Will Donors Like You When They’re Angry?


When Bruce Banner gets angry, he changes. There is a flash in his eye, and then he turns into the Incredible Hulk, a big green ball of fury.

In recent years, when some citizens get angry, they’ve also been flashing green... in the form of donation dollars. Thus the phrase “rage donating” has been born. As described by GQ, it is “the act of feverishly throwing money at a cause you believe in because you just don’t know what the hell else to do. (Perhaps you’ve also met its cousins, the guilt-donation and the despair-donation.)”

We all know that emotions can fuel donations. We’ve previously talked about the power of those ASPCA Sarah McLachlan commercials and how to properly and effectively use emotions in fundraising campaigns.

But appeals for sympathy and empathy are different than appeals to anger.

While anger may have driven some donations over the past decades, the concept as a movement in philanthropy is generally understood to have gotten its start following now-president Donald Trump’s rise as a candidate. In late 2016, Nonprofit Quarterly talked about a “hastily erected website” called RageDonate that would post quotes from the then president-elect with a button to donate to a related charity. For example, Trump’s statement that “I think Islam hates us” would show up on the screen with a button to send $10 to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

GQ pointed out the influx of donations to the American Civil Liberties Union in the past several years. People are reacting with their donation dollars to a situation they find distressing. For some people in the younger generation, protests out in the streets are becoming more and more common. But many of us face obstacles to that participation. If I live on the opposite side of the country from the capital, it might not be logistically feasible to march on Washington. So I donate money instead.

According to Wired Impact, “One of the reasons that storytelling is so effective in nonprofit fundraising is that it creates an emotional response that can motivate someone to give. Rage donations are similar in that an emotion (anger) is driving a donation—except that your nonprofit might not be controlling the story.” So you won’t have as much control over the emotional response as the ASPCA had in those McLachlan ads. But you can still use the response to your advantage. You just need to be prepared.

One way to keep your pulse on the current cultural emotion is to be on various social media channels. While your organization is probably already doing this, you can take it beyond just an occasional tweet or post and try to actually participate in, or at least listen to, the larger conversations going on. That way, you can be quick to respond with a campaign if a unique opportunity arises. But don’t just ask for money; make it clear how you are linked to this cultural moment: “You might have heard in the news...This is what we’re doing to help...” These kinds of “in the moment” storytelling can help you form a bond with potential donors.

Also be prepared to update your website on short notice. Maybe institute a popup about the situation on your homepage. This will show visitors to your website your organization’s commitment to being prepared to react to developing situations. Many organizations might only have one person who deals with the web; if he or she is busy, can someone else take the reins if the moment calls for it?

You may want to also make sure that everyone on your staff is prepared to deal with impromptu situations. If you find yourself with an opportunity to capitalize on a series of rage donations, you don’t want to miss out on some potential donors because the select group of people who deal with donations becomes overwhelmed.

While rage donating can occasionally provide an influx of cash for your organization, it is still somewhat disappointing that such action is even necessary. As Camisha Lashbrook writes for the Women’s Foundation of Colorado, “Unlike disasters, however, these social issues are hardly unforeseen. We don’t have to—and shouldn’t—wait for a breaking story or viral campaign to make a difference.” Even though you may not have previously been able to connect with these potential donors, that’s not necessarily a failing on the part of your organization. Some potential donors are just hard to reach. It takes the power of an angry moment to break through the noise. But once that moment occurs, your organization must try its best to turn those donors into regular contributors.

But how does your organization shift rage into something like empathy? First off, obviously, thank the donor, no matter the size of the donation. This could take the form of an email, letter, or phone call. You want to form a connection with that donor. 

Next, you want to keep them informed of how you’ll be moving forward to address the issue. Point out what you’ve done in the past, and compare it to your current plan. This could be conveyed through a series of emails, or a video on your social media streams, or even in a publication. These donors care about your cause in the moment. If you remind them that the cause continues even after the initial rage subsides, you can keep them committed to your efforts.

Bruce Banner was sometimes a hero. But as the Hulk, he was pure emotion, wild and unpredictable. At some point, he always had to bring his rage back under control and look at the world with clear eyes. The same is true with your donors. You can use their rage to capture their attention, but it will take clear thinking and a plan to move forward in order to keep them aligned with your organization. It will require some effort, but you can take them from enraged to engaged.

Action steps you can take today
  • Be prepared! An uptick in interest can happen at any time. Make sure your staff and resources are ready.
  • Be social! Your organization’s social media accounts let you stay in touch with current opinions.
  • Follow up! Work to turn rage donors into repeat donors.