The news that charitable giving in the United States reached one of its highest levels on record with nearly $450 billion donated in 2019 — a nearly 3 percent increase over 2018 — should have been received as good news by nonprofits, charities and other organizations, when an annual report’s findings were released earlier this year.
But the report, of course, came out amid a pandemic that has disrupted nearly every aspect of our lives and shaken how things usually work. Nationally, a number of prominent nonprofits now expect to see a decline in donations this year because of the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, following the pattern that charities saw during the 2008 Great Recession, The Hill reported in June.
Compounding the concern over the potential for a reduction in donations is the increase in need that many organizations now are seeing as they help families and individuals who have lost income and don’t have the resources they had just months ago to pay for housing, food, utilities, medical care and more.
Welcome to GivingTuesday, Pandemic Edition.
Created in 2012 as a campaign to encourage charitable giving, volunteerism and generosity, GivingTuesday, the first Tuesday following Thanksgiving, invites people to give of their money and time to organizations that are changing lives and making a difference in their communities and throughout their state, nation and world.
While the pandemic has brought some uncertainty to fundraising campaigns this year, that unpredictability is countered by the trend seen in recent years in increased giving. Donations, according to the Giving Institute, which tracks philanthropy in an annual report, had increased each year since reaching a record high in 2017.
Individuals, foundations and corporations gave an estimated $449.64 billion in 2019; and of that total individuals counted for most of that generosity. Nearly $310 billion was donated by individuals, with another $42 billion coming from bequests. Foundations provided $75.7 billion of the total, with corporations adding $21 billion, an increase of 13 percent over 2018.
And those who might have limited funds to donate, often give of their time. About 3 in 10 Americans volunteer in their communities. In 2017, those volunteer hours totaled 8.8 billion and provided $195 billion in value to organizations.
With individuals providing the largest share of donations, there was concern that donations could decrease following the passage of tax reforms in Congress in 2017, which doubled the standard deduction for most Americans but reduced the incentive to itemize deductions and declare donations to charities on tax returns.
The increase in individual donations in 2019 may have shown that most of us aren’t in it for the tax deduction; still two tax reforms that were part of this year’s Cares Act could help encourage donations before the end of the year.
The Cares Act now allows for a tax deduction of up to $300 for qualified charitable contributions from taxpayers who use the standard deduction and don’t itemize deductions. Individuals who do itemize deductions can deduct cash contributions up to 100 percent of their 2020 adjusted gross income on their 2020 taxes, up from the previous limit of 60 percent.
Charity requires some care be taken, especially when some look to take advantage of our generosity. People should be especially wary of phone calls and emails requesting donations, as those often are used in scams. A donation to a charity that you contact is often safer, as it allows you more control and an opportunity to review where your money is going.
The Washington Secretary of State’s website offers links on a number of charity watchdogs, that rate and review charities.
Among the most useful are:
The Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance, www.give.org, which accredits charities and offers reports to donors on hundreds of charities, rating them on governance, effectiveness, finances and fundraising practices; and
Charity Navigator, www.charitynavigator.org, which also offers ratings and information on charities, scoring most on the percentage of donations that go toward programs rather than overhead and on the charity’s accountability and transparency. It also offers tips on smart giving.
Donations should, of course, go toward the efforts and organizations that mean the most to you, but those who want to keep their dollars in the community and support the work of other nonprofits can consider the Community Foundation of Snohomish County, cf-sc.org, which provides grants, training and workshops to local nonprofits to assist in their individual missions.
For many this year a financial donation will simply be out of reach because of the greater responsibility to their own families. Whether we do so on Tuesday or any day of the year, those of us who can give, should give as much as we can.