How Are Philanthropists Responding to COVID-19?

May 15, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has understandably shifted philanthropists’ mindsets. Senior Wealth Planner Kerri Mast analyzes recent survey results on this topic.

COVID-19’s impact has been felt far and wide as communities, businesses and governments have implemented major changes that affect everyday life. Many people are living with meaningful uncertainty regarding what comes next. Nonprofit organizations are not exempt from this uncertainty and may be concerned about their own viability in the face of declining asset values due to market volatility and reduced fundraising as donors are distracted or less able to give and volunteer. A recent Fidelity Charitable survey gives insight into how philanthropists are thinking about their support in the current environment.

Donor Attitudes. Not surprisingly, donors expressed concern about COVID-19, with more than two-thirds saying they are very worried or somewhat concerned about the virus. Respondents cited health concerns, economic concerns or both, with a mere 4% of people saying they are not worried about either one. Concern about COVID-19 could have an impact on financial and volunteer support of nonprofits.

Impact on Financial Support. Notwithstanding concern about the virus, many donors anticipate sustaining or increasing their charitable giving. More than 75% of those surveyed anticipate donating as much or more than they donated last year. Those who said they would give more cited the pressing community need and a desire to be helpful. They also recognize the importance of funding the organizations they currently support, as well as those directly helping with the coronavirus. Only 9% of those surveyed said they would donate less, citing economic fears and uncertainty over their own income and the market.

In terms of how donors will support nonprofits, most (55%) anticipate providing continued support to the nonprofits they have supported in the past. Twenty-four percent of donors anticipate shifting their giving to support nonprofits responding to the impacts of COVID-19. These donors are interested in both the health and economic impacts on a domestic level and, to a lesser extent, international level. Most donors feel like they have the information they need to understand how to best direct their financial support, while one-third feel like they don’t have that information. To the extent there is uncertainty, older generations report feeling unsure of how to direct their donations. There might be an opportunity for nonprofit organizations to ensure they provide information about their work in a concise and comprehensible way.

The reported impact on financial support is positive. Most donors said they would give at least as much as last year. In recognition that organizations will be affected in some way by COVID-19, donors are supporting existing organizations. Many donors also anticipate supporting frontline organizations that are addressing health and economic impacts.

Impact on Volunteer Support. While the reported impact to financial support is positive, the impact on volunteer support is less so. Less than half of those surveyed anticipate sustaining or increasing their volunteer time. Almost half of those surveyed expect to decrease – or stop altogether – their volunteer time in the coming months, citing organization closures, a desire not to be close to other people and their own higher risk status, due to age or other underlying health conditions. The majority of respondents in the silent and baby boomer generations, both with members likely to have higher risk status, expect to decrease their volunteer hours. Interestingly, nearly one-third of millennials expect to increase their volunteer time. Organizations that rely on volunteer support as a means to deliver their services should consider what steps they might take to protect their volunteers and help them feel safe, such as additional sanitation, providing personal protective equipment (PPE) and requiring physical distancing.

Nonprofit Perspectives. The survey also asked nonprofit professionals about the current impact of COVID-19 on different aspects of their business. Overwhelmingly, nonprofits reported that all aspects of their business – fundraising/development, volunteer services and programs and delivery of programs and services – have been significantly or somewhat impacted by COVID-19. Only a few – 5% or less – reported business as usual.

While many nonprofits are facing meaningful impacts to their business, and uncertainty regarding the future is likely to continue for some time, philanthropists are aware of these challenges and have indicated a willingness to continue their support. The full report, including methodology, can be found on Fidelity Charitable’s website at “COVID-19 and Philanthropy: How Giving Behaviors are Shifting Amid Pandemic.” Fidelity Charitable is Brown Brothers Harriman’s (BBH) donor-advised fund partner, with many of our clients having Fidelity Charitable accounts managed at BBH.

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