An election year always focuses the mind—on many different things. As fundraisers and nonprofit leaders, we’re taught to be careful at these times—that donors who give to political candidates and causes will naturally turn away from charitable causes to focus on the issue in hand. I know, after nearly a quarter of a century in the field of fundraising and philanthropy, that it’s hard for one campaign to cannibalize support for another, and that those who are inclined to give typically give more freely to multiple causes. Yet, I still continued my assumptions about the negative effects of political campaigns upon charitable fundraising.
The new Giving in an Election Year Report, along with the benefit of hindsight, shows me why I was wrong. Because what we are looking at is the giving of individuals who prize engagement—who see community action as a positive and who are interested in the full political and social spectrum of how we go about achieving change.
What the findings in this report demonstrate is that, just over 180 years after Alexis de Tocqueville published Democracy in America, civic engagement is as highly valued today as it was then. It has become fashionable to say we no longer engage with politics. This election cycle has proved, beyond doubt, that’s not the case. To understand—based on the findings in this report—that engagement in one aspect of public and community life encourages us to engage more strongly with other aspects, is extraordinarily affirming.
I was on Capitol Hill recently on a rare mission to say thank you for something concrete that Congress achieved: the passing of the America Gives More Act. The legislation includes multiple charitable giving incentives—finally made permanent!—including the Charitable IRA Rollover.
The bill was only passed and signed into law on the back of bipartisan support. Each senator or member of Congress that we thanked stressed how highly they valued civic engagement and how deeply they felt it to be a quintessential American characteristic. Collectively, elected politicians, staff and volunteers had achieved something of enormous value to this country.
This report reflects those values—both in its findings and in its own genesis: the corporate sector and nonprofit community collaborating to produce evidence of the importance and value of engagement. I can’t think of a year when we might be more grateful for that understanding.
Download the full report at www.blackbaud.com/election