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by Eden Stiffman
Yesterday marked the ninth annual GivingTuesday. In a year of great need, supporters broke giving records during the global day of generosity. Donors gave an estimated $808 million online and $2.47 billion over all, according to the nonprofit that coordinates the day of giving.
The GivingTuesday Data Commons, a group of more than 60 partners, estimates that 34.8 million people participated in GivingTuesday 2020, a 29 percent increase over 2019.
“This groundswell of giving reaffirms that generosity is universal and powerful and that it acts as an antidote to fear, division, and isolation,” Asha Curran, co-founder and CEO of GivingTuesday, said in a statement. “Throughout this year, we have seen people driving extraordinary efforts rooted in a pursuit of equity, community, and shared humanity — driving giving and action across all races, faiths and political views. We know that when we act collectively — with what we can, with what we have, from where we are — we can make massive change happen.”
Social media played a critical role in the event’s success. On Facebook and Instagram alone, more than 1.9 million people raised more than $135 million. That includes $7 million in matching donations from the technology giant.
The event was created as a counterpoint to holiday consumerism and has grown each year. In May, donors gave an estimated $503 million online during GivingTuesdayNow, a one-day event focused on the pandemic response. That was on track with the $511 million in online donations made during last year’s regular end-of-year giving day. GivingTuesday also estimated offline giving that brought 2019’s total estimate to $1.97 billion.
Some nonprofit appeals were shaped by the crises of 2020. Others encouraged people to give back in whatever way they could — performing acts of kindness, volunteering time, contributing gift items, or, yes, donating money.
“Our hope for GivingTuesday and our hope for this whole horrible time we’re going through is to find simple, low-barrier ways that people can still practice kindness and share what they have to feel connected in a meaningful way,” said Karen Delaney, executive director of the Santa Cruz County Volunteer Center.
Her nonprofit has had an especially challenging year. It relies on small donations from individuals and businesses in the coastal community, whose tourism-reliant economy has been hit hard by the pandemic. Nonemergency donations are down about 20 percent, and the group started its fiscal year by laying off 10 percent of its staff.
Many older volunteers who would normally help with Meals on Wheels deliveries and other services are staying at home because of pandemic health risks, leading to a shortage of helping hands.
On top of that, wildfires earlier this year destroyed about 5 percent of the county’s housing, leading to even greater needs in the surrounding area.
“We live in an incredibly close-knit community, but it’s tough this year,” Delaney said. “In all my years, I have never seen quite this intense set of challenges.”
On Tuesday, the group focused on spreading the message that everyone has something to give, whether that’s a cash donation, volunteer time, or in-kind gifts for families in need.
“GivingTuesday is a great opportunity for us to get this broader message out, that in order for communities to thrive, we need all three things,” Delaney said.
But Delaney was also optimistic about her community’s generosity to meet this “perfect storm of higher need.”
The volunteer center promoted its Adopt-a-Family program to help neighbors in economic distress or who were displaced but the fires purchase items they need. In a more normal year, the volunteer center might serve 380 to 400 families through that program. This year, it’s assisted 500 families and still has a waiting list.
On GivingTuesday, the volunteer center promised to match up to $2,000 in gifts, thanks to a generous donor. The group had a goal for donors to provide needed supplies to 50 additional families.
This has been a fruitful fundraising year at the nonprofit Chimp Haven, despite the pandemic preventing in-person events and sanctuary visits, said Rana Smith, the group’s CEO.
The sanctuary, outside of Shreveport, La., houses more than 300 chimpanzees. The organization is close to wrapping up a $20 million fundraising campaign to increase its capacity to house and care for the more than 100 additional chimps that are still in research facilities and awaiting a home. In 2015, the federal government ended federally funded biomedical research on chimpanzees, and Chimp Haven was designated as their official retirement home.
Chimp Haven promoted GivingTuesday on its website and on social media. The group, which got a matching-gift offer from a donor, also sent a series of five emails starting last week to encourage donors to give early, promising to match up to $25,000 in contributions.
Donors came through. The group raised more than $73,000 from 482 donors — a 55 percent increase over its GivingTuesday haul last year and a 28 percent increase in the number of donors.
Smith and two other staff members plan to call around 600 donors this month to thank them for their support in 2020.
This is the first year in more than three decades that all Americans will receive at least some deduction for their charitable gifts, even if they don’t itemize their taxes. Nonprofits like Chimp Haven are making a point to mention that to their supporters.
“There were quite a few people that really weren’t aware of it,” Smith said of the temporary charitable tax incentives provided by the Cares Act, which are set to expire at the end of the year. Chimp Haven plans to send an online stewardship report in the coming weeks to its supporters and remind them of those measures.
Other charities, like the nonprofit Harlem United, which helps people access primary health care, supportive housing, free nutritious meals, and testing for HIV and sexually transmitted infections, among other services, also mentioned the Cares Act in their GivingTuesday appeals.
Fear of Donor Fatigue
Some name-brand charities’ campaigns were bolstered by support from celebrities. One example: A nine-hour livestream event hosted by St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital featured more than 30 popular YouTubers and raised more than $3 million.
In this year of unprecedented need, some fundraisers are worried about donor fatigue. “I think we’d be foolish not to be,” said Nancy Rew, vice president for marketing at Feed the Children. The charity typically raises 35 percent of its annual budget during the final months of the year. This year, it aims to offer 1.2 million meals to families in need during the holiday season, an increase over previous years.
The organization’s fundraising drive, 12 Ways to Give, kicked off on social media yesterday It tapped 12-year-old singer Emanne Beasha, youth ambassador for the charity, to launch the campaign with a video on Instagram about how children can help people in need. Other days will feature videos from Instagram personalities who will film themselves unpacking 25-pound boxes of food and 15-pound boxes of household staples, like shampoo and soap. The goal is to show how the charity supports families. The social-media videos are “a different way to engage folks and create interest and some positivity, while at the same time continuing to drive home the fact that the need is so great,” Rew said. She hopes that positive message will encourage new donors to give.
The charity raised 260 percent more than on last year’s giving day.
Concern About 2021
The National Network to End Domestic Violence organized an online campaign to raise awareness and funds for its own work and for its member organizations, which serve survivors of domestic violence.
Using the hashtag #GiveForDV, the national organization and 28 of its state coalition partners focused their messages on the idea that everyone who is at home deserves to be safe.
The pandemic’s stay-at-home orders have created many challenges for domestic-violence survivors. And organizations that assist them have been stretched thin and face unanticipated costs for technology, child care, transportation, and more. Phone and email hotlines have been overwhelmed, shelter space is limited, and many survivors are unaware that help is still available.
Domestic-violence organizations saw a surge in emergency donations in the spring, said Deborah Vagins, CEO of the national network. But she has her eye on what’s coming in 2021 when the economic needs of survivors will continue even if rapid-response funds are depleted.
Her group’s fundraising strategy has traditionally relied on in-person events. The staff has worked hard to transition to online gatherings and appeals that focus on the work the organization does in specific areas like economic justice, transitional housing, and legal aid.
While in past years many nonprofits viewed GivingTuesday as the unofficial kickoff to the year-end season, Vagins said her organization started its online year-end fundraising efforts much earlier this year.
“It was a much longer cycle for us than it was in the past because we knew that we had lost other fundraising sources,” she said.
The organization is still tallying results from GivingTuesday, but Vagins said the campaign was successful and raised at least twice as many gifts and 99 percent more money than the 2019 giving-day campaign. A $10,000 matching-gift pledge from the nonprofit’s Board of Directors will continue through the end of the year.
“People are being incredibly generous this year,” Vagins said. “The challenge will be making sure that those donors stay with the organization, can see the impact of the work, and continue to provide sustainable funding.” How the economy will affect individual and institutional donors in the year to come “still remains a question mark and a critical one for us and the coalitions we serve.”