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Charities Worry As Giving Season Kicks Off Without Fundraisers

In recent years, up to 1.2 million Americans took part in Thanksgiving Day charity runs.

This year, the start of the giving season looks different across the country: Turkey trots in Midland, Michigan, and Granville and Chillicothe, Ohio — all to raise money for important causes — were called off.

Because of the coronavirus, charities need generosity more than ever. When people got their stimulus checks at the start of the pandemic, charities saw a spike in charitable giving. Many affluent people not impacted by the economic downturn were also quick to donate.

But on the other hand, the American Cancer Society is looking at a $200 million revenue shortfall. Stacy Palmer, an editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, says giving is currently uneven.

"Overall, charities have had a spike in giving from those very wealthy people," she says. "But demand is increasing so much that they’re not able to keep up with all of the people who are requesting aid."

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Food banks, for example, are now seeing once-donors needing food, she says. Nonprofits are concerned about the upcoming months, she says, because Congress has yet to pass a relief package.

Food banks are particularly worried as they try to serve the historic amount of people facing food insecurity. Pantries have seen a 60% increase in demand this year. Reports of hours-long lines of people in need have made headlines across the country.

Smaller social service nonprofits such as food pantries and housing community centers are experiencing such severe need that the demand is "only going to grow worse" as the pandemic continues and many remain jobless, Palmer says.

Mental health groups will also need attention, she says, as social isolation drives up rates of depression and domestic violence.

"All kinds of organizations are seeing increases in demand and they’re struggling to raise money themselves," she says.

When the pandemic first hit, charities pivoted to online events — a novelty at the time. But with Zoom fatigue, many have lost interest in attending virtual events, she says.

Palmer has heard from folks in the industry that there's simply no perfect substitute for physically being with people at galas. And for some nonprofits, it's hard to virtually translate their work, she says.

Some have been getting creative to attract interest. Palmer says online tours to other parts of the world — such as a conservation charity hosting virtual safaris — have surged in popularity.

Some nonprofits are enlisting wealthy donors to reach out to others in their circles to give this season, she says.

If you want to give but don't have extra cash to spare, Palmer suggests donating a skill or volunteering. Research mutual aid societies in your neighborhood for a local way to give back, she advises. Food and clothing donations are always in need, she says.

The most helpful way to give back is through money donations though, she emphasizes, because it's the most efficient way for a charity to help others.

During tough economic times, fraudulent charities unfortunately tend to spring up. Verify that a charity is legit through the website Candid, or state’s attorneys general often make available a list of scams, she says.

"But we shouldn’t let concern about fraud get in the way," she says. "There are so many groups that are in need that we’ve all cared about."

Karyn Miller-Medzon produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Jill Ryan. Serena McMahon adapted it for the web.

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