Donors Still Bullish Despite Pandemic and Economic Collapse

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by Michael Theis

Despite an ongoing pandemic that has upended the economy, most donors say their giving plans remain unaffected, according to a new survey.

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 survey was conducted, 52 percent said they planned to keep their giving level, while 25 percent planned to give less, and 17 percent planned to give more.

The findings are from is the latest edition of a long-running survey by Campbell Rinker that tracks “donor confidence” in the United States. The survey, conducted in July, polled roughly 650 donors who had given at least $20 to a charity in 2019

The survey produces an index developed by the researchers measuring donor feelings about the economy and their own giving plans. Donors still have a more optimistic outlook on the economy than in the opening months of the Great Recession. The index, which has a maximum possible value of 130, was at 91 in July, down from 97 at the end of 2018 and down less than one point from last April, when it stood at 91.7. In February 2008, as America slid into the Great Recession, the index stood at 100. By October 2008, nearly a year into the recession, it had declined to 85.

The optimism was surprising to the researchers, who noted the economic effects of the pandemic recession are expected to linger.

“People at this point seem to feel like this economy is an aberration, that it’s not the new normal and we’re going to get out of it,” said Dirk Rinker, president at Campbell Rinker, a marketing research firm that caters to nonprofits. “Back in 2008, there were people who were thinking this was going to take more than three years to correct.”

“It is a bit surprising to me right now that people haven’t gotten the message yet that this might take a while to get out of,” said Dale Berkey, president of BBS and Associates, a consulting firm that commissioned the latest edition of the survey.

But uncertainty is growing. According to the latest edition of the survey, 72 percent said it will take more than a year for the economy to improve, slightly up from April, when 66 percent said as much. Among donors who say they are giving less, 57 percent say they are unsure if their giving will ever return to pre-pandemic levels, up from 41 percent in April, while the proportion of donors who expect their giving to return to previous levels fell from 46 percent in April to 28 percent in July.

The survey also found a jump in the share of people hesitant to volunteer at charities this year. In April, 45 percent said they were either somewhat or not at all likely to volunteer this year. In July that had climbed to 53 percent.

And while overall donor confidence is high, the researchers also found disparities between generations, with millennials far more pessimistic about economic recovery and their own charitable-giving plans than older generations. Among those who say they are giving less, 23 percent of millennials say they do not expect their giving to return to previous levels, compared with 7 percent of Generation X and 12 percent of baby boomers.

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