Independent Sector Survey Finds Concern About Partisan Political Bias in Nonprofit Civic Organizations

“[A]cross the political divide.”

The just-released Independent Sector survey of trust in nonprofits and philanthropy, conducted in partnership with Edelman Data & Intelligence, finds that trust in tax-exempt nonprofits significantly declined since last year and trust in philanthropy held steady, but was significantly lower than that in nonprofits. Distrust in philanthropy, however, grew.

As categorized by the survey, nonprofit “civic organizations” “are the least trusted among all subsectors tested. There is concern across the political divide about partisan bias impacting their activities.”

The online survey sought opinions of 3,000 adults last May and early June. Online discussion boards were then conducted in August to, as the survey report describes, “gain deeper insights and add texture.”

Specifically, among Democrats, 55% of respondents said they had high trust in nonprofit civic organizations; among independents, 37% said they had high trust in civic organizations, and among Republicans, 35% said they had high trust in them.

Ten percent of Democrats said they had low trust in such civic groups; 22% of independents and 25% of Republicans said they had low trust in them.

The report offers several quotes from participants about these nonprofits’ partisan activities. A Democrat, for example, says, “I believe these types of organizations would help you vote for THEIR chosen candidate. There aren’t many good organizations like this that won’t tell you who to vote for.” (Emphasis in original.)

A Republican says, “I think most of these are set up in strategic areas to help their side get more votes. They aren’t about more people voting, they are about more of their side voting.”

Another Democrat: “It seems most civic orgs are driven by a hidden agenda … an unseen hand that tries to force one side over the other.”

And another Republican: “I feel like they are easy to be abused by those with money for political gain and I think many often have a hidden agenda.”

This article originally appeared in the Giving Review on October 16, 2023.


Michael E. Hartmann

Michael E. Hartmann is CRC’s senior fellow and director of the Center for Strategic Giving, providing analysis of and commentary about philanthropy and giving. He…
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