Small Donations Make a Big Impact

Small Donations Make a Big Impact

Nov 05, 2020 Madeline Fry Schultz

Once COVID-19 began spreading through the U.S. earlier this year, most of the attention to pandemic-related philanthropy swung to the big names: Bill Gates, George Soros, Jack Dorsey. And instead of plummeting in response to the pandemic, giving actually shot up in the first half of 2020. For that, you can thank not just the billionaire philanthropists, but thousands of donors with small gifts. 

Giving jumped almost 7.5 percent in the first half of the year (compared with the same period in 2019), driven considerably by donations of less than $250—not the gifts that make headlines—according to the Fundraising Effectiveness Project. Small donations were up 19.2 percent, and the number of donors grew 7.2 percent compared to last year. 

The impression people have about philanthropy is that it originates primarily from big donors and in sizable amounts. In fact, most charitable giving comes from people who want to help their neighbors one gift at a time. (Most donations in the U.S. come from individuals, not foundations.) 

Americans are giving more than ever, according to the latest Giving USA numbers. Adjusted for inflation, last year saw the second-highest level of donations ever at $449.6 billion. In response to this year’s crisis, people across the U.S. have approached their giving with as much enthusiasm as before—and perhaps more, even when it comes to modest donations. They may not seem significant, but these small gifts have a big impact.