A cruel irony of the COVID-19 pandemic is that at a time when more Americans may need to rely on nonprofits after layoffs or furloughs, those same financial struggles may affect charitable giving across the country. But many Americans who do have a habit of giving to charity are still making donations, and in some cases, they’re giving even more.
Nearly two in five American households say they’re making less money since the start of the pandemic, according to a Harris Poll survey conducted exclusively for Fast Company. That has affected charitable giving a bit—one in five respondents say they have given less to charity recently compared to before the pandemic; in households that saw a loss of income or experienced a job loss since March, that number jumps to 36%.
Of the people surveyed who say they are still giving, more than half say they’ve been donating the same amount since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and 21% say they now give more than they used to. Hunger relief has seen the most charitable giving—34%, among those who have given to charity during the pandemic—followed by religious organizations (31%) and health and medical organizations (29%).
While Americans who lost income or a job may be giving less to charity overall, they were actually the ones to give most to hunger relief, according to the poll; 34% of giving to hunger relief came from households that had a decrease in income, and 32% came from households that experienced a job loss during the pandemic.
Those popular areas of giving mirror what Charity Navigator has seen through its Giving Basket donation tool. From the beginning of March to October, Giving Basket donations to Feeding America have increased 1,980% year over year. Donations to Doctors Without Borders have increased 131% year over year.
But not all charities are doing well financially, either because they’re not getting as many donations or because they suddenly have to meet a much higher need. “Nonprofits are the safety nets of society and are being tested,” Kevin Scally, chief relationship officer at Charity Navigator, said in an email. “For many nonprofits, the pandemic has been extremely detrimental for their abilities to raise funds, while for others, they’ve seen a surge in giving.”
Those looking to give might want to start thinking, he said, not just about how much they’re donating, but how far those dollars go. That impact factor may be a reason why GiveWell, which vets and ranks nonprofits based on how cost-effective they are, has seen a surge in donations: $20 million so far this year, up 36% compared to the same time period in 2019, says Catherine Hollander, a senior research analyst at GiveWell. The nonprofit currently lists only eight top charities, chosen for how they could best save and improve lives around the world, including the Against Malaria Foundation and Deworm the World Initiative.
In the world of giving, though, it’s still a bit too early to tell how 2020 has affected charities. Though we’re nearing the end of the year, the vast majority of charitable giving happens during the “giving season,” in November and December. “We expect to have a much stronger read on how 2020 compares to 2019 after that highest volume time of the year is over,” Hollander says. Scally echoed that sentiment, saying there’s a hope that charitable giving will balance out as we head into the holidays: “Everyone in the sector has their eyes toward giving at the end of the year.”