New Reality Donors: One Year Later

Source: ACLU

Source: ACLU

Over the last fifteen months, we have examined the shifts in spending among American consumers as a result of political activism. We thought the trend was slowing down after instances such as Nordstrom dropping the First Daughter’s clothing line, Uber not being supportive of protests on the travel ban early in President Trump’s tenure, and the CEO of Under Armour openly praising the president began to die down. However, we’re right back at it in 2018, with many conservatives pledging to spend their money elsewhere now that Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart tightened their rules about gun sales.

In our previous article, we updated you on the Pocketbook Activists. Since the 2016 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, now making up 15% of Americans, represents around $2.1 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.

When we first began this analysis one year ago, we knew that companies weren’t the only entities dealing with this new political landscape; non-profits would have to acclimate to this new, unstable environment as well. In March of 2017, we found that 1 in 10 Americans (10%) fell into a group we refer to as the New Reality Donors; these are Americans who, since the election of President Trump, 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. That trend shows no sign of stopping, as New Reality donors now make up 13% of Americans according to our national survey results last month.

Just as we did with the Pocketbook Activists, we are going to check in with these New Reality Donors now that one full year has passed. And, also like the Pocketbook Activists, some of the demographic groups driving these changes are surprising to say the least.


As a reminder, in developing the New Reality Donor metric, we first ask respondents whether their consumer behaviors have changed because of the 2016 Presidential election. According to our latest survey, more than one-quarter of Americans overall (27%) have changed their spending habits since the November 2016 election. 

As a recap in case you have not read our update on the Pocketbook Activists yet, not much has changed since June when it comes to who is driving this trend; liberals, men and women under the age of 45, Clinton voters, and Democrats are leading the charge. People under 55, Republicans, and women in general are also changing their habits more than the average American, while Trump voters, those 65 and older, Independents, and non-voters are lower than average.

After seeing our June results, we noticed a clear pattern when it came to ethnicity. Groups with higher rates of changing consumer behavior than the average were Hispanic women (30%), Asian Americans (32%), Black men (36%), and women of color broadly (31%). And while the numbers among these groups have dropped since June, these spending changes continue to be driven by immigrants (41%), minorities, and younger people. While conservatives rank higher than the average, liberals are reporting these changes in much higher numbers.



Of those that have shifted their behavior, one-third (34%) said they had shifted donations from one non-profit to  a different one that deals with issues that seem more important since the November election, while over half (58%) have not changed their donation habits. This is a drop from the 42% who reported shifting donations from one non-profit to another last year, this is still a significant number – about 8% of Americans.

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 38% saying they had given a new donation and 55% saying no. This has not changed much over the past year; last March, 40% of these Americans said they had given a new donation.


Checking back in with demographics we analyzed last year, we can see that this activity has decreased for most groups since last March (except for those who think the US economy has gotten worse, raised to 30% from 27% last year). However, despite overall decreases in activity, we see that the same demographics are driving the trend: college-educated Americans, women, those who think the US economy has gotten better, Trump voters, 2012 Romney voters, Republicans, and Obama voters are all shifting spending in this way more than the average American. On the other hand, Democrats and moderates, while showing a decrease among themselves, are now shifting their spending more than the average American.


Like we said last year, 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. Some groups continue to drive the change; women are more likely than men to have donated for the first time (42% vs. 34%), and Americans under the age of 45 are more likely than their older peers to have donated for the first time (44% vs. 30% of those who are 45-64 and 34% of those aged 65 and older). The same is true for those who are registered to vote, 40% of whom say they have made a new donation, compared to just 20% of Americans who are not registered to vote.


Interestingly, some groups have switched. For example, in March of last year, Republicans were one of the groups we looked at with the highest level of new donations (47%), while Democrats were less likely than the average American to have made a new donation (39%). Since then, new donations among Republicans have dropped by 10 percentage points (47% to 37%) and this cohort now has a lower concentration than the average, at the same time Democrats increased their activity by 3 percentage points remaining above average.


To further our analysis last March, we took a look at who exactly these newfound charitable activists were. New Reality Donors were more likely to be non-white, young, women, and more educated than the rest of America. Has this changed over the past year?


Generally speaking, these same demographics are driving the movement of the New Reality Donors. While there are no real differences when it comes to party identification or region, we do see that New Reality Donors continue to have higher concentrations of college-educated, female, minority, and younger Americans than their non-NRD counterparts.

Additionally, New Reality Donors have a brighter outlook than their non-NRD peers on the state of the US economy, the area they live in, and their own lives. Half of New Reality Donors (50%) think the US economy has gotten better, compared to just two in five of their non-NRD counterparts (37%). They’re view of the direction of the economy in the future is also more positive, with 45% of New Reality Donors saying they believe the economy will get better in the future, compared to 35% of non-NRD Americans. This is a trend that has persisted since we first examined the traits of these Americans one year ago.


As we said last year, tapping into and holding on to these New Reality Donors (and the Pocketbook Activists) will be key for non-profits in terms of increasing donations and memberships. 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.

This is a new reality we are dealing with and, even after a year of experiencing the hurdles of this new politically-charged atmosphere, it is presenting challenges to companies and non-profit organizations alike. While it will be difficult for non-profits to develop a strategy to reach out to this group since they are clearly not monolithic, one thing is for sure: it’s been one year, and this group hasn’t gone anywhere. They will continue to affect change and shift their dollars.