OPINION: ‘Tis the season for giving, but where are the donors?

It’s that time of year when our mailboxes, real and virtual, are flooded with letters, cards and envelopes from charitable organizations asking for our money and time.

The COVID years were a boon to many organizations as individual donors gave generously. This year, the statistics on giving are not exactly merry and bright.

For the first half of 2022, donations were up but donor counts were down. Even though more money was given by fewer people, resulting in a 6.2% increase, those gains were leveled by the 8.5% inflation rate, according to data published by the Fundraising Effectiveness Project.

Small-dollar donors, individuals giving $100 or less, dropped more than 17% in the first half of the year compared to the same time period in 2021. These donors are the ones who help nonprofits weather recessions, according to a recent report in Philanthropy This Week. Experts advised organizations to use the last few months of the year to engage those everyday donors.

Volunteers are twice as likely than non-volunteers to donate to the charities they serve, so getting people to volunteer serves the dual purpose of stretching dollars and possibly gaining more dollars. But volunteering has also taken a hit.

In Georgia, about 27% of residents volunteer each year, but national data indicates that rates of volunteering have not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels.

Many of us are weary and depleted from the pandemic, inflation or any other crisis we face currently, but charities are hoping the right motivation will re-energize us to help others during this giving season.

Some charitable organizations have gotten more creative at getting our attention.

In September, executives at Primerica organized the company’s first ever volunteer fair after noticing that employee volunteer hours were going unused. Employees used 26% of volunteer hours in 2019 but only 18% in 2020 and 2021.

After Primerica shifted from a workplace in which 98% of employees were in the building to one where remote, flexible and hybrid schedules dominate, company leaders were looking for ways to enrich the culture within the company walls and to support the surrounding community.

“There was still a strong commitment to give back, support and uplift,” said Lisa Brown, chief administrative officer. About 200 employees attended the event where more than 20 charitable organizations shared their missions. “It was heartwarming to see people wanting to give back and support those in need,” Brown said.

Credit: Primerica

Credit: Primerica

The Salvation Army, one of the organizations that participated in Primerica’s volunteer fair, has a large pool of volunteers but can always use more, said Major Thomas McWilliams.

“Donations have gone back to a more normal level from a COVID high, but with volunteers, we have to regenerate and get them back into that mode,” he said.

Christmas has been the Salvation Army’s most visible season for more than 100 years, said McWilliams. “We are spending most of our energies to encourage volunteers to do virtual kettle or an actual kettle,” he said, referring to the worldwide donations collected in red kettles.

For many volunteers, he said, the push they need to engage is a personal connection. And for some nonprofits, that comes naturally.

“I’m not going to wear rose-colored glasses and say there are not challenges, but what has been super consistent for the organization has been relationships, communication and outreach to the funding community,” said Shalondra Henry, acting executive director for Moving in the Spirit, an Atlanta-based creative youth development program.

The nonprofit has weathered a slight decline in donations but has ended every year since its 1986 founding in the black, she said.

The organization has relied more on its alumni to help reach individual donors. “Being creative about bringing the community together has been a great way for us to continue to raise funds,” Henry said.

In September, one volunteer organized a meet-and-greet at the wine bar across the street from the organization’s new performing arts facility. The group enjoyed wine then walked to the building for tours led by students ranging in age from 10 to 17. The organization raised $18,000 that evening alone, Henry said.

This year, the holiday store on Dec. 10, a tradition in which students use points earned throughout the year to purchase gifts for family and friends, is returning to its previous format after having been scaled back the past two years.

For some volunteers, said Henry, getting back to those old traditions feels like coming home.

In these still uncertain times, traditions can offer comfort and may be the kind of motivation we need to start giving again.

Read more on the Real Life blog (www.ajc.com/opinion/real-life-blog/) and find Nedra on Facebook (www.facebook.com/AJCRealLifeColumn) and Twitter (@nrhoneajc) or email her at nedra.rhone@ajc.com.