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7 Numbers to Explain the State of Giving Today

Posted: 12/14/2020

Click here to read on The Chronicle of Philanthropy

by Michael Theis

A tumultuous year frames what promises to be one of the most challenging year-end fundraising seasons in recent memory. With the pandemic still disrupting our daily lives, high rates of joblessness, the echoes of a divisive election cycle, and newfound urgency driving national discourse on racial and social-justice issues, fundraisers will have a lot to compete with to get the attention of American donors.

So while the jury is still out on how 2020 giving will wind up, we've compiled a list of articles designed to give you insight into how donors and fundraisers are planning, based on data-driven insights from researchers studying philanthropy and nonprofits. Collectively, these reports suggest that while many households are facing increasing financial stress, many more are digging deeper to give during a time of unprecedented need — at least for now.

36%

— Share of donors who say they will give more this month than they did last December

An August survey of more than 1,000 people who contributed at least $100 in 2019 found many still plan to ramp up their giving toward the end of the year. Sixty-one percent of donors who plan to give more in December have already contributed greater sums in 2020 than in all of 2019, according to the poll, conducted by the market research firm McQueen Mackin & Associates. Further, nearly 80 percent said in July they had already matched or exceeded the amount of money they donated to charity in 202019.

Forty-four percent of donors plan to give the same amount, and 20 percent plan to reduce their giving.

22.3%

— Year-over-year increase in donations from January to June for more than 100 of the largest charities

The Chronicle surveyed more than 100 big nonprofits to ask how the pandemic changed fundraising in the first half of 2020. While the overall numbers are up, many charities report uncertainty about what next year holds.

During the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, it's not surprising that food banks and other charities that provide basic services to people in need have seen a jump in giving. But fundraising has shot up at some other organizations that don't have direct connections to the pandemic, recession, or social unrest that have rocked the United States.

While some nonprofits have seen a surge in new donors and small online gifts, for many brand-name charities, the wealthy continue to give at high rates. "The rich are still the ones that are doing fine and can give, so groups whose business model is still attuned to the rich are doing better during the pandemic as well," said Josh Birkholz, CEO of BWF, a fundraising consultancy that works with many large charities.

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40%

— Share of college fundraisers who say they'll meet their fundraising targets this financial year

Colleges make up a big piece of the philanthropic landscape, so how their fundraising fares during the pandemic could prove informative for charities as a whole. In a September survey by fundraising firm Washburn & McGoldrick, college fundraisers were bullish on meeting this year's targets.

Among senior fundraising officials, 59 percent said they expected to meet their fundraising goals. That's up from just 17 percent in a similar survey in June.

MORE DATA-DRIVEN STORIES ABOUT FUNDRAISER AND DONOR SENTIMENT

But even with this sunnier outlook, fundraisers have tempered their timeline for a full financial recovery from the pandemic. In June, 40 percent said they expected it to take a year at most to recover their losses from the recession. By September, however, 43 percent said they didn't anticipate a full financial recovery for one or two years — that's 19 percent more than the portion who expected that timeline in June.

7.5%

— Year-over-year increase in giving in the first half of 2020

In March, as much of the economy slowed down because of the pandemic, no one knew how donors would respond to the disruptions. But this analysis from the Fundraising Effectiveness Project is one of a growing number to suggest how generously donors responded during the first half of the year.

The increase over the first half of the year marked a big shift from the first quarter, when the same data showed giving down 6 percent compared with the first quarter of 2019.

More donors at all levels have given during the pandemic, but small donors have been a major driver of growth. The number of donors who gave less than $250 increased 19 percent year-over-year in the first half of 2020. Likewise, the number of midlevel donors — those who give $250 to $999 — increased 8 percent in that same time.

41%

— Share of religious congregations that have seen declines in giving since the pandemic hit

Religious groups and churches still make up a big slice of America's charitable donation pie. Many report that their fundraising has declined during the pandemic. A September report from the Lake Institute on Faith & Giving found a 4.4 percent year-over-year decrease in "congregational giving from February to June. Further, only 28 percent of congregations reported increases in giving during that time, with Catholic parishes particularly hard hit.

Congregations that already had online giving options and higher percentages of online donors have fared better, according to the survey of 555 U.S. congregations across religious denominations in July. Seventy-three percent offered members a way to make contributions online before March. Among those that did not, 39 percent said they scrambled to add online giving options shortly after they ended in-person services. The smallest congregations were least likely to have digital giving options both before and during the pandemic.

Thirty percent of congregations said they have raised funds to support other congregations and nonprofits in need since the pandemic began.

58%

— Share of donors who plan to give the same amount this year as last year

Despite an ongoing pandemic and continued economic hardship, a majority of donors say their giving plans remain unaffected, according to a July survey from the research firm Campbell Rinker.

Fifty-eight percent of donors said they plan to give the same amount this year as last, while 23 percent said they plan to give less and 13 percent plan to give more. In April, the last time this donor-confidence survey was conducted, 52 percent said they planned to maintain their giving level, while 25 percent planned to give less and 17 percent planned to give more.

The research firm's September survey found that a growing share of millennial donors are reporting financial struggles as a result of the pandemic. The survey also found that the pandemic economy is hitting the younger generation of donors much harder than their elder peers. Still, 30 percent of millennial donors say they plan to continue to give as they did before the pandemic.

433%

— Response rate of new food-bank donors on GivingTuesday compared with existing donors

Many food banks have seen a surge in new donors in 2020 as the need for food assistance has skyrocketed during the pandemic. Some fundraisers at these charities worry whether the new donors will continue to support their cause. GivingTuesday offered a first glimpse at whether nonprofits would be able to retain new 2020 supporters.

RKD Group analyzed fundraising results for 20 food banks that participated in the giving day both this year and in 2019. Over all, they raised $6.05 million on GivingTuesday, up from $1.28 million in 2019.

It's a limited sample, to be sure, but it points to the potential of these new supporters.

The food banks also identified different behaviors from donors who made their first gift since the pandemic began. On GivingTuesday, those donors gave at more than four times the rate of donors on the regular email list.

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