Political values tied to charitable giving

Americans are more likely to give to a charity that reflects the values of their political affiliation, a new research paper says.

Donations to a specific charity by Republicans and Democrats are strongly affected by their perceptions of its alignment with each party’s respective “moral foundations,” Vikas Mittal, co-author of the paper and a marketing professor at Rice University, says in a statement.

Republicans’ moral foundations are rooted in respect for authority and traditions, loyalty and purity, he says, while those of Democrats are rooted in equality and protection from harm.

“The political divide not only impacts political actions, but everyday actions such as donating to charity,” he says.

The paper, which will appear in the International Journal of Research in Marketing: Special Issue on Consumer Identities, is based on three studies.

Two of them consisted of nationally-representative samples of adults, while a third was based on a randomized experiment with students who were asked why liberals or conservatives would give more or less to a specific charity.

In that experiment, researchers gave participants a description of the same charity, Rebuilding Together.

But they tweaked small parts of the description to suggest the charity either was supporting American traditions and loyalty or ensuring equality.

Among participants who indicated morals are highly important, Republicans were nearly three times as likely as Democrats to give when the charity was described as supporting working American families, following traditions and supporting their communities.

Democrats, on other hand, were twice as likely as Republicans to give when the charity was described as ensuring the protection of a home to every individual.

The researchers said their findings were supported in two additional studies that focused on children’s charities, including one for children’s advocacy that seeks to break the cycle of child abuse through prevention, education, advocacy and funding. The charity was described as in sync either with Republican values of purity and loyalty, or Democratic values of equality and protection from harm.

Focusing on participants who value morals highly, the researchers found that when the charity description emphasized protection from harm, Democrats were much more likely than Republicans to give, and when the charity description emphasized purity and loyalty to community, Republicans were more likely than Democrats to give.

“We found that while both Republicans and Democrats tend to equally value justice and caring for the vulnerable, Republicans place a much higher value on issues of purity and respect for authority,” Karen Page Winterich, study co-author and assistant professor of marketing at Pennsylvania State University, says in a statement.

“Given these differences,” she says, “Republicans are more inclined to donate to a charity when these values of purity and respect are met, whereas Democrats are more inclined to donate when the emphasis is purely on equality or protection rather than respect or purity.”

Yinlong Zhang, study co-author and associate professor of marketing at the University of Texas at San Antonio, says that, in addition to focusing on their main mission, charities “must also clarify how their mission is aligned with the moral foundations of a donor’s political identity.”

A simple “repositioning of the charity’s description so that it aligns with a person’s political identity can increase donation intentions two- or threefold,” he says.

“Of course, this raises important questions for charities in terms of their communication strategy,” he says. “But assuming this divide does not exist can only hurt their chances of maximizing donations from liberals and conservatives.”

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Footpath Pictures makes videos for causes

By Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — New Voices School, a Raleigh nonprofit that works to help children with significant communications and mobility problems reach their academic potential in mainstream classrooms in local public schools, is the focus of a one-hour documentary that has been screened at five film festivals from Wilmington, N.C., to Seattle.

The video, “Certain Proof: A Question of Worth,” has been a labor of love for Raleigh filmmakers Ray and Susan Ellis, who wrote, directed and produced it.

The experience also marks a turn in their career, which has evolved from commercial video work to promoting nonprofits to advocating for causes.

The couple, who are married, both graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and worked in the video-production department at SAS Institute in Cary, where they met in 1992.

While they loved their jobs at SAS, which was co-founded by her father, Jim Goodnight, corporate work “doesn’t necessarily feed your soul or the whole of you,” Susan Ellis says.

The 9/11 terrorist attacks “changed our perspective on what was important,” she says. “We thought we could be doing more and make a difference in some way.”

Seven months later, the Ellises took a “volunteer vacation” through CARE International, volunteering for three months at a community center in a small village in Peru, working with kids and elderly people.

Because they did not speak Spanish, the couple suggested to CARE they might produce a video about the organization’s work as a way to encourage volunteers from the U.S. and abroad.

CARE used the 15-minute video the Ellises produced in ways they hadn’t expected.

The organization used the video as a volunteer-recruitment tool on its website, for example, and Delta Air Lines used it as part of its in-flight entertainment.

“It occurred to us that nonprofits don’t always have the resources that are needed to produce really helpful tools,” Susan Ellis says.

So in October 2002, the Ellises founded Footpath Pictures, initially planning to produce short videos for nonprofits to promote volunteerism, fundraising, awareness and education.

Charging below-market rates by keeping overhead low and doing most of the producing, directing, camera work and editing themselves, Ray Ellis says, Footpath now has produced over two-dozen videos of roughly 10 minutes each for groups such as The Nature Conservancy in Arlington, Va., Meredith College, North Carolina Children’s Hospital, Salvation Army of Wake County and WUNC North Carolina Public Radio.

In 2006, while working on a video for a capital campaign at Meredith, the Ellises met Elizabeth Benefield, a consultant to the campaign who also was advising New Voices.

Footpath made two short videos for New Voices and also agreed to produce a long-form documentary on the issue that the nonprofit initially agreed to pay for.

But after the economic crash in the fall of 2008, the Ellises realized they would have to fund the project themselves.

Now, while looking for ways to get national broadcast and greater distribution of Certain Proof, they are making another documentary about the breast-cancer gene, and looking for a new cause-related project.

“We started with the mission of trying to reach targeted audiences based on nonprofits we were working with,” Susan Ellis says.

But eventually, Footpath “wanted to get beyond just the fundraising, and take that social message to a broader audience,” she says. “What we’re doing is facilitating advocacy.”

Nonprofits have a great story to tell

By Todd Cohen

A crucial task for nonprofits struggling in the broken economy is to do a much better job talking about the essential role they play serving people and places in need.

Through the stories they tell, nonprofits need to raise supporters’ and partners’ awareness of urgent social and global problems, help them see their organization’s impact in helping to fix those problems, and help them understand the difference they can make by investing time, know-how and money in their organizations.

Stories also are essential in helping investors appreciate nonprofits’ own need to build their capacity to learn, lead and grow, as well as the challenges they face in navigating economic stress and social change.

The unraveling economy has pushed many nonprofits to the edge, swamping some and motivating others to find ways to work smarter and serve better.

Demand for nonprofit services has soared while the marketplace for the resources nonprofits count on has tightened and is shifting dramatically.

Powering the expanding social economy is any individual or organization working to put private resources to public good.

In the face of social and global crises, sweeping demographic change, and rapid advances in technology, the once-separate worlds of charity, private capital and public policy are evolving quickly and starting to overlap.

In that rapidly evolving marketplace, underlying challenges for nonprofits are to adapt and improve their organizations, help their investors understand how change is affecting the communities they care about, and show investors how they can make an impact on fixing community problems by getting involved in their organizations.

That requires engaged boards and donors, effective and inspired leaders and managers, partners who are truly collaborative, and an organization with the vision, business model and resources to turn that vision into results.

It requires understanding the values and interests of prospective donors, volunteers and other partners, and finding meaningful and fulfilling ways to engage them in the organization.

And it requires developing a clear, simple and compelling story that helps people see how supporting a particular nonprofit will make a difference in the causes they care about.

A critical part of building organizational capacity is for nonprofits to vastly improve the way they communicate, both internally and externally.

So the story the organization develops about its role and impact in taking on social and global problems should inform and help shape the work it does and the way it works.

The staff, board and volunteers of a nonprofit should be able to tell that story, and should be telling it every chance they get.

And they should be using the broad range of available vehicles to tell it, including talking to donors and other individuals and organizations; using the organization’s website, email and other digital media; and speaking to civic organization, on public-affairs radio and television, and writing guest opinion columns for news and specialty publications.

Nonprofits have important stories to tell, and they should make it a priority to tell those stories as clearly, as often and as broadly as they can.

Nonprofits have a great story to tell

The broken economy has given nonprofits a rare opportunity to talk about the important role they play in serving people and places in need.

Through the stories they tell, nonprofits can help their supporters understand the urgent needs in their communities, their organizations’ impact in addressing those needs, and the difference donors and volunteers can make by investing in those organizations.

Communication is fundamental to the work of nonprofits, and Philanthropy North Carolina provides the expertise and tools to help nonprofits tell their stories effectively with passion and impact.