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Study Says Charitable Giving Increased in 2020, Driven by Covid and Social Justice Causes

Total giving to charitable organizations increased in 2020, bucking a multi-year downward trend, but the rise was due largely to more people giving small amounts to pandemic-related causes, a new study found. 

The health and human services category showed the most growth in giving last year, reflecting the increased demand for funding for COVID-19 services and response to racial justice causes, the Giving in Unprecedented Times report from Giving Tuesday said. 

Most of the giving was concentrated toward large organizations with high fundraising goals, the group said.

Giving Tuesday is the organization behind the eponymous holiday held since 2012 on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving as a way to promote charitable contributions.

The study was based on an analysis of giving to established nonprofits that raise no more than $25 million annually using data from 74 charitable-giving platforms.

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The report estimated 2020 fundraising to be up 5.2% year-over-year when compared to 2019.

While donations from the largest donors and smallest donors increased, giving from mid-size donors decreased. 

There was an 11 percent increase in donors giving small gifts ranging from $101 to $500, while the number of donors who gave $100 or less increased by less than 1 percent. Donors giving $501 to $5,000 increased by 2.2 percent, while those giving $5,001 to $50,000 declined by 4 percent. The number of donors who gave more than $50,000 increased by 5.3 percent.

Giving to religion-related charities spiked in February but remained relatively steady for the rest of the year. Arts and culture organizations showed declines as they faced a year when they were unable to hold performances or event-based fundraisers. 

The report found the typical nonprofit experienced much lower results during 2020. There was also a dramatic increase in the percentage of nonprofits that did not fundraise each month, particularly smaller nonprofits.

But the organization anticipates brighter days ahead for fundraising, including among smaller organizations, predicting that charitable giving patterns will return to a pre-2020 “normal” this year, with a retention drop for human services and a spike in donor recapture rates for other causes. 

Anne Stych

Anne Stych is a writer in Charlotte, North Carolina.