Alexandria in Action: Election years are tough for nonprofits

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By John Porter

If you haven’t had enough of election talk, ads, debates, posters and bumper stickers yet, just wait. It’s going to be a very interesting — and if the past few weeks are an indicator — entertaining election year.

I must admit, though, the entertainment value would be appreciated much more if the end result weren’t so important. With that said, I also have another concern about this being an election year.

According to a recent report published by the Atlas of Giving, charitable donations are predicted to rise 2.6 percent in 2016. This is down from a 4.6 percent increase in 2015, when the total amount of donations last year topped $477.5 billion — the largest amount ever recorded according to the Atlas. And while there are various explanations as to why last year was such a banner year, there are some serious concerns about why 2016 will not equal last year’s rate of increase in charitable contributions.

The Atlas indicates that the stock market will continue to be a major factor in the growth cycle of philanthropy, and with the current uncertainty in this space comes less ability and thought of giving. Additionally, political giving is expected to have a significant negative impact on charitable donations.

I don’t know about you, but I get five to 10 emails a week, some from very important people — I’m sure they are personally reaching out to me — asking for just a $1 here or $5 there to support their candidate, all with the promise that my donation will make a difference. The problem is, of course, the competition for financial support in a particularly contentious primary leading to what surely will be a contentious election. And as the candidates need to out fundraise one another, donors are torn about what to do with their limited resources.

This is where you come in. While taking politics and the candidates you support out of the discussion is not an option, and nor should it be, I hope you will continue to support the local nonprofits doing the day-to-day, on the ground work to help make our community better. As individual donors make up the large percentage of contributions — 73 percent in 2015 — it falls to us to remember, consider and continue to support those nonprofits for which you have
a passion and which you know are doing important work.

This is all the more difficult with the increasing bombardment of emails, phone calls, television ads, and the rhetoric which generally inspire people to coalesce and do what they can to make sure the other side doesn’t get elected. The shame of course, at least to me, is the massive spending on these political campaigns and then the impact on those at the grassroots level doing all they can to help those in need in the community.

I encourage you to be vehement in your support of the candidates of your choosing and even to contribute what you will to their campaigns; the political process, as dysfunctional as it sometimes seems, is very important for the future. But just as important — and, in my opinion, more important — are the lives of those who may not eat regularly, who may not have a place to sleep, who may not have money to buy medicine for themselves or their children, or who have serious medical problems which may not be addressed if local nonprofits, providing these basic services, aren’t able to continue to serve the community as in the past.

What’s encouraging is that since 2008, even in the deep recesses of the recession, giving has continued to grow — most of which was by individuals like you. We understand that the economy alone will have an impact in 2016 and the election only compounds these issues. But please, don’t forget your passion, don’t forget what you care about and don’t forget what’s important. And, of course, vote for the candidate of your choice. All of this together is what makes America such a wonderful country in which to live.

The writer is the president and CEO of ACT for Alexandria.

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