The U.S. faced immense struggles in 2020, battling economic and political uncertainty in the midst of the pandemic. Despite these challenges, Americans rose to the occasion in record numbers.
According to the Giving USA Foundation's annual report, an analysis of tax data for 128 million American households, Americans donated $471 billion to charity in 2020, beating the previous year's 448 billion by 5.1%, or 3.8% when adjusted for inflation. Charities that work with people in need and campaign for civil rights/social justice, such as United Way, were the biggest beneficiaries.
The greatest increase in giving came from small-scale donors. Donations under $250 saw the greatest increase, as average Americans stepped in to fill the deficit left by large corporations (corporate philanthropy fell by 7.3% during 2020, despite a booming stock market).
More than half of Americans donated time or money to those less fortunate in 2020. Google searches for the word "volunteering" went up by 500% in the early days of the pandemic.
In August of last year, LinkedIn released a report showing how many people added volunteer activities to their profiles. U.S. members added more than 110,000 per month after the start of the pandemic, doubling the 2017 rates. These were the ten charities with the biggest surge in volunteer activity, according to their report:
- Crisis Text Line
- American Red Cross
- Toastmasters International
- Big Brothers Big Sisters of America
- Boy Scouts of America
- Team Rubicon
- Habitat for Humanity
- Meals on Wheels America
- Rotary International
- Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA)
Gen-Zers were the most likely to volunteer out of all age groups.
There were some losers, however. Arts and culture nonprofits, as well as not-for-profit hospitals and disease-specific organizations, saw a decline in donations. Arts/culture organizations tend to see declines in donations during economic crises as resources are put towards more immediate needs. Disease-specific organizations received less as more went to fund COVID-specific research. These organizations also tend to raise money through in-person events, such as runs and galas, which could not be organized in quarantine.
Overall, more time and money were given than ever before in the U.S.
One of the most interesting instances of giving last year came from the Reddit group #WallStreetBets, who donated more than $300,000 of the money they made betting against hedge funds to wildlife conservation. It was given to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, which takes care of a host of wild animals in The Democratic Republic of The Congo and Rwanda.
Contrary to popular belief, crises tend to bring out positive human traits. It will be interesting to see what happens to charitable giving in 2021 as the world returns to normal.