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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Americans gave generously to charity in 2019 and even more generously in the first half of 2020, according to data from the National Philanthropic Trust (NPT) shared exclusively with Axios.

Why it matters: Data on giving from donor-advised funds, or DAFs, shows a 15.4% increase in total charitable donations in fiscal 2019, to $27.4 billion. In the first half of 2020, the pace of giving picked up further, with giving rising by 30% compared to a year previously.

The bad news: The amount of money sitting in donor-advised funds rather than being put to use at real-world charities continues to increase, rising by 16.2% in 2019 to reach $142 billion. Tax-deductible contributions to these financial vehicles exceeded payouts to charity by more than $11 billion.

  • Real payouts were certainly smaller than $27.4 billion, since that figure includes transfers of money from one DAF to another — a surprisingly common occurrence.

The good news: Americans seem to have risen to the occasion when the pandemic hit in 2020, with an NPT survey showing the number of grants awarded in the first six months of the year rising by a whopping 37.4%.

  • The human services subsector, which includes food distribution groups and homeless shelters, saw the value of grants rise by 78.1% on a year-on-year basis, but almost all subsectors saw increases.
  • "Every grant is a Covid grant," NPT president Eileen Heisman tells Axios. "You’re trying to figure out how to keep the nonprofit world afloat."

By the numbers: In response to criticism that the NPT was not being fully transparent on its payout rate, Heisman decided to recalculate it according to the preferred formula of critics. By that formula, the payout rate was 16.2% in 2019, which means that DAFs paid out in grants about 16.2% of the maximum they could have granted if they'd run themselves entirely down to zero.

  • In 2020, for instance, Square CEO Jack Dorsey pledged to give $1 billion to COVID-19 charities. His DAFs disbursed $330 million, and ended the year with assets of $688 million, for a payout rate by this formula of 32.4%.
  • Not all of the assets in Dorsey's #startsmall fund are in DAFs, however. If they had been, the payout rate would have fallen to 8.8% — still higher than most private foundations.

The bottom line: The coronavirus pandemic constitutes exactly the kind of rainy day that should prompt philanthropists to finally give away the money they've been saving up.

  • Donations certainly rose last year, but it seems unlikely that charitable grants will have been large enough to bring total DAF assets down to below their 2019 level.

Go deeper

Justice Department closes Emmett Till murder probe

A faded photograph is attached to the headstone that marks the gravesite of Emmett Till in Burr Oak Cemetery in Chicago. Photo: Scott Olson via Getty Images

The family of Emmett Till announced Monday that the Department of Justice has formally closed its second investigation into the 1955 murder of Emmett Till.

Why it matters: The DOJ reopened the probe in 2018 after the white woman at the center of the case reportedly recanted her allegation that Till, a Black 14-year-old, sexually harassed her prior to his murder.

GOP Rep. Devin Nunes to retire, will be CEO of Trump media org

Rep. Devin Nunes. Photo: Dylan Hollingsworth/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who serves as the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, will retire at the end of the year and become CEO of Trump's new media organization.

Why it matters: Nunes, once considered a moderate member of the party, became one of the fiercest defenders of former President Donald Trump throughout both of Trump's impeachments and the Intel committee's Russia investigation.

DOJ cites discrimination in lawsuit against Texas over voting districts

Attorney General Merrick Garland. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Department of Justice on Monday filed a lawsuit against Texas, alleging Republican state lawmakers discriminated against Black and Latino voters and have "again diluted the voting strength of minority Texans" when they approved new redistricting maps.

Why it matters: A DOJ assessment of the new districts found that they violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, Attorney General Merrick Garland said at a press conference.