OPINION: In a year like no other, an opportunity to give like never before

by Asha Curran and Victoria Vrana | Giving Tuesday
Monday, 30 November 2020 18:43 GMT

Volunteers for the Wesley Community Center help distribute groceries to residents affected by the economic fallout caused by coronavirus (COVID-19) in Houston, Texas, U.S., July 24, 2020. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

On Dec 1, a global day of generosity, we each have a chance to support the organizations helping our communities survive

By Asha Curran, CEO, GivingTuesday, and  Victoria Vrana, Deputy Director, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

For those working at the Santa Cruz Volunteer Center in California to say 2020 has been a challenging year would be a vast understatement.

For more than three decades the grassroots organization has run the ‘Adopt a Family’ project to deliver food, clothes, and gifts to hundreds of families struggling to make ends meet in America’s wealthiest and most populous state.

Involving volunteers from all walks of life, it has become a longstanding tradition for many local families who want to give back during the holidays. 

When the pandemic hit in March, the number of families in need rose exponentially – months later devastating wildfires tore through California and displaced thousands. 

It was only thanks to a surge in donations from ordinary Californians that the Volunteer Center was able to extend holiday help to 500 families struggling through the pandemic. 

That might sound like a drop in the ocean compared to the millions out of work due to COVID-19 but as the pandemic continues to ravage communities, nonprofits like the Volunteer Center are wondering if donors and volunteers will continue to provide the support they need to fulfill their mission. 

Nonprofits have benefited from an extraordinary surge in donations of people’s time and money in 2020 but the assistance can be uneven and is rarely enough to keep pace with the evolving needs created by the pandemic. 

On December 1st – GivingTuesday - a global day of generosity we each have an incredible opportunity to re-double our efforts and support the nonprofits and organizations that are helping our neighbors and communities weather the crisis.  

As we near the end of a year like no other, there are encouraging signs based on the way people have given thus far in 2020. 

56% of U.S. households, for example, have engaged in charitable activity in response to the pandemic, according to the Women's Philanthropy Institute (WPI) at Indiana University.  

Giving is happening at all levels of income - not just among the wealthy: the number of gifts less than $250 has increased by 19.2% compared to 2019. 

Informal generosity is also growing, as people give directly to individuals through services like Venmo, add donations to restaurants when ordering takeout, or pay their stylist without receiving services. Nearly half (48%) of U.S. households gave in this informal way according to WPI. 

Despite this, charities and nonprofits that serve those in need still face unprecedented demands for their services as health and economic hardships grow. 

Feeding America, which supports a nationwide network of food banks, expects 50 million people will turn to the charitable food system for help in 2020 due to the pandemic, up more than 40% from a typical year. 

Unemployment remains rampant, and many people who are now relying on government assistance are at risk of losing support. 

In the last week of October, 20.3 million Americans claimed some form of unemployment benefits, according to the Department of Labor. An estimated 12 million people could lose their aid on December 26th if the federal government does not renew pandemic assistance programs. 

And, of course, infections and deaths from COVID-19 have repeatedly hit record highs in recent weeks. 

Two takeaways are clear from all this data: People have shown amazing resilience and generosity in response to COVID -- but the pandemic is not over, and neither are the strains it is placing on individuals and the nonprofits that support them.

No matter who or where you are, we all have something to give - and every act of generosity counts. There are myriad ways you can show up for those in need with your time, money, voice, talents or  kindness.  

To make it faster and easier to find ways to support your local communities on GivingTuesday - and every day -  my organization created PowerOf.org, bringing together thousands of opportunities to donate, volunteer, or provide other support to local communities or specific causes. 

Through our many partners we are committed to helping everyday givers who want to alleviate the impacts of COVID-19 and address inequities whether through donating to nonprofits in their area or by finding classrooms in your hometown to support with resources to improve remote learning. 

We know the urge to give is there. Let’s continue to come to the aid of our friends, family and neighbors in need by reaching out with generosity and supporting the organizations who serve them, so they have the staying power to help all of our communities respond to - and eventually get past - the burdens of  COVID-19.