an election year tend to follow the trajectory seen in previous years, whether it is an upward or a downward trend. This trend has been observed despite variety in elected candidates, and thus indicates that philanthropy has and will remain resilient despite election outcomes.

Political Giving as a Share of All Giving

In the final few months of each presidential election, political giving spikes as a percentage of total giving, then resettles to lower levels shortly afterward. In more recent presidential election years, political giving appears to make up an increasingly large percentage of all giving during the months surrounding the election. The increasing share of giving during election seasons dovetails with other research that more and more Americans donate to political candidates over time. According to American National Election Studies (ANES) data, 12% of US adults say they donated to a political candidate in 2016.

Does Political Giving “Crowd Out” Individual Charitable Giving?

While political giving appears to be around $2.7 billion so far for the 2024 election year, it represents a small fraction of charitable giving, estimated to total $499.33 billion in 2023.

Though it may seem logical that donors of political campaigns may give less to charity in an election year, there is little empirical evidence to support this. In fact, a study by Blackbaud suggested that in the 2012 election, donors who gave to presidential and other federal candidates (as tracked by the Federal Election Commission) tended to increase their overall donations to charity that year.

“Rage Giving” After Presidential Elections

Following the 2016 election, the media widely reported increased donations to politically progressive causes, coined “rage giving.” Several small studies support that donors may be more inclined to donate to causes associated with the losing candidate’s party following a presidential election than they otherwise would be. While many of these studies have relatively small sample sizes and tend to focus on online giving—which grew by 42% between 2019 and 2021—the research provides some empirical evidence for the phenomenon of “rage giving.”

A Chronicle of Philanthropy analysis suggests that a similar phenomenon has occurred during at least three other elections. On average, nonprofits associated with the opposite political ideology of the winning presidential candidate saw a 57.55% increase in contributions compared to the previous year. Organizations associated with the same ideology as the new president saw an average 2.9% decrease in contributions.

Our Advice for fundraising in an election year

While it may be impossible to fully predict how a presidential election will impact philanthropic giving, we can offer insight into successfully engaging with your donors amidst the political climate.

Continue Fundraising Efforts

More than $3 billion was donated to the two major party candidates in the 2020 election, leading to concern about the competition that political giving may pose to charitable giving. While it is important to research the political giving of your largest donors before major requests, history tells us that donors continue supporting their favorite charitable causes during an election year. Record numbers of Americans voted in the 2020 presidential election; the sheer number of voters is an exciting indicator of increased civic engagement in the US, potentially having ripple effects on charitable giving and volunteering.

Practice Empathy and Awareness

Remember that emotions may run high, especially given the increased voter turnout during the last election. It is essential for charitable organizations to lead with empathy when communicating with donors, staff, and volunteers. Stay aware of how the election results may affect the lives of those closest to your organization.

Remain Committed to Your Mission and Communicate With Donors

Now is a time to reaffirm your organization’s mission, purpose, and values. If your mission was relevant before the election, it will be relevant afterward. With this idea in mind, continue donor communications, thoughtfully articulating your cause’s relevance to today’s world. Americans are passionate about various causes, from the environment to the arts to human services. These passions continue regardless of election outcomes, policy changes, and other societal factors.

Americans are generous, no matter the political climate

Today, as always, charitable giving is a way for Americans to support the values they cherish and empower the organizations that contribute to their communities and the world.

To get more data on philanthropy in the US, download CCS Fundraising’s latest Philanthropic Landscape, 12th edition.