What can British fundraisers learn from US ‘rage giving’?

Philanthropy isn’t always soft, cuddly, and happy. Sometimes, it’s hard and edgy and full of anger. The term ‘rage donating’ or ‘rage giving’ has been used to describe the unprecedented levels of protest giving since Trump was elected.

The media seem to have encouraged, or certainly embraced, this trend. Google ‘anti-Trump giving’ and there are pages of links to articles which ran November 2016 onwards on how you could give in response to Trump’s election. And it wasn’t just in the left wing news media. Even Cosmopolitan magazine ran a story on “Where to Donate to Fight Trump’s Immigration Ban”. Some stories even described how you could get back on family members who supported Trump by making donations on their behalf to causes they would not support!

These stories trickled into the UK media, too. The Independent newspaper ran “5 ways you can protest Donald Trump’s presidency,” which suggested that if you can’t get to a rally then “donations to non-profit organisations to stand up against the new administration could also prove an effective defence against the potential threats from Trump.”

And the media have run with this theme throughout January, reporting on the surge in giving which Trump’s victory seems to have unleashed. The Financial Times reported that ‘Donations to charitable groups surge after Trump victory,” noting that environmental and civil rights groups were seeing a surge in giving.

Most recently, the sheer scale of response to the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) “See you in court” campaign has attracted much attention. The campaign trended on Twitter and resulted in many high-profile celebrities pledging to match donations. The ACLU website crashed as it struggled to cope with the internet traffic it received as people gave $24m+ in one weekend.

It wasn’t all focused on the ACLU. Other causes have been promoted in a similar way via social media. The popstars Sia and Grimes have pledged to match donations to the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Proof of pledges is evident in photos of receipts on social media.

It is interesting to see how this trend towards setting out matched funding challenges by celebrities is driving viral giving and attracting new donors to these causes. Charities will be watching this and learning fast, considering how they can encourage this kind of viral giving.

And it’s not just celebrities who are choosing ‘rage giving’ as a way to make their views known. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has donated $1m to Planned Parenthood stating that “Women’s rights are human rights – and there is no more basic right than health care.”

Whilst giving in the USA is loud and full of rage in response to Trump, giving in the UK is silent in its response to Brexit.

So why haven’t we seen rage giving in the UK as a response to Brexit?

The UK was divided as it went to the polls, and many people were angry and disheartened by the outcome. For many, it changed how they felt to be British and challenged their values – a very similar feeling to those who did not vote for Trump.

Perhaps it is less clear to us all how Brexit will affect the causes we care about, or maybe it’s because non-profits are not tapping into our rage (or at least British disappointment) to seek our support. Maybe it’s because the media seems more interested currently in running anti-charity stories than suggesting ways we can give to make us feel better. Indeed, if you Google ‘Brexit philanthropy,’ you simply find a series of sector stories about how charities will be affected by Brexit. No calls to action whatsoever.

Whatever the reasons, I think British fundraisers can learn from the phenomenon of rage giving unleashed through social media in the USA. There are six simple lessons:


  1. Be externally focused

Fundraisers can become inward-looking and focused on our messages, our strategy, our targets, our needs. We need to be strongly aware of the external realities. We must identify the messages that people are responding to and the issues that are trending, and shape our fundraising to respond.

  1. Be bold and unafraid

I think the negative media coverage on charities has quietened the voices of charities and made them risk averse. We should be confident in our message and the importance of our work.

  1. Make sure you can move fast

Going viral requires swift movement on a topical issue or concern. Fundraisers are often wedded to strategic plans and budgets laid out for 12 months (or longer). We have to build in flexibility of time and budget to move quickly to respond.

  1. Realise you aren’t in control

Fundraisers want to control the message and predict the response. When a cause goes viral, the response is beyond your control – and that’s ok. The American Civil Liberties Union could not have had any idea of the level of response it would receive. They unleashed a wave of support that was not in their control but entirely on their side.

  1. Celebrity giving has power

British fundraisers have often been shy of asking celebrities to give. We are grateful for their time, their patronage, their visible support, their attendance at events – but we do not ask them to give. We must. Notice the power of celebrities announcing their gifts and offering matching challenges to their followers. Celebrities will give and can help you recruit online donors – fast.

  1. Matched funding works

The power of matched funding challenges along with people challenging each other to match gifts has been powerfully demonstrated by the ACLU. We can all run matched funding challenges with or without celebrities. Matched funding schemes can be a brilliant way to elevate our fundraising and demonstrate leverage to major donors.

— Susie Hills, Managing Director

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