Keep Philanthropy Strong
Nonprofits have faced many challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some struggled simply to keep their doors open while others adapted their programs to address the emerging needs of the people they serve.
Jill’s House, a respite care provider for families with children with intellectual disabilities in the Washington D.C. metro area, suspended their operations at the beginning of the pandemic. Once they resumed services, the organization changed how it pursued its mission.
“Like so many others, we had to do things a bit differently than before and not necessarily in the quantity we wanted, but I'm thrilled by how our team pulled together and found a way to continue serving our families through all the ups and downs and twists and turns of the last 20-plus months.” said Jill’s House President, Joel Dillon.
Without the support of generous donors, many nonprofits would have ceased to operate. Instead, an outpouring of philanthropy enabled charitable organizations to meet and even exceed their financial and service goals.
“Many thousands of people selflessly invested their time, talents, and resources. Not only did these friends put us in a position to serve continuously throughout the pandemic, but they went above and beyond in their giving and helped strengthen our financial foundation,” said Dillon.
Philanthropy also played a vital role for nonprofits like the American Red Cross that addressed acute needs in the midst of COVID. “Our work could not be sustained without the continued generosity of the American public – particularly as we responded to the increased intensity, frequency and number of disasters occurring throughout the country,” said Don Herring, American Red Cross Chief Development Officer.
The wave of charitable giving throughout COVID demonstrates how philanthropy is an integral part of the American identity. In the midst of great need, Americans stepped up and gave $471.44 billion to charity in 2020, a 5.1% increase over 2019 according to Giving USA.
Where did this generosity come from? It came from individuals, foundations, charitable bequests and corporations. While we don’t yet have data to know how giving will look in 2021, the growth in giving for 2020 was driven by factors that included recognizing the tremendous need, prevailing social, economic and financial conditions and addressing the needs brought on by COVID.
American donors have historically given to a multitude of causes and last year was no exception. Giving USA tracked the top sectors supported by charitable donations which included religion followed by education, human services, foundations, public society benefit organizations, health, international affairs, the arts, environmental and animal organizations.
Individual donors of all types and backgrounds gave. “So many across our socio-economic spectrum found ways to be donors to our mission, many new to our health system, and a fair percentage who had never participated in philanthropy ever,” said David L. Flood, President of Intermountain Health Foundation in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Flood pointed to how supporters contributed: “From rapid response dollars, to food and housing, volunteer assistance, notes of support to caregivers, and mobilization to construct millions of masks and personal protective equipment for our teams. Ten-thousand volunteers per week collected supplies and took part in what can only be compared to an historic 'war-time' effort to protect our communities.”
States and the federal government are increasingly looking for ways to regulate philanthropy. While there may be instances where changes in the law are necessary to avoid fraud, policymakers should be careful not to overreach as the imposition of new legal and tax burdens on charitable giving could disincentivize Americans from responding swiftly to the types of needs we have seen during COVID.
The Supreme Court has affirmed that philanthropy is speech and protected by the First Amendment. Giving is an important form of expression and all Americans have the right to support the causes they care about.
Giving Tuesday approaches will cause many Americans to think about how they want to contribute to the nonprofit causes that mean the most to them. The needs are great and gifts mean more perhaps than ever before. You too have the ability to exercise your charitable voice. Make a gift that matters and keep philanthropy alive!
Kristen Jaarda, J.D., LL.M., CAP® is a philanthropy executive, advisor and nonprofit attorney in Washington, D.C.