Flow,” Päivi Vesala

December 3, 2020; Washington Post

By most accounts, donations were up 25 percent on Giving Tuesday over last year’s numbers, with nearly $2.5 billion donated. Though these are early days, as far as NPQ can tell, this increase will have been unevenly distributed, with the lion’s share of any increases likely going to nonprofits serving basic needs. For instance, No Kid Hungry, by its own account, raised $2.3 million on Giving Tuesday, which was an increase of more than 341 percent over 2019.

NPQ has been suggesting for some months that giving by smaller donors seemed to be healthy this year, though it had been trending downward in recent years. A lot of media articles said otherwise, throwing in almost as an afterthought that giving to nonprofits was down in the face of rising need. The reality is that though need is definitely way up, for many nonprofits, giving is not universally down.

This dynamic mimics a trend we saw in research we did about funding during the last recession, wherein human services organizations that need money to address acute human needs get it, but arts organizations end up seeing a decline. (Arts organizations, for instance, may see a precipitous drop in revenue from individuals even while costs are up, because they have been forced into an unpredictable state of hibernation despite the fixed costs that they have to cover.) Much of the cultural sector is dependent on congregate spaces, which made this downturn more extreme than in 2008. Unfortunately, the media and the public know little enough about the distinguishing drivers of revenue in different business models to help in understanding why one organization is flailing while another seems to be humming right along, or even expanding its programs.

So, if your organization did not see an increase of any kind this year, let alone one ranging from 25 to 341 percent, that does not mean you did something wrong. You may simply be in an organizational category that does not have the public’s attention priority this year—but you probably know that all too well.—Ruth McCambridge