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‘It’s unprecedented in our history’: Trump’s election inspired millions in nonprofit donations

Baladine Pierce, a freshman at Williams College, takes part in a protest against the election of Donald Trump on Nov. 12 in WIlliamstown, Mass. (Ben Garver/Berkshire Eagle via AP)

When Kate Bigam left for a vacation in Peru days after the election, she knew there’d be no avoiding questions about Donald Trump. So she decided that for every Peruvian who asked her about the new U.S. president-elect, she would learn a bit about that person and then donate to organizations inspired by those conversations.

Like many Americans, Bigam, a 32-year-old from Cleveland, felt compelled to do something tangible in response to an election that she feared left many groups and many issues vulnerable. On her personal blog this Giving Tuesday, Bigam shared the eight groups she’ll be contributing to and why. She’ll be donating to the National Alliance on Mental Health after meeting a psychiatrist. She’ll be donating to the Immigrant Legal Resource Society on behalf of a Latino immigrant living in California. She’ll give to EarthJustice for the tour guide who took her up Machu Picchu.

“I really wanted to be a part of a positive movement in the midst of something that felt so negative to so many of us,” she said.

It’s a sentiment shared by hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Americans worried about causes ranging from immigration to the environment to anti-discrimination efforts under a Trump administration. Like Bigam, many of those people found they could immediately do something by opening their wallets to nonprofits that work on behalf of those issues.

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For many of the organizations that have received an influx of new funds in the past three weeks, the Tuesday after Thanksgiving — a day designated since 2012 as a time to be charitable — would have been their big end-of-the-year fundraising push. But by Tuesday they had already filled their coffers with more money than they’d ever received in such a short amount of time.

Most of it has happened organically. While some groups did put out a call for donations immediately after the election, others were completely taken off guard by the sudden contributions.

Steve Mendelsohn, deputy executive director of the Trevor Project, which works on suicide prevention for LGBT youth, said call volume to the nonprofit’s hotline doubled right after the election. “When people call us they say they are afraid to come out because of the election, expressed they might go back in the closet, afraid they might be subject to violence. That fear leads to instability in terms of mental health, which can lead to suicide ideation,” Mendelsohn said. “So it’s really important for the Trevor Project to handle all the volume we’ve been getting … to be there for young people when they need us.”

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But without even asking, the money just appeared. It started coming in the days after the election, and then in a segment on his HBO show Nov. 13, John Oliver mentioned the Trevor Project as one of several organizations that people should consider supporting if they wanted to take a stand.

Mendelsohn said the group had planned a big fundraiser around Giving Tuesday to kick off a week after the election. Their goal was to raise $20,000. Through that effort alone, they raised $60,000. That was on top of the hundreds of thousands of dollars that came to them organically.

The American Civil Liberties Union did actively solicit contributions, which the group had planned to do no matter who won. The ACLU had a campaign prepared around a Hillary Clinton win and a rougher outline of how it would respond in the event of a Trump upset. The group scrambled to adjust its narrative after the results and put out a forceful statement the next day.

In return, the ACLU received a flood of donations unlike anything the 100-year-old organization had ever seen. Since the election, it has received more than $15 million from 241,480 donors, according to  Mark Wier, the ACLU’s chief development officer. About half of that, $7.2 million, came in the five days after Nov. 8. By comparison, after the 2012 presidential election, the ACLU received $27,806 in the same amount of time, Wier said.

“It’s unprecedented in our history,” said Wier. “The response is inspiring. We’re seeing people do bake sales for us; we’re getting envelopes with cash — we’ve never seen that before. We’re getting people reaching out saying, ‘I want to volunteer. What can I do?’”

The Anti-Defamation League, another century-old organization that protects people against discrimination, has seen a similar response, particularly with the surge of hate crimes recorded across the country in the wake of the presidential campaign. The group has received 20 times the call volume from people who want to volunteer and a 50-fold increase in online donations, with close to 90 percent from first-time donors, said Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL chief executive and national director. Several donors have sent money in the name of “Steve Bannon,” Trump’s senior strategist who ran Breitbart News, a site that gives voice to white supremacy supporters.

Planned Parenthood saw a similar rush of support. On social media, people spread the idea to send checks to the women’s reproductive rights group on behalf of Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who as Indiana governor signed antiabortion legislation and has sought to defund Planned Parenthood. Of the 260,000 donations since the election, 72,000 have been in Pence’s name, said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

“We’ve seen an unprecedented outpouring of support, with more than 260,000 people donating since the election — a quarter of whom pledged to be monthly supporters, recognizing the long-term work that is needed,” said Richards.

Other groups, such as the pro-environment Sierra Club and the International Refugee Assistance Project at the Urban Justice Center, reported seeing huge increases in donations since Nov. 8.

Yet, perhaps no group was more surprised by the surge in new support than the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights group. November is not CAIR’s fundraising period. Its donor base is primarily the American Muslim community, and typically Muslims donate to charity during the Ramadan holiday. Giving a percentage of income to charity is a pillar of Islam, and good deeds are viewed even more favorably during the holy month.

But after the election, CAIR received donations and volunteer offers from people of all faiths who saw it as a way to protest Trump’s pledge during the election to ban Muslims from coming to the United States, and the hate crimes directed at Muslims since his win, said Ibrahim Hooper, CAIR spokesman.

“It’s a very good sign. It’s something we hadn’t seen before,” Hooper said. “Making a donation is the ultimate sign of solidarity. Actions speak louder than words.”

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