New Reality Donors

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

In our previous article, we examined the change in how Americans view the current economy and the rise of the Pocketbook Activists. Since last November’s election, this cohort of Americans has either shifted their spending from one company to a competitor or moved that money to a non-profit due to the company’s support or opposition to the Trump Administration. This group, making up 12% of Americans, represents around $1.6 trillion in total spending power according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If the Pocketbook Activists are shifting even a few percent of their overall spending, there is no doubt that companies will start to notice.

American companies are now dealing with changes based solely on a new political landscape, and non-profits are not immune from these changes. To best understand changes in charitable giving patterns, we will have to wait until the end of 2017 to get a full picture of how donation levels for non-profits have changed, but based on our survey of 1,000 adults nationwide, we would expect to see some significant shifts.

Indeed, 1 in 10 Americans have become New Reality Donors. Since the election, these 10% of Americans have either given to a new non-profit which they have never donated to before or have moved charitable donations from one non-profit to another that is more aligned with their values and current view on which issues need to be addressed. Clearly, this a large segment of the American population and represents a cohort that non-profits of all sizes need to be aware of and understand more clearly.

This paper will examine these New Reality Donors more closely; we will see just what demographic groups are making these alterations in their giving patterns and what other actions they might be taking in their communities. As is the case with the Pocketbook Activists, some of the demographic groups driving these changes are surprising to say the least.


In developing the New Reality Donor metric, we first asked respondents whether their consumer behaviors have changed because of the 2016 Presidential election. According to our poll, nearly 1 in 5 Americans overall have changed their spending habits since the November election. 

Surprisingly, this large number (19% of all adults) does not differ by income level, as households making over and under $100,000 show almost identical answers. Also not varying much is the difference by gender, although women are slightly more likely to have altered their habits (20%) than men (18%). We did find some separation by gender for those under 45 years old, as a quarter of women in this age bracket (25%) have changed their spending, as compared to 18% of men under 45. There were also very small differences among those that identify as liberal or conservative, just about 23% of each group.

Given the changes in views that people have when it comes to their own personal economy, it was not surprising to see that partisanship did have an effect on the results to this question. Democrats, in fact, are more likely to have answered affirmatively (25%) than Republicans (18%) and Independents (14%). These numbers are similar when we look at those who voted for Clinton (26% have changed their spending) and Trump (16%). Not surprisingly, those who did not vote in 2016 are less likely to have changed their habits (12%).


Of those that have shifted their behavior, more than two in five (42%) said they had shifted donations from one non-profit to one that deals with issues that seem more important since the November election, while over half (52%) have not changed their donation habits. Overall, this represents about 8% of American adults.

We also asked those who have changed their economic behavior if they have donated to a non-profit since November of 2016 that they have never given to before. Overall, we found similar numbers to our first non-profit question, with 40% saying they had given a new donation and 54% saying no. Not surprisingly, the overlap on these two questions was significant – in total, 10% of Americans have changed their donation patterns.

Looking specifically at those who have switched their donations, we found little differences on this question by gender alone; 42% of men and 43% of women within the economic changers said they have switched their giving to a different non-profit. These similarities are apparent when breaking the data down by age and race, as well. Differences do begin to appear on education, however, as only 37% of non-college grads report shifting their donations, as compared to 50% of college grads. This higher number is driven by college men, 58% of whom responded yes.

Overall, Republicans are more likely to have moved their money to a different non-profit than both Democrats and Independents. Indeed, 58% of those identifying with the GOP said they shifted donations, while only 37% of Democrats and Independents said the same thing. This same pattern, although with a slightly narrower margin, is present with political ideology. Nearly half of conservatives (48%) said yes to this question, as compared to 40% of liberals and 42% of moderates.

Income also is a driving factor, with 53% of those making over $100,000 a year shifted their giving habits, compared to 42% of those under that income level. Clearly, those with higher salaries tend to have more disposable income; however, we are not factoring in amounts of giving per se, but the act itself. Additionally, according to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, the percent of income donated tends to be slightly higher for those making less than $100,000.

The largest differences for this question are not by any specific demographic group, but by sentiment about the future of the economy. For people who believe that the US economy has improved over the last several years, 61% report shifting their money to a new non-profit. That compares to only 27% of Americans who think the economy has gotten worse. Trump voters are also much more likely to have shifted their donation patterns than Clinton voters (54% to 38%); however, in an interesting twist, there is little difference between Romney and Obama voters from 2012 (48% to 44%).

We should note that, although there are large differences among some of these subgroups (Democrats and Republicans for example), all of these numbers are quite large when you extrapolate to the entire adult population and pool of potential donors. So, while these larger changes appear to be taking place among more conservative Americans, the wealthy, and college educated, there are close to 17 million Americans who are reevaluating their donations.


The other question we looked at was how many Americans report having donated to a new non-profit. On this question we do see differences among some demographic groups that were not present in the shifting donations questions. For example, women are more likely than men to have donated for the first time (43% to 36%). Large differences are also apparent when breaking the data down by age. Many more people under the age of 45 are reporting first-time donations (47%) as compared to Americans aged 45-64 (35%) and especially those 65 and older (28%). This change among younger donors is incredibly interesting, and, in our opinion, deserves its own research. As with the question of shifting donations, we found little differences in donation patterns by ethnicity.

People who discovered a new non-profit to donate to since the election are much more likely to be registered voters. Not surprisingly, those who are less engaged in the electoral process are less likely to be shifting their donation habits. Of the registered voters who have shifted economic behaviors, 42% have donated to a new non-profit, while only 22% of non-registered voters did so. That being said, the fact that more than 1 in 5 people who are not registered have engage in this way, is telling of the level and speed of how things have changed since November.

Several other demographic factors are important to new donations. As with those who have switched donations, college grads are much more likely to have searched for a new non-profit, coming in at 51%, as compared to only 32% of non-college grads. Single people are less likely to have given a new donation than married people (32% vs. 47%). Again, Republicans (47%) are more likely to have donated than Democrats (39%) and Independents (25%).


To further our analysis, we combined the data from these two non-profit questions and determined that about 10% of Americans have reported taking at least one of these actions since the election. We are calling this group New Reality Donors, as they were clearly either elated or devastated by the Trump election and are now looking to make an impact.

So, just who are these newfound charitable activists?

Women are more likely to be New Reality Donors than are men (58% to 42%). The group is 45% minority, a significant increase above the 33% that minorities represent in the 90% of the population who are not New Reality Donors. Differences continue to appear by age, education, and political party affiliation. New Reality Donors skew heavily young. In fact, about half (49%) are under 45 years old, 43% are between 45 and 64, and only 8% are over 65 years old. This trends much younger than when compared to the remaining American adults.

New Reality Donors are also slightly more educated. Half (50%) are college grads, as opposed to only 43% among the population that are not in this cohort. College educated women make up 30% of the New Reality Donors, whereas they only comprise 21% of the remaining population.

As we have seen throughout this data, people who are more active also tend to be more polarized. This cohort is no different; the percentage of New Reality Donors that are Democrats is 32%, compared to 26% of the non-New Reality Donors. Republicans also have a higher concentration (35% compared to 29%), while Independents drop from 38% in the non-New Reality Donors to 32%. However, as is often the case looking at party identification alone, this does not paint the full picture. Among the New Reality Donors who are Republicans, 12% voted for Hillary Clinton; and interestingly, while there is a small sample size caution, the numbers are almost equal between men (12%) and women (11%) in this subgroup.

When looking at geography, a higher proportion of New Reality Donors reside in the South, Texas, and the West, while the Midwest is underrepresented.

Moving beyond demographics, New Reality Donors have a brighter outlook on the US economy. Almost half (47%) believe that the US economy has improved and slightly more (50%) are optimistic about the future of the country’s economic situation. These positive numbers contrast strongly with the rest of the country, 27% of whom think the US economy has improved over the past couple of years and 37% of whom think we will improve in the future. These figures are not entirely surprising, since New Reality Donors lean Republican and that group has turned much more optimistic about the country since the election of Donald Trump.

Another interesting window into the New Reality Donors is that when it comes to their relationship with companies, they are just as likely to reward a company that they feel is acting in their interest as much as they are willing to punish a company that is a bad actor in their opinion. More than one third (35%) say they are equally likely to do both, while 28% say they are more likely to act on the positive and 27% are more likely to act on the negative. Among Americans as a whole, 32% say they are more likely to act on the positive, while just 15% say it is the negative that is more likely driving their actions. We did not dive into similar questions about their donation habits, but this difference in the reward vs. punish view on for-profits, points to some potentially interesting views on the support of non-profits and the shifting of donations.


Not surprisingly, there is overlap between the New Reality Donors and Pocketbook Activists. However, it might be lower than you think. Two-thirds of Pocketbook Activists are also New Reality Donors, while 34% are not. Looking at the numbers in the other direction, 78% of New Reality Donors are Pocketbook Activists as well. Examining this overlap, women are more likely to be in both cohorts, as are Americans under 45, Latinos, and African Americans.

Both groups are much more active in their communities since the election than the general population. If anything, the New Reality Donors have become slightly more involved as compared to the Pocketbook Activists.


Clearly, for non-profits, tapping into, and holding on to, these New Reality Donors – as well as Pocketbook Activists – is key towards increasing donations and membership. This wave of activism and civic participation following the election of Donald Trump has created a group of individuals who are already altering the way they donate their money. But as is almost always the case, this is not a monolithic group that can and should be reached out to in one specific way. While many are acting in reaction against Trump, others are acting in support of his policies.

Additionally, while we did not test this avenue out in our latest poll, there are a lot of non-profit groups who are likely to be affected by changes originating with the White House in the coming months. Organizations want to get ahead of the anger, but there is only so much bandwidth most individuals have and we have seen a priority being placed on the issues that are currently front and center when it comes to changes. For example, donations to the ACLU skyrocketed at the beginning of the year and through the initial travel ban. This does not mean that environmental groups, for example, are going to see a similar bump at the same time. The challenge becomes correctly timing when, and how, and organization is trying to put themselves front and center.  

This is, in fact, a new reality that we are all dealing with which presents opportunities and challenges for non-profit organizations across the country. There is an engaged group of Americans out there that are changing their donation habits and a successful organization will figure out how to take advantage of the situation, while others could potentially be leaving a lot of money on the table.