Donations soar but nonprofits struggle to meet COVID-related needs

Donations soar but nonprofits struggle to meet COVID-related needs

Despite a surge in charitable donations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, nonprofits across the United States are struggling to meet soaring costs and demand for services, the Associated Press reports. 

This year's GivingTuesday event raised a record $2.47 billion, up 25 percent from 2019 — more than any single U.S. foundation, with the exception of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, gave in 2019, said Woodrow Rosenbaum, GivingTuesday's chief data officer — while many foundations have ramped up their funding for nonprofits. Fidelity Charitable, the nation's largest commercial sponsor of donor-advised funds, reports that 46 percent of its DAF account holders say they've given more to charity this year than in the past because of the pandemic, while the number of grants recommended by Fidelity DAF holders is up 32 percent and the number of new accounts is up 20 percent.

But the increase in funding may not be enough to meet the surge in demand for assistance, the AP reports, with nonprofits that rely on in-person fundraising events and volunteers especially hard hit. One such charity, the Salvation Army, has had to eliminate thousands of locations for its iconic Red Kettle campaign because the businesses that hosted them have closed and the associated foot traffic has declined, while many older volunteer bell ringers are unable to participate. The organization, which has seen an 18 percent decline in revenue this year, told the AP that the campaign likely will net half as much as it did in 2019, a $60 million drop, even as it expects 6.6 million people — a 155 percent increase over last year — to seek its help between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

"The numbers in terms of the people who we are serving are simply off the charts, and how we're going to meet the increased need is causing us to be concerned about the giving levels we're seeing so far," said Salvation Army U.S. national commander Kenneth Hodder.

According to the AP, Meals on Wheels America is serving 77 percent more meals, on average, through its five thousand community programs, and nearly all are facing financial strain because they've had to purchase additional safety equipment and replace volunteer drivers with temporary paid drivers. While the national organization has awarded emergency grants totaling more than $31 million to local programs, it has not been enough in many cases to fill the gap.

Among those struggling the most are arts organizations, which have collectively lost an estimated $14.6 billion in revenue to date this year, according to Americans for the Arts. The national advocacy group projects that twelve thousand arts and cultural nonprofits are at risk of going out of business.

But as the world slowly emerges from the pandemic, arts and social services organizations that draw people together will be among the most integral to rebuilding a sense of community, said GivingTuesday's Rosenbaum. "They have a role of community. And a role of healing."

Sally Ho. "Donations soar but nonprofits still struggle with pandemic." Associated Press 12/13/2020.