Read Triple threat part 1: Election year 

Thank you for joining us for the second installment of Global Impact’s Triple Threat blog series exploring the year-end giving implications for three concurrent disruptions to the philanthropic marketplace: the U.S. elections, the COVID-19 pandemic and the uncertain state of the U.S. and world economies. In the first edition of this blog, we explored the impacts of the Nov. 3 U.S. election on philanthropy. We are still feeling the impacts of the election cycle, so please review that blog if you have not had a chance to!

In this installment of the Triple Threat series, we will explore the effects of COVID-19 on the philanthropic landscape. The pandemic has had massive impacts on each of our personal lives, not to mention the shadow the disease is casting over the holiday season, and the philanthropic sector has not been spared from the effects of the crisis. From incredible generosity to rapidly shifting donor priorities and behaviors, COVID-19 has changed how every charity is approaching fundraising and programming. In this blog, we will explore how to understand these changes and the ways you can harness them to empower your year-end giving programs.

Fundraising under COVID-19 

The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have been felt across the charitable sector, with over 90% of respondents in CAF America’s surveys saying they have been negatively impacted by the results of the virus. The severity of the impact varies: Only 2.84% of charities are completely shut down, while 53.16% are offering limited services. The ingenuity of the sector is showing through, as well, with 57.22% of survey respondents saying they have created new programs to respond to COVID-19 related needs. This flexibility reflects the reality that while the pandemic has consumed much of our lives, the issues these charities have always addressed have not gone away – and, in many cases, are being heavily impacted by the coronavirus. Those organizations that have been able to adjust their programming to the pandemic have a better chance of benefitting from the flood of philanthropy that is currently being directed at the crisis.

In just the first half of the year, more than $11.9 billion was granted for COVID-19 relief globally. Corporations accounted for nearly two-thirds of the donations, with 7 out of 10 U.S. corporate funders reporting an increase in their charitable contributions. The same survey found that 9 in 10 corporations allowed for increased flexibility in their grants, loosened timelines and widened scope of grant restrictions, facilitating the adjustments in programs discussed above.

Key to the rise in total giving were community foundations, which accounted for 47% of all grants given out during this period. The involvement of community foundations has been key, as proportionately little institutional funding was explicitly designated for specific populations, including communities of color and other vulnerable populations. Community foundations can help fill this gap, but there is still more work that needs to be done by larger funders to reach more vulnerable populations.

Billionaire philanthropists have also stepped up their commitments, contributing over $7.2 billion between May and June to combat the virus. Most of the support went to emergency workers, hospitals and health services, with $5.5 billion pledged in this category. The tendency to support frontline responses to the pandemic exists across the philanthropic landscape, and helps account for the greater resiliency of medical nonprofits when compared to “non-frontline” organizations.

Conversely, between February and August, the nonprofit sector lost nearly 1,000,000 jobs. Thirty-two percent of these losses were in the health care field, 22% in education and 19% in social assistance, all crucial fields in the coronavirus and economic recovery efforts. Jobs were additionally down nearly 11% in educational services, 12% in social assistance and 38% in arts and recreation. However, thanks to the giving patterns identified above, the vast majority of jobs lost in community food, housing and relief services were restored as of the end of August. The same cannot be said for all charities: less than 6% of the nonprofit jobs lost in daycare services have been restored, for example.

Laid out together, these facts show a charitable sector that has dramatically shifted its attention toward addressing the pandemic. Fundraising in this environment means adopting a strong COVID-19 lens for your work, both to better serve your beneficiaries and to show your value to donors who are deeply concerned with the ramifications of the disease. With this knowledge, there are clear steps to take to make your year-end giving as successful as possible.

Year-end fundraising recommendations: 

  • The COVID-19 lens: Global Impact has been advising clients and readers to find their COVID-19 lens for a while now, and this strategic imperative has never been more important. As the year ends with a huge uptick in new infections, identifying how your organization is making a difference amidst the pandemic is crucial. A strong COVID-19 message does not need to be centered around providing ventilators or working with hospitals, it simply needs to frame how your organization fits into the response landscape. Mental health, food access, refugee services and childhood education are all crucial relief missions that occur outside of hospital walls. Find what makes your organization a key part of the mobilization against this disease, and capitalize on that amazing work.
  • Cast a wide net: In a year where galas and holiday parties are not possible, it is vital to meet new and established donors where they are. Making it as easy as possible to contribute electronically is key to securing donations without face-to-face contact. Send hand-written letters to your supporters to demonstrate your thanks and replicate the human element so absent from a zoom meeting. If your organization uses direct mail, keep it up! Don’t be shy in encouraging your donors to share their contributions with their networks on their social media. In a year of uncertainty, the more touchpoints you can generate the greater your chances of success in closing a donation will be.
  • Ground your requests in time: With so many of us working, teaching and even exercising largely within our homes, the year-end giving cycle loses a bit of its luster. When Dec. 20 doesn’t feel all that different from June 20, donors can fall out of their typical year-end habits. Don’t let that happen! This has been a challenging year, but there is still work to celebrate! Enthusiasm and optimism should color all of your donor communications. Acknowledge the difficulties and tragedies of this year, but celebrate the difference that your donors have empowered your organization to make and paint a clear picture of the impact they can have going forward. This year, reasons for joy can be harder to find, so if you can be a bright light for your donors they will surely appreciate it!

Please keep an eye on the Give Global blog to catch the final installment of our year-end giving blog series focused on U.S. and global economies, as well as other fantastic articles full of tips and news from around the field.