At WaterGrass, we provide fundraising and volunteer management tools to small and growing nonprofits, and our users allow us to review their data for insights (we keep everyone anonymous).  Last year was tumultuous and we were a little apprehensive about how our users fared.  Now that the 2020 end-of-year fundraising is past, we selected ten well-established river and watershed groups among our users and crunched the numbers.

For the ten groups we looked at …

…overall individual contributions increased from 2019 to 2020.

Charitable giving in the US has generally increased during the pandemic, and that was reflected for our users.

Total individual giving (donations, membership, major donations) for these ten organizations has held relatively steady over the last six years. Between 2019 and 2020 donations and memberships rose, while major donor gifts increased by about 150%.  Donations were up about 7% whereas memberships were up about 10%.  Our clients reported that their rivers and trails saw more users than ever before, which may have translated into more support.

…event income declined.

Overall, the only decline for our groups was event income, which fell 67% (see above chart).  That’s not surprising given the inability to hold in-person events during most of 2020.  The drop was not as bad as it might have been, though, due to some creative programming.  Annual meetings, silent auctions, and Wild and Scenic Film Festivals went on virtually, and groups partnered with restaurants and local breweries to provide take-home refreshments as a celebration.  The innovation was impressive and no doubt kept event income at meaningful levels.

…the shift to online giving accelerated.

Over the six-year period we examined, online giving increased more than 10-fold, while direct donations (checks, cash, and other donations that didn’t come in through a payment website) grew 60%.  In 2020, our organizations received nearly a quarter of their individual revenue online.  That’s a conservative estimate, since not all groups clearly delineated gifts that came in online.

…volunteer hours fell.

Volunteering is an important part of the work of river and watershed groups.  Volunteers power river cleanups, water quality monitoring, and other activities.  Volunteering as measured by hours donated has been relatively strong, and our data shows a generally upward trend over the six year period we examined.  This trend may partly reflect more thorough tracking of volunteer hours–WaterGrass has recently rolled out several new features that make tracking easier.  

What seems clear, however, is the dramatic drop of volunteer time recorded for 2020.  Reported hours dropped from over 22,000 hours to just about 8,000, another decline of nearly ⅔, or 63%.  That’s surely due in part to the cancellation of in-person events due to COVID.  Many of our groups replaced them with socially-distanced volunteering initiatives, but were generally not able to track hours for those.  As a result it’s difficult to know the full scope of volunteerism in 2020.

This is, obviously, a quick snapshot, but it suggests that individual giving for these ten groups continues to be resilient, even in the face of a global pandemic.  Later in the year, we’ll present an in-depth analysis of the full set of WaterGrass data.

Carl Paulsen, WaterGrass