Opinion: More money than ever was donated in 2020, but is that the best we can do?

Category: News

Laura MacDonald originally authored this article for the Columbus Dispatch on June 30, 2021. 

“Charitable giving reached an all-time high of $471 billion as donors responded to the suffering caused by an uncommon combination of pandemic, job loss, social and economic turmoil, and growing awareness of racial inequality.”

 

The headlines herald the good news: Charitable giving grew 5.1% — nearly $23 billion — in 2020, according to Giving USA 2021: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the year 2020.

Beneath the surface, the picture is more nuanced.

In many ways, this is a story of uneven adversity, unequal economic recovery and inadequate policies to encourage philanthropy.

Charitable giving reached an all-time high of $471 billion as donors responded to the suffering caused by an uncommon combination of pandemic, job loss, social and economic turmoil and growing awareness of racial inequality.

Giving was also bolstered by the stock market rebound toward the end of the year. Foundations led the surge in giving, increasing their grant-making by 17%.

Giving by individuals — by far the largest source — grew by more than $7 billion. The top 10 donors gave almost $22 billion, illuminating an ongoing trend of “top down” philanthropy. 

Despite this trend, 2020 reinforced that donors at all income levels are generous. It was heartening to see charities receive numerous gifts of $1,200 just after stimulus payments were released, and year-end contributions of $300 (the temporary universal charitable deduction amount). Yet, to match the largess of MacKenzie Scott would require almost 20 million gifts of $300.

Because philanthropy is healthiest when it is most democratic, we must work toward policies that empower all to give generously — not just the wealthy.

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