The COVID-19 pandemic is clearly an unprecedented event for our nation and the rest of the world. Understandably, many nonprofit leaders and board members are concerned about their immediate and long-term futures.
In times like this, a little perspective can be helpful. After all, this isn’t the first time our nation has faced a period of significant fear and uncertainty. My grandparents lived through a Depression and World War II. My parents experienced the Korean and Vietnam wars and the upheaval and social unrest of the 1960s when it seemed as if the nation was coming apart at the seams. Our current generation has witnessed the horror of 9/11 and experienced the deepest recession (2008-2009) in modern history.
In all of those cases, fear was high and the future seemed bleak.
Here’s some good news: since 1969, our nation has experienced seven recessions. In four of those recessions, charitable giving increased. Admittedly, this time feels different and we haven’t yet figured out the economic fallout from the COVID-19 lockdown. However, history shows that charitable giving always recovers after national emergencies and worldwide crises.
After the recession of 2008-2009, giving fell a total of 13% over two years. Charitable experts predicted it would take ten to fifteen years for giving to recover to pre-recession levels. Instead, giving bounced back much faster than the experts predicted. Within five years, giving by Americans surpassed pre-recession levels, setting new records.
While we’re in uncharted territory with this pandemic, I encourage you to be optimistic. This should be especially true if your organization provides for basic human needs like food, shelter, and health care. While overall giving dropped in 2008-2009, charitable support of human service organizations increased 8.5% overall. For those that aren’t human service organizations, the recovery will take longer, but it will occur.
Americans are an incredibly generous people (and remember that individuals make over 70% of all gifts to charity). Once some of the current uncertainty subsides, giving will rebound.
So, feed your faith and starve your fears. Better days are ahead. In the meantime, work hard to fulfill your mission, make smart decisions as you adjust your sails to formidable winds, and strive to be a light for your community during this dark time.