A cornerstone of the NRA’s long-term funding took a significant hit last year, according to an internal document obtained by The Reload.
The gun-rights group reported just under $5.5 million in new pledged donations through estates and trusts through the first eight months of 2021. That put it on track to bring in about $8.2 million through the full year. That amount would represent a dramatic decline compared to the $22.2 million donors promised to leave the group in their wills the year before. And the 2020 numbers are down substantially from the 2019 total of $36.5 million.
Overall, the NRA’s internal report revealed 2021 saw the lowest level of planned giving for any year dating back to 2006.
The numbers indicate fewer NRA supporters are willing to leave the group money in their wills since allegations executive vice president Wayne LaPierre and other leadership used the non-profit’s funds to pay for personal vacations, private flights, and luxury clothes. Even though the group has already banked more than $335 million in planned gifts, the slowing pace of those promised funds is cause for concern.
“It speaks to the idea that they’re losing their most dedicated supporters,” a former NRA planned giving staffer told The Reload.
The NRA did not directly answer questions about the decline in planned giving. However, Amy Hunter, director of NRA Media Relations, described the report as “outdated” and “unaudited.” She said group “is not inclined to discuss non-public business strategies with those outside the organization,” but said the internal report was “very positive.”
“We sank an ATF nominee who was adverse to the Second Amendment,” Hunter told The Reload. “We are winning many battles to elect pro-Second Amendment lawmakers. We are driving the passage of constitutional carry – the gold standard of self-defense. And we are confronting a New York Attorney General who openly vowed to destroy our organization.”
Planned giving had long been not only a financial core for the NRA, but it also exemplified the member-driven nature of the organization the former staffer said. They said the act of including the NRA in your will wasn’t an act reserved for the wealthy. Some donors had little to give but decided to leave everything to the gun-rights group once they had passed.
“The most compelling ones were the people who maybe didn’t have a lot to give that gave the NRA everything they had,” the former staffer said. “I mean, a rich guy’s worth $10 million and leaves a million dollars to the NRA that’s 10 percent of his estate. For me, it was really moving when you would have somebody that cared, that believed in the cause so much that they’d be willing to give everything they had.”
The former staffer said the corruption allegations against LaPierre and other members of leadership struck at the heart of this kind of giving.
“It’s really disappointing that there are people who are incredibly dedicated to the success of the organization and that trust has been breached,” they said. “That bothers me more than anything.”
Multiple current and former NRA sources said layoffs in the division responsible for planned giving have also contributed to the slide in new pledges. The NRA laid off a significant portion of its staff at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and has yet to rehire most of them. The internal report indicates the group spent just $294,000 of a budgeted $1 million on planned giving through August 2021.
Hunter said the effects of the pandemic were largely to blame for the NRA’s recent financial struggles.
“With respect to questions comparing figures from a pre-pandemic 2018 to 2020 (figures during a worldwide pandemic), the NRA, like many others, continues to confront this global pandemic that forced the cancellation of many events and impacted revenue streams,” she said. “The safety and well-being of our staff and members is paramount. Through it all, the NRA has emerged stronger – better positioned to fight for its members and their freedoms. The Association and its patriotic members deserve an enormous amount of credit.”
The former staffer said the cutback in resources made a decline inevitable.
“If you get rid of all the staff who are doing that, well, why should that be a surprise?” they said.
The NRA did not respond to a request for comment.
The decline is indicative of the group’s recent struggles. From 2018 through 2021, the NRA’s revenue fell by half. With a traditionally robust and stable form of income, which accounted for $132 million in funding between 2006 and 2020, declining it could spell further instability for the group as it attempts to fight off multiple lawsuits from former contractors, donors, and the state of New York.
Like many large political groups, the NRA is made up of a collection of different legal entities in order to navigate the complex tax and campaign finance laws governing political activism in the United States. While the drop in planned giving has been felt across all of the NRA’s affiliated groups, it has affected some more than others.
The NRA’s 501(c)(4), which houses the membership organization, saw pledges fall from $11.1 in 2020 to $2.5 million through August of 2021. The NRA Foundation, a 501(c)(3) that mostly funds training and education efforts, went from $6.5 million to $2.4 million. The Civil Rights Defense Fund, a 501(c)(3) that funds legal challenges, fell from $2.1 million to $271,500. The Institute for Legislative Action, which handles NRA lobbying, went from $1.1 million to $185,400.
The NRA’s Freedom Action Fund, a 501(c)(3) that funds get out the vote efforts, signed contracts for just $49,000 in planned giving through August 2021. Only a few years earlier, in 2018, the group had received over $4.2 million in pledges. The Special Contribution Fund, a 501(c)(3) that funds the NRA’s Whittington Center for shooting and hunting, saw only $11,600 in new planned giving. It had seen over $5 million in pledges just two years earlier.
UPDATE 2-3-2022 11:30 AM EST: This story has been updated to include comments from the NRA.