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Feb. 22, 2021, 8:00 a.m. EST

Charitable giving rose in 2020, despite financial turmoil from COVID-19 — why did Americans show such generosity?

By Leslie Albrecht

The start of the coronavirus pandemic slowed Americans’ charitable donations, but by the end of 2020, money flowing to charities surpassed totals from the previous year, a new report suggests.

Charitable giving rose 2% overall in 2020 compared to 2019, according to a new analysis by The Blackbaud Institute, a research division of Blackbaud (NAS:BLKB) , a cloud computing company that works with nonprofit organizations.

Overall giving grew during the first two months of 2020. However, as the coronavirus pandemic swept across the U.S. and businesses and schools shut down, nonprofits of all sizes saw a “significant drop” in donations during April, May and June, with smaller nonprofits experiencing a 17% decline compared to the same period in 2019, Blackbaud found.

“The importance and resiliency of giving began to recover during the second half of 2020,” the report authors wrote. “It may not have felt like it, but giving recovered in many remarkable ways.”

The increase in donations came during a year when millions of Americans lost their jobs and found themselves unable to make rent or put food on the table.

Some people donated their stimulus checks

But the economic turmoil didn’t harm all Americans and many opened their wallets to donate to food banks and other frontline aid providers. Some people even donated their stimulus checks . Protests over racial injustice last summer spurred another outpouring of donations.

Not only did overall giving increase, but so did the average size of people’s donations, increasing to $737 from $617 in 2019, Blackbaud found. Human service organizations — which includes groups like the Salvation Army and YMCA — and faith-based groups saw the biggest increase in donations in 2020. Medical research, environmental and arts and culture groups experienced the biggest drops in donations.

Blackbaud’s analysis was based on its 8,833 nonprofit clients, which took in a total of $40.7 billion in donations in 2020. That’s only one slice of the giving pie in the U.S, where there are roughly 1.5 million nonprofits, but the Blackbaud data set is the largest sample size of giving and is representative of the nonprofit sector as a whole, a spokeswoman said.

The nation’s mega-donors stepped up their giving in 2020 too, with ultra wealthy individuals such as MacKenzie Scott (the former wife of Amazon (NAS:AMZN) founder Jeff Bezos) and Twitter (NYS:TWTR) CEO Jack Dorsey handing out billions to address the needs of struggling Americans.

The Blackbaud report doesn’t attempt to estimate the total dollar amount of charitable giving in the U.S.; for that number, Blackbaud defers to a report that will be released later in the year by Giving USA. In 2019, Americans gave a total of $449.64 billion to charity , according to Giving USA.

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