2020: What Really Happened With Donors

Donor mobility fueled a 5.2% increase in giving, both adding dollars and also moving them around to targeted causes. COVID-19 and social unrest were key factors in the uptick in giving, as expected.

Those are among points of the debriefing found in the new report “Giving in Unprecedented Times” from GivingTuesday Data Commons, with more than 100 contributing partners and 50 global data labs. The report leverages the Growth in Giving dataset, volunteer behavior data, survey research, and additional transaction data to provide a deeper understanding of the trends.

The data shows key giving moments in 2020 corresponded to upticks in COVID-19, pivotal events such as action for racial justice and election activity, and #GivingTuesdayNow, a day of unity and giving held as an emergency response to COVID-19 on May 5, 2020 and GivingTuesday (Dec. 1, 2020) giving events. These moments were largely driven by many donors giving smaller amounts, according to the study’s authors.

While giving was up overall, not all organizational boats floated in the rising tide. The typical nonprofit experienced much lower results during 2020. For the first time on record, the typical organization’s fundraising experience in 2020 was a 5% to 10% reduction in revenue -- despite the data showing positive returns on average, according to the authors.

The winners and losers bucked previous fundraising trends. Three of those trends were: Donor mobility increased more, particularly in small donations; cause area winners and losers followed societal challenges; and, the widening inequality affected smaller-revenue nonprofits, not just lower wealth individuals.

What that means for the remainder of 2021 includes:

  • Charitable giving patterns will return to pre-2020 trends as fewer and weaker giving moments to drive fundraising are expected. That might drive a decrease in year-over-year giving;
  • Smaller organizations will appear to do better in 2021. Organizations where there was a drop in annual revenue, but that remained solvent, will rebound; and,
  • Small repeat/recurring donations will be an important tactic to upgrade donors into the middle tier. However, the prevalence of repeat donations will stagnate as there may be fewer giving moments that lead to fewer concrete reasons for donors to activate within a year.

The authors recommend creating and sharing giving moments and not shying away from engaging givers, especially in tough times and increasing focus on recaptured donors and mid-size donors.

To download the full “Giving in Unprecedented Times” report and learn more about the GivingTuesday Data Commons, visit www.givingtuesday.org/data