"You have not lived today until you
have done something for someone who can never repay you."
— John Bunyan
In 2020, a year in which a global pandemic caused the world to stand still, financial giving to charitable organizations in the U.S. reached a record $421.44 billion. These contributions came from individuals, bequests, foundations, and corporations.
This information, reported by Giving USA, shows that total contributions for a variety of causes grew 5.1% measured in current dollars.
Laura MacDonald, chair of Giving USA Foundation, says "2020 represents the highest year of charitable giving on record." A strong year-end stock market, Covid-19, and racial justice concerns all contributed to this generous response.
Here's a look at giving by source--
+Giving by individuals totaled an estimated $324.10 billion, rising 2.2% in 2020.
+Giving by foundations increased 17.0% to an estimated $88.55 billion, reaching its highest-ever dollar amount.
+Giving by bequest was an estimated $41.91 billion and grew 10.3% from 2019. This is a category that fluctuates from year to year.
-Giving by corporations is estimated to have declined by 6.1% in 2020 to $16.88 billion.
Who were the top beneficiaries?
+Giving to religion grew slightly by 1.0% between 2019 and 2020 with an estimated $131.08 billion in contributions. Adjusted for inflation, giving to religion was flat in 2020.
+Giving to education is estimated to have increased 9.0% to $71.34 billion. Education giving includes contributions to K-12, higher education, and libraries. This category benefited from a strong year-end stock market.
|(C) College of Charleston|
+Giving to human services increased by an estimated 9.7% in 2020 totaling $65.14 billion.
+Giving to foundations is estimated to have increased by 2.0% to $58.17 billion.
|(C) Foundation Group|
An uneven picture
There are other aspects to this nearly half-trillion-dollar story.
Ms. MacDonald, the Foundation chair, adds that while the totals are record-setting, individual households and certain charities may look different with many facing hardships.
"In some ways, 2020 is a story of uneven impact and uneven recovery. Many wealthier households were more insulated from the effects of Covid-19, and the ensuing economic shock, and they have had a greater capacity to give charitably than households and communities that were disproportionately affected and struggled financially," said Amir Pasic, Ph.D., Dean of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.
Motivations for giving
The Lilly research briefly highlights why people gave. Donors responded to urgent needs in a pandemic ravaged 2020. Individuals stepped up their support for charitable organizations through mutual aid efforts and person-to-person giving.
"Nonprofit leaders and fundraising professionals helped themselves by showing innovation in fundraising methods and donor outreach in raising financial support under difficult circumstances," Lilly notes.
For most, pre-existing relationships provided a base of support while making new connections was harder to pull off.
A spirit of generosity
The Giving USA report for 2020 focuses on financial giving. However, there are other ways people can give that don't require wealth such as donating to local food banks and volunteering time feeding the homeless.
The University of Notre Dame's Science of Generosity initiative provides an insightful look at the concept itself. In its roots, generosity meant "of noble birth." Over time that meaning began to change. Generosity evolved from family heritage to a nobility of spirit that would be found in people everywhere. It no longer depended on family history but whether a person actually possessed a spirit of generosity.
"Generosity, properly understood, could call any given person to a higher standard," the Science study concludes.
An up-to-date definition of "generosity" refers to the virtue of giving good things to others freely and abundantly.
The Notre Dame research offers plenty to think about--
- Generosity is a learned character trait that involves attitude and action.
- Generosity is not a random idea or haphazard behavior but a mature form, a basic, personal, moral orientation to life.
- Generosity also involves giving to others not simply anything in abundance but rather giving those things that are good for others.
- What generosity gives may vary--money, possessions, time, attention, and encouragement, emotional availability, and more.
- Thus generosity, like all the virtues, is in people's genuine enlightened self-interest to learn and practice.
From Notre Dame's study on the science of generosity to 2020's record results, there's much to be said about the practice of cheerfully giving good things to others, freely, abundantly--and quietly.