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A wise person once said that generosity is the most natural outward expression of an inner attitude of compassion. The generosity demonstrated in 2020 gives me reason to be hopeful about the future of organized philanthropy.

Giving USA 2021: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2020, released on June 15, 2021, reports that individuals, bequests, foundations and corporations gave an estimated $471.44 billion to U.S. charities in 2020. Overall, total charitable giving grew 5.1% measured in current dollars over the $448.66 billion contributed in 2019.

Adjusted for inflation, total giving increased 3.8%.

“Unprecedented developments in 2020 including the global pandemic, the ensuing economic crisis, and efforts to advance racial justice created intense, widespread need and significantly increased the demand upon nonprofit organizations. Remarkably, generous giving coupled with the stock market turnaround in the final months of the year boosted contributions. As a result, 2020 is the highest year of charitable giving on record,” said Laura MacDonald, chairwoman of Giving USA Foundation and Principal and Founder of Benefactor Group. “Amid these unique circumstances, however, the nation’s overall economic picture remained mixed. It is important to recognize that the picture for individual households and organizations may have looked quite different, with many facing hardship even though total giving posted strong growth.”

We know that 2020 was challenging according to many economic measures. GDP was among these measures and it declined by 2.3% from 2019. Nevertheless, the passage of the CARES Act and the possibility of an approved COVID-19 vaccine helped markets rebound in the second half of the year, which is when most charitable giving occurs. By the end of 2020, the S&P 500, which is closely related to giving, grew 16.3%. Additionally, personal income, a factor that is significantly linked to individual giving, grew 6.1%.

Giving by foundations skyrocketed in 2020, increasing 17% to an estimated $88.55 billion (a growth rate of 15.6%, adjusted for inflation), the highest-ever dollar amount. Giving by foundations, which has grown in nine of the last 10 years, represented 19% of total giving in 2020, the largest share on record. This estimate for giving by foundations was created by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy using data from Candid.

Giving by The Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation, the largest community foundation in Central Appalachia, was in line with the national trend among foundations. The Foundation distributed a record $13.5 million in grants and scholarships compared to $11.5 million in 2019, a 17% increase. Our 2020 distributions included 791 grants and 370 scholarship awards. With regard to the types of grants distributed, there were 146 discretionary, 247 donor-designated and 398 donor-advised. At $5.1 million, donor-advised funds distributed the largest number of grant awards and the most dollars to our community, followed by $4.5 million in discretionary grants, and $3.2 million in donor-designated grants. Furthermore, we distributed $830,155 in scholarship awards to 370 students. The Foundation’s grant recipients were from an array of sectors. At 27%, education grantees received the largest portion of grant dollars, followed by health grantees with 19%, and community economic development grantees with 14%. Arts and culture, basic needs, and COVID-19 relief grantees tied at 11% of grant dollars.

Even during the height of the pandemic, the Foundation’s donors did not waver in their engagement and generosity. Donors contributed $3.6 million to discretionary, donor-advised, donor-designated, field-of-interest and scholarship funds, and $1,365,641 was designated specifically for COVID-19 relief from an anonymous donor, Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation and Huntington Bank. A partnership was even established with the Truist Foundation to advance entrepreneurship. Additionally, 38 sponsors contributed $112,750 to the Summit on Race Matters in West Virginia, and nine donors established new funds over the course of the year, bringing our total number of funds to 542. At the end of 2020, the value of our assets totaled $304.7 million.

To those who made financial contributions during the past year, thank you for caring enough to invest in you community via your community foundation. To 2020 grant recipients, it is our pleasure to partner with you for positive community impact.

Michelle Mickle Foster, Ph.D., is the president and CEO of The Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation in Charleston.

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