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GivingTuesday Raises $3.1 Billion Despite Worries About Inflation and Possible Recession

By  Emily Haynes – The Chronicle of Philanthropy

NOVEMBER 30, 2022

A Salvation Army bell ringer, dressed in uniform, is seen standing next to a Salvation Army red kettle mounted on a tripod outside of a Chase Bank.
The Salvation Army has received far more requests for assistance this year, but it has also secured a $1 million national matching gift from Sam’s Club.

GivingTuesday marked its 10th anniversary by raising an estimated $3.1 billion . Now a mainstay of year-end giving, the one-day event’s fundraising totals have elevated the bar year after year. Giving was up 15 percent over last year, and more than 25 percent over 2020.

Participation was up, too — rising 6 percent over last year. However, not all of the 37 million Americans who contributed gave money.

“This remarkable day of giving is made possible by the many and not the few,” Asha Curran, chief executive of GivingTuesday, the nonprofit that organizes the day, said in a statement. “Everyday people’s kindness, acts of generosity, and commitment to a better world fueled this day of good.”

Despite the overall success, early warning signs showed uneven achievement among causes. Colleges and universities stumbled, receiving 4 percent less than last year from donors who use the giving platform run by fundraising technology company Anthology. “I’m not that surprised that numbers were down a little bit this year,” says Mirko Widenhorn, senior director of engagement strategy at Anthology. He blamed the decrease on donors’ economic worries over inflation and a possible recession.

It’s the second year in a row that GivingTuesday donations to colleges and universities on the platform fell, after they reached a high-water mark in 2020. However, Widenhorn says this year could mark a realignment with pre-pandemic giving trends. On Tuesday, donors contributed $8.5 million to the colleges in Anthology’s network, 11 percent more than they gave in 2019.

For the third year running, nonprofits jockeyed for dollars in an environment of widespread need. Covid-19 was the banner headline for the past two years, and this year-end, many nonprofits worried about the effects of inflation and the possibility of a recession.

Some food banks and social-service organizations used GivingTuesday appeals to talk about how inflation is pushing more people to request their services. “Due to high grocery prices and lasting pandemic impacts, too many families are unable to afford the food they need right now,” Feeding America wrote in an appeal. Individuals contributed $1.5 million in digital donations to the charity on GivingTuesday, and a matching gift from the Dunkin’ Joy in Childhood Foundation pushed the total up to $2.5 million.

The Salvation Army has seen rising need around the country, with locations reporting 25 percent to 50 percent more requests for assistance this year, according to Kenneth Hodder, the charity’s national commander. The legacy social-service group secured its first national matching gift this year — $1 million from retailer Sam’s Club — that runs through December 2. On GivingTuesday, the Salvation Army brought in more than $2.7 million in online gifts alone.

“Even though the medical crisis of Covid-19 is receding, the economic impact in terms of inflation and disruption in family patterns and in the job market are clearly going to cause challenges to the next few years amongst those that we serve,” Hodder says. He expects the long tail of the pandemic’s economic impact to be similar to the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.

To recognize the financial strain felt by the charity’s donors and clients, the Salvation Army organized its year-end campaign around the theme of “Love Beyond.”

What we’re essentially asking people to do is to love beyond their circumstances, love beyond the impact of inflation,” Hodder says.

But that approach was far from universal. Steve MacLaughlin, senior adviser to the Blackbaud Institute, said he didn’t see many nonprofits asking donors to give because of inflation — “in part probably because their donors are feeling it, too.”

Raising Money Together

As it has in recent years, collaborative giving remained popular this GivingTuesday. VTDigger, a nonprofit news site that covers Vermont, is contributing 10 meals to the Vermont Foodbank for every donation it receives — no matter the size.

“It does sugar off to be more than we would have spent in the past on swag,” says Libbie Sparadeo, the news organization’s director of community engagement and strategic partnerships. “But we’ve found that we’re able to inspire more people to join the campaign.”

The partnership began in 2020, when VTDigger fundraisers felt that setting a splashy goal and spending money on thank-you gifts to donors struck the wrong note at a moment rife with uncertainty, fear, and economic need. The nonprofit news site turned its budget for thank-you gifts — plus a little more — into a donation to the local food bank.

This GivingTuesday, VTDigger received 126 online gifts, falling just short of its goal of 150. Those donors contributed roughly $10,000, and a matching gift from two major donors bumped yesterday’s fundraising total up to about $20,000. The gifts also sent 1,260 meals to the Vermont Foodbank.

Donors who could contribute only small amounts appreciated the opportunity to make an additional impact, Sparadeo says. Some supporters also asked whether they could contribute more than 10 meals by making a bigger gift. In those cases, Sparadeo encouraged the donors to make a separate contribution directly to the Vermont Foodbank.

An older white woman is seen holding a large bag of carrots in a rural parking lot. In front of her is a pallet of carrots, bagged in bundles. Behind her, cars are seen lined up. In the background, a dense forest of evergreen trees are seen. People are dressed in light coats.
The Vermont Foodbank received 10 meals for every donation to the nonprofit news site VTDigger.

Some nonprofits told supporters not to give to them at all this year, using the day to instead promote gifts to other charities. The National Network of Abortion Funds, for example, emailed an appeal to supporters to contribute directly to one of the independent abortion funds in its network instead of making a gift to the umbrella organization.

The DC Tutoring and Mentoring Initiative, a Washington, D.C. education nonprofit, told supporters it was sitting out the day altogether. “This Giving Tuesday, you have a ton of options,” the charity wrote in an email yesterday. “We’d like to let you know that we are not one of those options.”

The charity asked supporters to donate instead to the other nonprofits it works with, such as the literacy organization 826DC and the Homeless Children’s Playtime Project.

Encouraging Small Gifts

GivingTuesday is the kickoff to the year-end fundraising push for One Simple Wish, a nonprofit that meets financial needs of people who have aged out of foster care. In general, the charity raises around $50,000 on the day.

This year, the need is high, says Danielle Gletow, the organization’s executive director. The holidays are the charity’s busiest time of year, when they make 7,000 to 10,000 small grants — which they call “wishes” — to former foster youths. Requests vary from essentials like $55 for a gas card or $210 for warm winter clothes to special treats, such as $30 for new perfume and lotion.

“We’re actually seeing even more wishes than ever before this time around, and we believe it is because things like gas prices and groceries are so expensive,” Gletow says. “We’re seeing lots of wishes come through for gas gift cards and grocery-store gift cards just to kind of get them through.”

While the people One Simple Wish serves are feeling financial pressure, Gletow isn’t worried that the economy will stop donors from giving this year. Yesterday, the charity raised $76,720.

“We tend to have more donors giving smaller amounts of money,” she says. “In times like these, we worry a little bit less, I think, than organizations that are typically counting on those massive gifts from maybe a handful of individuals.”

In recognition of their supporters’ tendency to make small-dollar gifts, the charity launched the Holiday Wish Fund. While the charity typically asks donors to contribute the full cost of a wish, the fund allows them to contribute whatever amount works for them. The pooled money will cover wishes that aren’t granted by individuals.

At a time when a dollar buys significantly less than it did a year ago, these collective giving campaigns are especially valuable, says Karin George, managing principal at Washburn & McGoldrick, a fundraising consulting firm. It’s easy for donors to believe that their $5 gift doesn’t make a difference when billion-dollar gifts make headlines, George says. On GivingTuesday, the challenge for nonprofits is to show donors the difference that even a small contribution can make.

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