Every summer, a report outlines the previous year’s trends in charitable giving.
One theme really sticks out about Giving USA 2020, a publication affiliated with Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. It’s that charitable donations depend on much more than a person’s goodwill.
The comprehensive report shows that a strong economy helped make 2019 the second-best year for charitable giving in the United States, in inflation-adjusted terms. Americans gave $449 billion in 2019, with donations from individuals and corporations seeing a double-digit percentage gain.
That’s all uplifting stuff, but this report is less of a forecast than a recap. For any nonprofit or charitable agency, 2020 is looking much different than 2019, with the employee furloughs and general uncertainty from the coronavirus pandemic.
“Giving increased substantially in 2019, ending the decade on a high note,” said Rick Dunham, chairman of the Giving USA Foundation. “While it’s too soon to tell what that will mean in the uncharted territory we all find ourselves in today, this estimate provides an important baseline.”
The problem with baselines is that they can make for an unfavorable comparison if external factors, in this case the economy and overall consumer confidence, take a turn for the worse. Last year, human services and public/society benefit organizations saw an increase in charitable contributions, but Giving USA notes that donations to religious organizations tend to be most immune to economic factors.
This is the environment that greets the United Way of Greater St. Joseph, which kicked of its annual fundraising campaign Monday. It did not announce a monetary goal for the 2020 campaign.
The United Way raised $2.6 million last year, which was short of its $3 million goal. Even in a strong economy, the agency encountered headwinds with companies allowing payroll deductions for competing charities and fewer employers matching donations.
Representatives of United Way partner agencies refused to give in to gloom and doom at Monday’s kickoff. They instead provided specific and uplifting examples of how the United Way’s resources benefit parents who need child care, children with disabilities who need special services or families who need assistance after South Side flooding and other disasters.
To say that the United Way has a tough hill to climb is like saying this year’s presidential campaign might be a little heated. That doesn’t mean the hill should be avoided.
The United Way’s partner agencies know that there’s too much at stake with this year’s fundraising campaign.