Following the election of President Donald Trump, people worried about the new administration’s stance on funding social services and preserving the rights of immigrants, LGBT individuals and women, flooded the donation pages of national organizations committed to those causes while other local organizations have seen little evidence of a bump in donations due to Trump.
The American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood and the Southern Poverty Law Center took in record contributions and some New York groups serving immigrants saw significant boosts in donations. In the weekend after Trump introduced his Jan. 27 executive order banning travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries, the ACLU took in $24 million, six times its yearly average, according to media reports.
“Immediately following the election, we all kind of were in shock,” said Christina Samuels, the development manager at the New York Immigration Coalition, a statewide umbrella group of organizations that serve immigrants, which has gained visibility in recent weeks. It raised $60,000 in the final two months of 2016, about four times what it raised over the previous year, Samuels said, attributing the increase to both the election and a push to widen its donor base. After receiving those donations, she said, “What are we going to do now? How do we fight back against this? And I think funders felt the same way, and they’re still feeling the same way.”
While the immigration coalition had fewer than 100 unique funders in the previous year, there were nearly 300 by the end of 2016.
Samuels said it’s been a positive experience to learn where the new donors heard about the organization, adding that many were steered to the group by word-of-mouth or by simply searching for local immigration advocates online. The coalition has launched a campaign, “This is Our New York,” to address many of the postelection concerns, some of which materialized after Trump signed the immigration ban, as well as orders to begin construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and to potentially block funding for sanctuary cities such as New York City, which choose to defy some federal immigration laws to help protect the undocumented.
Donnie Roberts, senior director of development and communications at Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, a Chelsea-based LGBT-focused health care provider whose community also felt under threat by Trump’s election rhetoric said, “I think we did see a real bump here.”
The end of year appeal raised 41 percent more than the previous year and about 28 percent of these donors were new, Roberts said. It received $102,000 from 240 donors in the final months of 2016, compared with $72,000 from 214 donors at the end of 2015. Since the election, supporters have already held or planned about eight benefits, which typically happen only once or twice a year.
“Folks just seem really motivated right now to support an organization like ours (and) support helping folks who are really concerned about what’s going to happen,” Roberts said. Callen-Lorde, which has a clinic and attracts people across the New York area, is planning to expand its capacity and ramp up advocacy efforts to lobby for health insurance. Roberts also noted that other development directors at national and city LGBT organizations have seen a similar influx.
The Center for Comprehensive Health Practice – a $7 million East Harlem-based organization that runs methadone programs and an outpatient clinic with a staff of 70 doctors, social workers and nurses – has not seen an increase in donations. Michelle Gadot, the center’s director of development and communications, said that many people in her own social circle donated money to organizations, but most were giving to national organizations with high visibility. She said the larger organizations that need to mobilize nationally need every dollar that’s going their way, however smaller nonprofits who often don’t have the bandwidth to run large campaigns or a reliable pool of wealthy major donors to approach, could use support as well.
“Those of us working directly in the community, with ‘boots on the ground,’ are struggling to come out of the shadows of these larger organizations when it comes to capitalizing on charitable giving in the wake of Trump’s win,” she wrote in a recent piece for NYN Media.
She suggested a giving local campaign to highlight the needs of community organizations.
Kevin Douglas, co-director of policy and advocacy at United Neighborhood Houses, said organizations across the board were bracing for funding challenges. But, with the exception of groups that support the Arab-American community, there was little talk of a dramatic uptick in donations among local community-based organizations. He said he expected nonprofits might directly suffer from budget cuts to federal agencies that contract with social services organizations or from reduced funding for federal programs such as Medicaid. Nonprofits may also be affected if state and local governments have to spend more money on existing services due to potential cuts from the federal government.
“I don’t think there’s a ton of funding at the federal level for after school that Trump is going to cut on day one, but if he cuts health care access, and then the governor and the mayor have to figure out how they’re going to backfill the coverage for almost three million New Yorkers who have health care through the Affordable Care Act, then that means there’s less money to spend on after school and on other services,” he said before the inauguration.
Many nonprofits can’t build a nest egg to steel themselves against budgetary threats because much of their money is contractually bound for services and overhead spending. “Whether it’s funders, or boards or colleagues, people want to know what you’re doing in preparation of what’s coming,” Douglas said. “And no one knows what’s coming.”
In addition to the immigration travel ban executive order, which has already directly affected immigrant communities throughout the state, early signs indicate that what’s coming could be traumatic to social and cultural organizations, including a reported plan to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts and reshape how Medicaid is paid to states. A blueprint by The Heritage Foundation, which is reportedly serving as a model for Trump’s legislative priorities, includes cuts to food stamp recipients, welfare spending and a sunset for Head Start programs. Nonprofits are also worried about a proposal that could reduce tax deductions for charitable contributions and consequently lessen donors’ motivation to give.
Michelle Jackson, deputy director and general counsel at the Human Services Council, an umbrella group of New York social services organizations, cited concerns over proposed U.S. House of Representatives budgets drafted in previous years which would have included cuts to Medicaid, food stamps and welfare. While those documents were mostly symbolic during the Obama administration, they may be considered a template by the current one.
She said she hadn’t heard of nonprofits reporting dramatic increases and noted that because many social services organizations must remain nonpartisan, donors were drawn to the campaigns of more vocal, higher profile advocacy nonprofits directly refuting the Trump administration. “They don’t see local human service providers as those groups,” she said.
“Any way you slice it, just looking at what’s out there, it doesn’t look good for local nonprofits,” Jackson said.
Jackson said there might be room for advocacy and communication. Fiscal conservatives, who might be otherwise supportive of reducing government spending, do understand the economic value of investing in social service nonprofits, particularly in upstate towns where “the nonprofits are the biggest employer.”
The needs of local nonprofits might also be more aggressively addressed by local philanthropies and by engaging motivated residents. In January, the New York Community Trust, issued a call for proposals for a new fund addressing “hate crimes and New York City residents’ fears of deportation, discrimination, arrest, and poverty.”
Pat Jenny, vice president for grants at the New York Community Trust, wrote in an email that, “Although we have heard no reports that community organizations in New York City have received significant increases in cash donations, we understand that many of them have received unsolicited offers from many residents who want to volunteer and get involved.”