Pocketbook voters

You’ve likely heard it said that people vote with their pocketbooks. I’ve used the old saw myself when encouraging nonprofit leaders (board members, CEOs, and fundraising staff) to mind trend lines in annual giving.

custom_square_icon_17806Now we have proof to back the idiom. Tucked among the findings of Giving USA 2106 is this: “When it comes to performing their civic duty, Americans are more inclined to give to charity than cast their ballots at the polls.”

According to the Pew Research Center, 53.6 percent of Americans voted in the 2012 presidential election. That same year, 59.7 percent gave to charity. What with record-breaking giving in 2015, both in dollar amounts and percentage of the population as donors, we can expect to see the vote vs. gift gap to widen in 2016.

John or Jane American aren’t so sure their one vote counts, but they know their gifts do. They see the impact of their giving every day, in myriad ways — on their kids’ sports fields, through the local fire company, in a new library building, through distributions by the local food bank, and (you fill in the blank).

As Patrick Rooney of the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy told a reporter from The Huffington Post, “Giving is more direct, more tangible. Voting is an important role in our democratic system, but there are lots of gaps between what any one politician promises and what he or she can deliver. Philanthropy is quite democratic and always has been,” Rooney adds. “Our $20, $10 and $1 gifts do make a cumulative difference.”


Although Americans are embracing philanthropy at a higher level than ever before, we dare not take for granted the trust the giving pubic has in the nonprofit sector, and especially so when our goal is to grow donors’ hearts. Fundraisers working in faith-based settings should look beyond the organization’s needs and goals to the blessings donors will experience as they give, volunteer, and advocate. In support of that good end, organizational leaders must be thankful, responsive, transparent, and above all, truthful.

Fudging the facts or exaggerating outcomes can (or seem to) win votes for politicians, but don’t try it at home. Trust-breakers pay a high price, as shown by the American public’s deeply cynical views of government, politics, and the nation’s elected leaders. As representatives of faith-based and other well-meant work, our responsibility is to live up to the promises we make and which donors believe.

A financial gift, even more so than a vote, carries with it hope, faith, and confidence that change for the better is possible. When we honor those sentiments, everyone wins by a landslide.

For more about donor hopes and aspirations, see:

Money talks. Are you listening?

To see ourselves through donors’ eyes

Listening for the gift

What's your take on this topic?

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