Trump policies could mean boom or bust for nonprofits

Steven Windmueller
Steven Windmueller

Donald Trump’s presidency could lead either to an influx of resources or a dry spell for Jewish philanthropy in 2017, according to Steven Windmueller, an expert on Jewish giving.

In one scenario, significant tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations could free up money for large-scale charitable giving, especially in the short term.

But in another scenario, Trump’s first year in office could bring about an economic slowdown and could cause what Windmueller called “fear and disconnect,” which would lead to less giving.

“New fiscal and tax policy might begin a shift in the marketplace in a way that would free up dollars from wealthier individuals and corporations,” said Windmueller, the former dean of Hebrew Union College’s Los Angeles campus and former director of HUC’s School of Jewish Communal Service (now the School of Jewish Nonprofit Management).  “Or it could be a difficult year for the administration and the economy. It could really go either way.”

Windmueller, now an emeritus professor at HUC, also noted that Trump’s presidency could lead to increased giving to organizations that strengthen civil society. He pointed to the Anti-Defamation League, which he said is going through a “reinvention.”

“I think the ADL will become increasingly important, especially if we continue to see a spike in anti-Semitism or a weakening of civil society,” he said. “The ADL is really quite attuned to what is happening in this area.”

Should the Trump administration bring about a spike in giving to charity, this would build upon steady growth in the overall amount of donations charities have received since the 2008 recession, he said.

He noted that one study showed that overall charitable giving in the United States increased 4.1 percent in 2016 compared to 2015 and is expected to increase 4.3 percent in 2017 over 2016.

The possible impact of the Trump presidency was one of the philanthropic trends in 2017 Windmueller outlined on the website

Another big trend in philanthropy is the growing giving power of the millennial generation.

There are now more than 75 million millennials in the United States (with millennials defined as people between the ages of 18 and 34). According the Millennial Impact Project, 85 percent of millennials donate some money to a charity.

Windmueller outlined how millennial giving differs from that of older generations. For one, he said, millennials are more interested in giving money to “very targeted institutions that appeal to specific passions and the interests of donors,” rather than to umbrella organizations.

In the Jewish world, this means giving to the hunger-fighting group Mazon or to a specific Israel advocacy organization, such as J Street or AIPAC, rather than giving to a federation. Windmueller referred to statistics on eJewish Philanthropy showing that giving to federations declined by 37.6 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars between 1991 and 2015.

Millennials very often want the organizations to which they donate to show them concretely what their money is doing, Windmueller said, which represents another change from previous generations. Windmueller said that it can be particularly difficult for advocacy organizations to show concrete results, but he said that this challenge is not unique to the Jewish community.

Millennial giving also will affect the way nonprofits conduct marketing to potential donors. Windmueller emphasized that millennials respond well to targeted advertising. For nonprofits, that translates into finding which parts of their mission individual donors connect to most in order to determine what marketing material to send to them.

“Millennials, especially, want to be seen as individuals, and want to be afforded opportunities that are unique to them or of importance to them,” said Windmueller.

Another aspect of reaching millennials may seem counterintuitive. As organizations spend time and resources beefing up their social media channels in order to reach millennials, Windmueller pointed to a study that showed that email marketing still results in more online donations than social media. In 2015, revenue from email grew by 25 percent, faster than the 19 percent increase in overall online growth, according to the M+R Benchmarks Study.

Finally, Windmueller said that small-scale donations also have the power to make a big impact when large numbers of people become passionate about a cause. He noted that various small Jewish organizations have been “creative” in how they’ve raised money through crowdfunding and donations from “small pockets.” Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign for president — though Sanders failed to win the Democratic nomination — is an example of how financially successful that approach can be.

“That model may have more life to it than we realize,” he said.

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