Dec 22, 2021 - Economy

The giving boom

Illustration of a colorful dollar bills falling from an outstretched hand, appearing to be confetti

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

2020 saw a surge in charitable giving, and 2021 could top it.

Why it matters: We're navigating another COVID wave, and inflation is squeezing budgets — but amid all the bleakness this holiday season, Americans are still finding ways to give back.

"There have been unprecedented opportunities to make a difference," says Una Osili, an associate dean at Indiana University's Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

  • The hardships spurred by the pandemic, the racial justice protests and, more recently, the deadly tornadoes in Kentucky and surrounding states have all created new opportunities to give back.
  • And restaurant closures and limited travel have left many Americans with more disposable income, putting them in a better financial position to give, Osili notes.

What's happening: Americans donated $2.7 billion on Giving Tuesday this year — a 9% jump from last year.

  • Overall, Americans donated $471 billion in 2020, up 5% from 2019. 2021 is still in the middle of its giving season — in fact, Dec. 31st is one of the most popular giving days of the year, says Osili.
  • More of the super-wealthy are pledging to give away their billions. Two of 2020's biggest donors were MacKenzie Scott, who was married to Amazon's Jeff Bezos, and Twitter founder Jack Dorsey.
  • And more rich people signed the Giving Pledge in 2021 — including DoorDash founder Tony Xu and Pinterest founder Ben Silbermann — promising to give away the majority of their wealth, the Wall Street Journal reports.

It’s not just individuals. Companies are also joining the giving trend, Yahoo Finance reports.

  • Madewell, the clothing retailer, will match and triple any donation made to No Kid Hungry through its platform — up to $100,000 — until the end of the year.
  • Our Place, the kitchenware brand, will donate 10 meals to Feeding America for every purchase.
  • The home goods company Brooklinen is taking advantage of holiday returns and giving returned products to domestic violence shelters around the country.

This is a sticking point for holiday shoppers: Some 70% of U.S. consumers say they’re more likely to buy from a certain company if some of their money or some of the merchandise is being donated, according to a recent survey from TopCashback.

Here’s what you can do:

  • Give time: Every city has food banks, youth centers or homeless shelters where you can help. There are even virtual volunteer gigs on VolunteerMatch that are COVID-safe.
  • Give money: If you’re buying gifts, pick a company that's giving back. Or use something like Goodshop, which digs up coupons for you and then lets you pick a charity to donate the cash you saved. 
  • Give things: Around 40% of Americans want to purge their closets, per CivicScience data. Do your research so the clothes you’re donating don’t just end up in a landfill. Mashable suggests donating to Goodwill or the Salvation Army because these big organizations can handle volume, and they’re less likely to get overwhelmed and throw clothes out.
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