Hi, I’m Nicole Wallace, features editor at the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Your faithful correspondent, Eden Stiffman, is hard at work on an ambitious project, so I’ll be filling in for a bit.

This week, fundraising data for the first six months of 2020 is surprisingly good, but
experts warn that dangers still lie ahead. Plus, college fundraiser are increasingly confident about making this year’s fundraising goals but worry about the length of the economic recovery.

Thanks to sponsor DonorPerfect for supporting Fundraising Update.

Fundraisers got some well-deserved good news this week. Charitable giving in the first half of 2020 increased by almost 7.5 percent over the first half of 2019.

That marks a big shift from the first quarter of this year, when giving was 6 percent behind the same period in 2019, Eden reports. The second quarter also marked a five-year high in the number of donors and contributions.

The results are from the Fundraising Effectiveness Project, which is managed by the Association of Fundraising Professionals in collaboration with GivingTuesday and analyzes donation data from the Growth in Giving Database.

While donors at all levels have stepped up in a big way during the pandemic, those who gave less than $250 were a major driver of growth. The number of small donations increased 19.2 percent over the first six months of last year. That may be due in part to the $300 universal charitable deduction that was enacted as part of the Cares Act.

It wasn’t just small-dollar gifts fueling the growth. The number of midlevel donors, who made gifts of $250 to $999, and major donors, who made gifts of $1,000 or more, increased year over year by 8.1 percent and 6.4 percent, respectively.

But this is 2020. The project’s leaders issued a warning along with the positive data.

“Fundraisers should be cautious about getting too excited about the uptick in giving in the second quarter,” said Lori Hunter Overmyer, chair of the AFP Research Council. Giving almost always decreases in the first quarter, and the continued need for nonprofits services, along with the sluggish economy, “could potentially depress giving over the long term,” she said.

Braiden May and his family enjoying games in the Play Room at Ronald McDonald House Near Central DuPage Hospital (Winfield, IL). (Photo by Hilary Higgins)
Braiden May and his family enjoying games in the Play Room at Ronald McDonald House Near Central DuPage Hospital (Winfield, IL). (Photo by Hilary Higgins)

Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana has notched some fundraising wins since the start of the pandemic, my colleague Emily Haynes reports.

In May, the charity hastily moved its annual gala online. That event typically raises more than $1 million, but it brought in just $800,000 this year. On the other hand, event expenses went down, too. The charity spent just $35,000 to put on the gala — which it redesigned as a monthlong online campaign, including live performances by local bands and a magic show by Ronald McDonald, culminating in a two-hour event streamed on Facebook Live. By comparison, the annual one-night gala usually cost about $300,000 to produce.

What’s more, 132 donors made their first gift to the charity as part of the refigured gala. “If we had met in person, our room would’ve been 700 people,” says Holly Buckendahl, the organization’s CEO. Moving the event online widened the charity’s reach, she says. “Our audience became endless.”

Before Covid-19 hit, the charity had planned to test a $20,000 summer fundraising campaign. It has far exceeded its goal, raising slightly more than $353,000. And while it’s too soon to tell how many of those gifts came from donors who made their first contributions in May, those new donors did receive email appeals during the summer campaign.

Still, Buckendahl expects this year’s fundraising revenue will be 25 percent below budget. The charity anticipates dipping into its reserves to make up for the shortfall.

As the critical year-end giving season approaches, Buckendahl says fundraisers aren’t taking their foot off the gas pedal.

Although some of her colleagues at other nonprofits worry that donors will be tired of fundraising appeals by December if charities start asking for donations now, Buckendahl isn’t concerned about that. Her charity is communicating frequently with supporters about how the pandemic is affecting its mission and what its financial needs are.

“Your big donors, your year-end donors, donors that give to you all year long — they need to know now, and they’ll make their choices when they make their choices,” she says. “We are just making sure our audience and our donor family understand where we’re at and how we’re doing.”

Learn more about giving during the first half of 2020, and read the full story about fundraising during the pandemic at the Chicago-area Ronald McDonald House.

Hear From You

How did fundraising fare at your organization the first half of the year? Are you confident or nervous as we head into the year-end giving season? Drop me a line, and we might include your comments in a future newsletter.

Need to Know


— Share of college fundraisers who say they’ll reach their fundraising targets for the financial year

That’s nearly double the share who expressed similar confidence in June, according to a new survey by fundraising firm Washburn & McGoldrick. Emily reports that just 14 percent of college fundraisers aren’t confident in their ability to meet their fundraising targets this year.

Even with this sunnier outlook on the future, fundraisers have tempered their timeline for a full financial recovery from the pandemic. In June, 40 percent said they expected it to take a year at most to recover their losses from the recession. By September, however, 43 percent said they didn’t anticipate a full financial recovery for one or two years — that’s 19 percent more than the portion who expected that timeline in June.

“Donors who postponed closing gifts because of Covid are now waiting for the outcome of the election,” one fundraiser said. “This is pushing back the ‘recovery’ rate for us.”


  • Fifty-five percent of nonprofits say they are concerned about the difficulty of soliciting gifts from donor-advised funds, according to a new survey by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. The concern level was especially high — 70 percent — among nonprofits that had never received gifts from donor-advised funds, my colleague Dan Parks reports.
  • Blackbaud now says that cybercriminals did gain access to some bank-account information and social-security numbers in the ransomware attack on its cloud server in May, reports Eden, who has been following the story closely. The company maintains that the hacker did not access credit-card data.
  • Wealthy donors have given at least $208.3 million for racial-justice and diversity, equity, and inclusion programs so far this year, according to a newChronicletally of public gifts from individuals compiled by my colleague Maria DiMento. That 2020 sum is a marked increase from 2019, when affluent philanthropists gave $26.2 million publicly toward such efforts. It does not include the many millions big donors have given to top historically Black colleges and universities, which have also seen a significant rise in donations this year.

Ethics Month

The Association of Fundraising Professionals is once again celebrating Ethics Awareness Month in October.

The main theme this year is the intersection of ethics and inclusion, diversity, anti-racism, and social justice. Videos, articles, and other resources look at questions like who determines what behaviors are appropriate and ethical and how do power relationships shape those standards.

AFP has also announced that as of November 1 all position listings posted on its job board will be required to include salary levels. The move is part of the organization’s diversity, equity, and inclusion initiative.

Tips & Tools

What We’re Reading

  • Nearly 3 out of 4 millennials have donated money to charity or provided financial aid to a friend or family member since the start of the pandemic, according to a survey conducted by the payment app Zelle. That’s more than any other generation in the study, CNBC reports. Overall, the report found that 64 percent of Americans say they’ve sent sent financial aid or donated at least once since the start of the pandemic.
  • MacKenzie Scott, the ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and one of the richest woman in America, has a complicated relationship with money that dates back to upheaval in her family’s finances when she was a teenager, according to a Marker profile. Scott’s giving is very different than most tech philanthropy, but critics take issue with her lack of transparency and the source of her wealth.

Cultivate Midlevel Donors

Join our webinar tomorrow — Midlevel donors bring in a hefty share of annual revenue at many nonprofits. Plus, they’re loyal: 75 percent keep giving year after year, research shows. Yet these key supporters often get overlooked because their giving doesn’t fit into major gifts or direct-response fundraising.

How can your nonprofit attract midlevel donors and hold onto them for the long haul ― despite the economic and health crises?

Join us for a 75-minute webinar to learn from two senior fundraisers who oversee successful midlevel giving programs. They’ll share insights into what’s working now to keep these important supporters connected to your work. And even if you don’t have a strong midlevel program, they’ll offer simple steps you can take right away to nurture these donors and boost giving. Plus, you’ll get real-world examples of donor communications and fundraising appeals that hit the mark with those who make midlevel contributions.

Register now to get a special early-bird discount on this session, which airs tomorrow, Thursday, October 8, at 2 p.m. Eastern. Can’t make it then? Watch it on demand at your convenience.

How to Boost Your Planned-Giving Program

Join Our Webinar — Jump-start your planned-giving program by learning how to create appeals and marketing materials that resonate — even during these challenging times. You’ll learn from a planned-giving director at a nonprofit, a veteran consultant, and a planned-giving director at a financial-services firm. They’ll share:

  • Strategies for strengthening legacy giving (even if you’re just getting started)
  • Tips for developing a planned-giving strategy
  • Real-world examples of how to frame conversations and messages, and
  • Detailed marketing advice and examples

Plus, you’ll get tips on how to recognize these donors and keep them engaged in your work. Register now to get the early-bird rate for this session, which airs Thursday, October 22, at 2 p.m. Eastern.

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