Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Give to candidates, not to nonprofits

"I'm not giving any more money to nonprofits this year. I'm not volunteering for nonprofits anymore this year. Instead, in this very, very crucial election year, I'm giving as much money as I can to candidates I support, and as much time as I have volunteering on political campaigns.
Because I believe that who wins the U.S. presidential election this year will have an enormous impact on the causes I believe in: freedom, prosperity, economic equity, civil rights, international fairness, environmental protection."

Those are the words of Jan Masaoka, CEO of the California Association of Nonprofits. You can read her full statement here.*

Since January 2010 and the Citizens United decision I've been talking to foundations and donor advisors about how Americans make choices between giving to nonprofits and giving to candidates. No matter how big or small your individual budget is you have this choice. If you happen to have tens of millions of dollars to give to campaigns or to electioneering efforts by independent organizations you can now do it - and there's been a good deal of attention to the disclosures by these organizations, a lot of data crunching about their expenditures, and a growing amount of discussion about the difference between anonymous charitable giving and anonymous political giving.

Many of us make choices about charitable giving separate from our choices about politics. This is obvious from aggregate data - more than 75% of Americans make charitable donations; less than 1% of us give more than $200 to candidates. Heck, most of us don't even show up to vote - since 1948 no Presidential election has attracted even 65% of the electorate. Usually, the turnout rate is much lower than that.  

The real question is whether giving to politics and charity is complementary or whether one is a replacement or substitute for the other. Is greater giving to candidates, SuperPACS, and c4s going to take away from people's charitable giving? Because of the poor quality and timing of data on these two types of giving we don't know the answer to that question - and may not for several years. Anecdotally, I know of donors (big and small) making this choice. I even created a decision tree graphic in the toolkit Navigating the New Social Economy to show the thought process that leads to this choice.

Jan is making the case, with which I agree, that the political environment in which direct service organizations operate matters to their success. Political activism, advocacy, and individual engagement in making our society a better place to live can be accomplished through politics and civil society organizations.

Masaoka is encouraging us to align our political support with the values we enact through our charitable giving.  My hunch is that giving to one may well come at the expense of the other, which Masaoka surely understands. We each have limited time and money and so we're making choices between options (sometimes consciously, otherwise less so). Our single dollar can't go to two places; it's politics or nonprofits, not both.  It's quite a statement, coming from the head of an association of nonprofits, to say "choose politics."

*Including her closing footnote where she says she'll still give to and volunteer for nonprofits.

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