Put this on your radar: you fire up your computer in the morning and, without warning, your platforms spit out a flood of notifications. Dozens, maybe hundreds, of unanticipated five-, ten-, twenty-dollar gifts, along with countless missed calls, emails, newsletter sign-ups. There are thousands, maybe millions, of individuals suddenly taking notice of your work. Why now? Why your nonprofit?
You’ve become the next target of "rage giving." In "How Rage Giving Became Philanthropy’s New Normal," Emily Burack defines rage givers as typically first-time and one-time donors who donate in small amounts—“as much to make a statement as to make a difference.” They are the philanthropic by-product of polarized politics, social media magnification, and global connection. And their mob is only growing.
As nonprofit professionals with money to raise and mission integrity to maintain, we must understand what rage givers really want and how to manage them, as well as what the rage-giving phenomenon means for philanthropy at large.
Rage givers are, first and foremost, reacting. There’s some grievance, some injustice, some fear that is driving rage donors en masse to the first nonprofit addressing the problem—or just the first nonprofit “hashtagged” online.
If this feels a little hasty to you, history would agree. Traditionally, the act of charity was rooted in duty to one’s neighbor and passion for the mission. But rage-giving is not.
The rise of rage-giving signals a deep political shift within the culture of philanthropy. Rage givers want to make a mass political statement for the world to see, not root themselves in your mission for the community you serve. As a result, rage giving is rarely renewable. They’ll support solutions to the crisis you happen to address . . . and then the next crisis . . . and the next.
But don’t take it too personally. It’s not that they don’t care, it’s more so rage givers feel relief, and a sense of agency, through the act of giving. Rage donors want to scratch their conscientious itch on the nearest post, which could, at any moment, be you. You need to know where you stand in line.
If you find yourself flooded with rage attention, the first thing you need to do is shrug—then get to work. You cannot afford to get used to them. Yes, a flood of funds creates ample opportunity to expand the resources and reach of your nonprofit; but relying on rage-giving patterns means putting your eggs inside a toppling and unreliable basket.
In a perfect society, donors would prioritize their local communities and deeply commit to nonprofits that they actually believed in, not push intangible change for every political crisis.
But if you do find yourself the target of rage-givers, know that the best outcome is neutral. You’ll burn through the bottom of an overwhelming workload, gradually scale down, and enjoy some extra funds and some new donors.
However, if your nonprofit is caught off guard, it can be very, very bad for your job and mission. You could overwhelm your staff and infrastructure. You could easily be surrounded by angry donors who demand results outside the scope of your mission while the people you actually serve wait until the crowd clears.
Identify how likely it is that your nonprofit becomes the center of attention. While there’s no way to know for sure who the next target will be, crisis money follows the media. If your nonprofit deals with the same hot topics that you see in the media, you may be in the queue for rage givers’ next cathartic release.
After the news of family separations at the U.S.-Mexico border in 2018, for example, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) surpassed their humble $1,500 goal—and brought in $21 million. In wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, HIAS—an organization dedicated to protecting refugees—launched a Ukraine crisis response and raised $29 million.
The list of nonprofits targeted by rage givers, both for domestic and international crises, is written by the media: pay attention to your feed.
Rage givers are not looking to educate themselves about your work. You must do it for them. In your messaging, try to be as clear as you can about the nature and scope of your work.
In the case of The Minnesota Freedom Fund (MFF), rage givers in 2020 donated without educating themselves—and then became annoyed, even angry, that MFF’s mission did not fit their assumptions once their reaction cooled down. MFF raised an unprecedented $30 million in two weeks, all from uncultivated individual donors who inadvertently or purposefully put immense pressure on their staff, even sending death threats to staff. MFF removed the donation button from their website.
In a situation like this, your nonprofit should not be trying to convert every rage giver into a loyal donor. Your job is to filter a lot of them out, using clear messaging to strain out the people with false assumptions and to retain the real supporters of your mission. But don’t expect to please everyone.
You would think more money is a blessing any day, but not if your nonprofit is unprepared. Your staff might be overwhelmed, and the mission disrupted. Stewarding donor relationships and funds at an exponentially higher rate than your average caseload guarantees unique problems, and you need a plan for mitigating them.
Ask yourself two questions: (1) What do we need at once to preserve the integrity of our organization and what we’re currently working on? and (2) how do we handle this immense responsibility?
In MFF’s case, they hired an accountant and strategized with their bank. For other nonprofits, it means hiring fundraising staff or consulting firms to help manage development efforts and turn thousands or millions of first-time givers into loyal donors. Before your nonprofit becomes the center of rage-giving attention and you’re stuck in a reactionary cycle, proactively strategize how you can protect the integrity of your work.
Rage giving is here to stay, and nonprofits have a duty to their staff, their mission, and their donors to be ready. That means knowing your audience, clearly communicating your work and intentions upfront, and creating a plan that will help manage the influx of funds and convert first-time donors into loyal supporters. With these in place, you will be ready to address the next crisis—along with the mob of rage givers—head-on. And while we wait for the next crisis that sparks the next donor uprise, we should think about how we give, and how our nonprofits cultivate a lasting and healthy civil society—one where rage giving is a thing of the past.