Why Small Gifts Make a Big Difference

By Cobi Gray

Chief Philanthropy Officer, Promise House


The COVID-19 pandemic has brought financial challenges to seemingly every sector of society — especially nonprofit organizations that often depend greatly on the generosity of donors.  

However, it seems that fewer and fewer Americans are enjoying the joy and privilege of giving. One recent Gallup poll indicates that the number of Americans donating to charitable causes has hit a new low. That’s on top of a longer-term trend that shows that nonprofits are relying more and more on big donors and less on smaller gifts from individual donors.  

Potential donors may think that their small donations can’t make a noticeable difference, but there are many good reasons to give to a nonprofit whose mission is important to you, even if you think your donation is small. 

Fewer Donors

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, many Americans have lost their jobs or seen their work hours cut. Understandably, many are stretched too thin to consider making a charitable donation in 2021. It’s not surprising that Gallup reported a new low in the percentage of Americans donating money to charity. Seventy-three percent of U.S. adults say they donated money to a charitable organization in 2019, surpassing the prior low from the Great Recession era. 

According to Gallup, the previous low point was 2009, when 79% of Americans donated to charity in the aftermath of the Great Recession. In typical years, Gallup finds that more than 80% of Americans make some type of charitable donation. 

At the same time, many who could donate a small amount may wonder: How much difference will my donation really make?

Small Gifts, Big Difference

But the truth is that small gifts add up to make a big difference in the budget of a nonprofit like Promise House. Yes, we depend on the big checks and six-figure donations that make the news. But the small donations, carefully carved out of smaller budgets, are just as meaningful. Every dollar counts, and every dollar makes a difference in the life of a child struggling with homelessness, abuse or other problems that seem insurmountable.

At Promise House, every dollar helps us meet our end goal and create change, and every donation is important. Small cash contributions also boost our chances of receiving additional funding. Public support helps us get government support. When we apply for grants, agencies and foundations look closely at the support we receive from our local community. Donations – big and small – indicate people trust the nonprofit and consider our work vital. When you make a donation, no matter the amount, means you’re casting a vote for our importance in the community. 

An Example for our Youth

This support has intangible importance to our youth. When they see volunteers coming to the shelter or bringing gifts and in-kind donations, or making cash contributions, it makes an impression. They can see that the community at large supports them, values them, and feels that their safety is critical. Just as your own children pay attention to what you do as well as what you say – our youth pay attention to the actions of those who step in to help. These small moments resonate throughout the lives of our clients, in some cases for years to come.

Tax Deduction 

And here’s one more reason to make a donation in 2021 that may be of particular interest to those who make smaller contributions. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) allows people who don’t itemize – and therefore could not deduct their charitable donations in past years – to take a charitable deduction of up to $300.

Whether taxpayers are supporting natural disaster recovery, COVID-19 pandemic aid or another cause that’s personally meaningful to them, their charitable donations now may be tax-deductible. Taxpayers who don’t itemize deductions may take a charitable deduction of up to $300 for cash contributions made in 2020 to qualifying organizations, including religious, educational, scientific or literary nonprofits and charities such as Promise House. Donations made this year will help to reduce the amount of your taxable income. (Previously, charitable contributions could be deducted only if taxpayers itemized their deductions.)

Finally, making a donation, large or small, can bring joy. One of the things I love about my job is the fact that I encounter that joy daily. At a time when many see divisiveness in our world, I see goodness every single day. I see the volunteer who comes in to help faithfully. I meet the business leader who donates $1 million, as well as the senior living on a fixed income who pitches in what she can spare. All share that spirit of supporting and helping others. I invite you to experience that goodness this year by donating any amount you can spare to support a nonprofit that is meaningful to you.

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