A Snapshot of Giving in 2020

Periodically in the pages of Polo Lifestyles, we highlight a philanthropist whose work has been particularly noteworthy. As you can see, we’ve done just that with the larger piece on MacKenzie Scott earlier in this issue.


But with our focus this month on lessons learned from COVID-19, from the philanthropy side of things, we would be remiss in failing to stress that the most important philanthropy that has flourished during this crisis is the individual giving from everyday people.


Throughout the pandemic, individuals of every economic level have responded to the profound needs of neighbors and strangers alike. One report showed that in the U.S., there was a 7.5 percent increase in charitable giving during the first half of 2020 over the same period last year (and that was after a 6 percent decline in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the first quarter of 2019). Smaller gifts, those under $250, were up nearly 20 percent over 2019.


Underlying this uptick, however, is a shift in the pattern of where people are giving that could have long-term implications. Responding to the need for the most basic of things like food and shelter, other nonprofits and civil society organizations have seen declines in giving that range from worrisome to existential. Those organizations not directly engaged in pandemic relief efforts have suffered from an understandable lack of attention in 2020.


As 2021 comes into view, we have to hold two realities side-by-side – things are getting better, but at the same time, the economic recovery from COVID-19 will be long, and especially so among geographies and demographic groups that started out in a place of deficit. Further, in so many nations, including the U.S., public sector responses have failed to provide sufficient supports. If you need evidence of this, look at those claiming anemic unemployment benefits and the shocking food insecurity that has come front-and-center in even the wealthiest nations.


Every person has the power to create a brighter 2021 by giving back. Even small amounts of money can make a difference, as can volunteerism and the donation of goods like clothing and food. At the same time, we also need to look around our own communities and understand that unless we give monetary support like never before, cherished institutions may be gone when we emerge from our homes and seek out the pleasures of real-life once again. It’s a call to give like never before.


So, the philanthropic lesson from COVID? Give. Give generously. And give diversely.


By: William Smith, Philanthropy contributor

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