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U.S. workers have been giving a lot more money to the ACLU

People protest President Trump's immigration order in New York. The American Civil Liberties Union said it is suddenly awash in donations and new members as it takes on Trump over the extent of his constitutional authority. (Kathy Willens/AP)
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A major shift in where U.S. workers donate their money has taken place since Donald Trump's election last year — with the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center seeing a greater share of the funds that come from workplace giving, according to data from one big online workplace giving provider.

Benevity, which says it helps about 250 of Fortune 1000 companies manage their employee giving and corporate matching gift programs, tracks which charities receive the most donations from workers and their employers each year. The data, compiled in a ranking of the top 10 charitable causes, shows a big leap for certain charities: The ACLU went from sixth place in 2016 to the top spot for the first time (it was 87th in 2015), and the Southern Poverty Law Center saw its ranking jump from 17th in 2016 to ninth now (it was 230th in 2015).

Bryan de Lottinville, Benevity's founder and chief executive, said the shift reflects more event-driven donations tied to political news over the past year — but also a change in how corporations have been thinking about philanthropy. Increasingly, more companies have been focused on making their donations correspond with employees' interests as a way of driving employee engagement — rather than just pushing fundraising that focuses on favored corporate causes.

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"Companies are increasingly focused on being somebody, as opposed to being Switzerland," said de Lottinville, as employees and customers demand they speak out or get involved on social issues like climate change, immigration and diversity. "We don't get a sense that it's anti-Trump, per se. It's more about promoting diversity and inclusion."

In Benevity's list, the Red Cross was second in terms of donations this year, and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund came in third, similar to its second-place showing in 2016 but up from ninth in 2015. While Benevity's data does not reflect the entire workplace giving market, de Lottinville said it will facilitate the distribution of some $1 billion to more than 100,000 charities, making it a "meaningful index."

The past year also showed some charities seeing major year-over-year boosts in donations in the direct aftermath of politically charged events. For instance, Benevity's data showed that donations on its platform to the ACLU as of February ballooned 330 times over the previous year — following the announcement of the Trump administration's travel ban. Donations to the Southern Poverty Law Center, in another example, jumped 35 times over the same period last year following the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville last month.

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Some of the growth in organizations' workplace giving probably also came from some temporary, double-size matching programs some employers promoted in the wake of events like the travel ban announcement and the Charlottesville rally. Companies such as Apple and Expedia pledged to make two-for-one matches to employees' contributions to civil rights or refugee relief organizations for a period of time following those events.

"That was a new thing for us," said the ACLU's director of mid- and major gifts, Liz FitzGerald. "We definitely saw a significant uptick in the past year of both employee giving and corporate matching gifts." 

De Lottinville said those kinds of temporary promotions — versus the more traditional ongoing corporate charitable matches — are more typical of disaster relief campaigns that companies run to get people to donate in the wake of a major hurricane or other catastrophe.

"In eight years, up until Trump's election, I can't remember many, if any, non-disaster-related super-matching campaign," he said. "That is new for the workplace giving context."

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