At the Union Rescue Mission in Los Angeles, the demand for free meals has increased by 40 to 50 percent since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. “We had to get creative,” said mission CEO Andy Bales.
He began asking local restaurants for help. One agreed to provide pizzas three to four times a week. Other contributions came from sub and hamburger chains, a bakery, and a barbecue restaurant. “We are adapting to this new world we live in,” Bales said.
With Americans losing jobs and sources of food and housing drying up, the pandemic has increased the demand for charities like Union Rescue Mission. So far, donors have given plenty in response to the outbreak, but the needs continue to multiply as scammers work to undermine charitable giving.
Most nonprofit organizations are “forecasting a 30 to 40 percent decrease in revenue between the months of March and June,” said Kevin Scally, chief relationship officer at Charity Navigator. “I imagine this will continue on for some time and that there will be a ripple effect with the economic shutdown.”
On April 2, the Center for Effective Philanthropy published a letter asking donors to increase giving to groups fighting the pandemic: “What nonprofits need most right now is more money. Without rapid and meaningful infusions of additional resources, many organizations will have to dramatically pare back programs and services or fold their operations entirely—and the results for the economy, vulnerable populations, communities, and progress on crucial issues will be devastating.”
Donors answered the call. According to Candid, an organization that tracks nonprofit groups and philanthropy, donors have provided 2,750 grants totaling $9.5 billion globally for COVID-19 response efforts. The United States leads the pack, with Americans providing 2,260 grants worth $1.8 billion. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Google have given the most so far, and other internet and tech companies are close behind. Most of the giving comes from companies and their foundations, but individuals are also donating generously: Using #ShareMyCheck, people are posting on social media how they allocated all or part of their government stimulus money to others in need.
But the disasters that prompt generosity also prompt fraud. The Federal Trade Commission noted an increase in coronavirus-related scams since the pandemic began, receiving 35,500 reports of fraud since January. Examples include official-looking emails with the World Health Organization logo asking recipients to download a list of coronavirus symptoms and robocalls from “a government agency” asking people to provide personal information to get their stimulus checks. Scammers have created fake charities and asked people to donate by mail or through an online giving portal. The FTC posted advice for avoiding such scams, including researching the charity first and donating by credit card instead of cash.
Though giving has stayed strong so far, the economic downturn likely will drag on for the foreseeable future as the needs of charities increase.
“I do imagine that there is going to be donor fatigue after some time,” Scally said. “There’s going to be only so much folks can give at an individual level.”
But for now, the charities I spoke with are cautiously hopeful. Bay Area Rescue Mission CEO John Anderson said his organization quickly shared new needs with donors: more meals, sanitation supplies, personal protective equipment, and temporary staff. During the past two months, donations have increased. “We are attempting to be wise stewards of what God is providing,” Anderson said. “Some of the expenses are beyond the current budget since no one knew this virus was coming.”
Hope Christian Center is a discipleship program for addicts in New York City. Director Jack Roberts had to cancel the annual fundraising banquet scheduled for the first week of April, but many donors gave by mail when they couldn’t do so in person. But he expects giving to slow as the year progresses and the economic fallout settles.
“Hope has always lived on the edge, but the Lord has sustained us,” Roberts said. “We trust Him with our future.”