Americans throughout 2020 experienced unprecedented economic hardship and personal heartache as the pandemic and corresponding lockdowns wreaked havoc on individuals, families and communities. One in four workers were laid off or lost their job altogether because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Meanwhile, more than a million Americans had a close family member die due to COVID-19 or COVID-19-related complications. More broadly, a whopping 33 million Americans were directed connected – whether as friend, associate, coworker, or extended family member – to somebody who succumbed to the disease.
Philanthropists of all ages and demographics, however, contributed their own resources to help those in need Giving Tuesday data analysts estimate overall charitable giving in 2020 grew as much as 5.2 percent compared to 2019, driven in large part by big-dollar donors with a robust history of giving.
Small-Dollar Donations Ballooned
Charitable donations from middle-class Americans, remarkably, were up as well in 2020. The increase in giving only strengthened as the year progressed. As the Blackbaud Institute wrote in its assessment of giving, “The importance and resiliency of giving began to recover during the second half of 2020.”
The number of overall donors also increased 1.3 percent in 2020 thanks to the hike in relatively small donations—donations between $101 and $500. Donations in this range grew an exceptional 11 percent over the previous year, proof positive Americans know best where to put their hard-earned dollars.
Most importantly, in 2020 DonorsTrust’s community of givers typified these trends. Year over year, grants recommended by DonorsTrust advisors grew from more than $163 million in 2019 to more than $186 million in 2020, as we share in our updated Donor Prospectus (download here).
As one might expect, giving shifted somewhat as our accountholders increased funding during the pandemic to more conventional charities like churches, schools and hospitals. The percentage of total giving to public policy organizations, for example, came down from 65 percent in 2019 to 59 percent in 2020.
More Diversified Giving
Further evidence our donors’ are diversifying their grantee portfolio to include more conventional nonprofits is the fact that our total portfolio of unique charitable organizations has grown from 751 in 2019 to more than 815 in 2020.
It’s clear that the community of givers at DonorsTrust want to cast a broad net so their contributions reach people far and wide—in the everyday communities that help meet people’s basic needs as well as among the national and state-based public policy organizations that promote Americans’ founding principles.
While more of our grants went to conventional charities in 2020 compared to 2019, the majority of grant dollars still were directed to public policy organizations—and for good reason. As the saying goes, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” We witnessed a lot of good intentions throughout the course of the pandemic.
However, we didn’t always experience the best outcomes, as many lawmakers and leaders shot from the hip, so to speak, motivated not necessarily by science-based risk mitigation, but by optics, fear, and political expediency.
Ignoring long-term damage, lawmakers kept students locked out of the classroom, denied the opportunity for families to visit or advocate for dying loved ones sequestered in nursing homes, disrupted supply chains and livelihoods with illogical use of the “essential” moniker, and forced houses of worship to close while keeping big-box stores open with crowded mask-adorned shoppers.
Showing Resilience in 2020
The list of grievances is a long one. At DonorsTrust, we were proud to launch our Growth & Resilience Project in March 2020. This program helped challenge the worst of these proposals. The program leveraging the financial resources of generous donors who understood the value of fighting for free enterprise and government restraint while allowing entrepreneurial creativity and local knowledge to flourish and solve problems.
This initiative focused on scalable and practical ways to get the American worker back to the office, retail store, factory or airport; to encourage the entrepreneur to take risks; to free healthcare workers and pharmacists from counterproductive licensing requirements at a time when their services were so desperately needed; to ensure the American citizen saw government intrusion into our lives and livelihoods as counterproductive and harmful.
Our grants committee reviewed more than 60 unique and thoughtfully prepared proposals. Through the generosity of existing and outside donors, as well as with funds contributed by our own Whitney Ball Memorial Fund, we awarded 28 grants totaling nearly $1 million dollars. Most of these supported projects can be viewed here.
The current challenge before the community of givers is to maintain the increased pace of giving set last year. The needs for philanthropy have not diminished, even as the economy and movement of people and services “resets.” The overall political environment is more hostile to free exchange and limited public institutions, and the need for charitable investment in sound ideas and policy is critical. At DonorsTrust, we have every confidence the donor community will continue to engage.