By Kirsty Robertson
In the face of a global pandemic, it’s easy to assume that people would turn inwards, focus on their own survival, and save every penny they have. In the face of uncertainty, charitable donations could have taken a backseat.
In reality, we’ve seen the exact opposite. According to data from McNair, average donations over the past two years have increased to $603 per Australian, up from $523 in 2020. According to Angela Brooks, author of the survey at McNair yellowSquares, this is the highest average donation in a decade.
This figure has been helped by the fact that more new donors are coming on board, with the number of Australians who do not donate at all decreasing from 40 per cent five years ago to 35 per cent in 2021.
The same is true in other countries around the world. Giving USA claims Americans donated a record $471 billion in 2020, a 5.1 per cent spike in total giving, or a 3.8 per cent jump when adjusted for inflation. This is despite an economic downturn, huge layoffs, and mass financial uncertainty.
We’ve seen similar shifts within my own organisation, Caritas Australia. During the pandemic, we have experienced a significant rise in donations, with the 20/21 FY being the best year for donations in the past five years. These donations have made it possible for us to provide vital, ongoing support in the Pacific, Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
While we’ve all had an incredibly hard 18 months, there’s a real sense of awareness around how much worse others have had it. With everyone locked down in their bubbles, people now have a much better concept of what it feels like to be isolated and to experience hardship. We understand what it means to have our lives turned upside down in a matter of days, hours, or minutes.
As a result, we have seen a huge outpouring of generosity, with new donors coming on board and existing donors giving more than before. People are now more sharply aware of what it means to suffer and want to help those whose suffering is even greater than theirs. Global events including the Beirut explosion, the Afghan crisis, and the impact of COVID-19 in India have only increased compassion and charitable giving.
However, despite the incredibly positive charitable giving statistics, now is not the time to get complacent. According to a report from The World Bank, poverty rates are rising for the first time in 25 years, and it’s all a result of the pandemic.
In October 2020, The World Bank estimated that between 88 and 115 million people around the world would be pushed into extreme poverty in 2020 as a result of the pandemic. Then, in 2021, the organisation adjusted this forecast to predict that between 119 and 124 million people were set to be affected by COVID-19 induced poverty.
The virus has caused this dramatic increase in poverty for a whole host of reasons including sickness, job losses and increased food prices, resulting in financial insecurity, hunger, and malnutrition.
With much of the world opening up and learning to live with the virus, there’s a chance that charitable donations might begin to dip from the record highs seen in 2020. Charities need continuing, sustained support over the coming years because this isn’t an issue that’s going to be fixed any time soon.
The next five years are going to be essential in reversing the terrible effects of COVID-19 around the world, as we work towards a world free from poverty. We must start with the most vulnerable and marginalised, keeping them at the centre of our decision-making at all times.
The good news is that rather than creating a sense of charity fatigue, the pandemic has done the opposite. Instead of becoming hardened or overwhelmed, people have proven that they are passionate about making a difference. Let’s just hope this momentum can continue as we work harder than ever before to reverse the effects of poverty around the world.
About the author: Kirsty Robertson (pictured above) is the CEO of Caritas Australia, the international aid and development organisation of the Australian Catholic Church, and a member of the second largest humanitarian aid and development network in the world, Caritas Internationalis. This is an opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of this publication.
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