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Baltimore-area nonprofits never know what Giving Tuesday will mean. In 2020, that uncertainty is even greater.

For self-described “fundraising nerd” Bailey Deacon, it isn’t putting up Christmas lights or a tree that gets her in the holiday spirit. Instead, it’s Giving Tuesday, a break-neck sprint of a fundraising and awareness-raising campaign for nonprofits that explodes in the days following Thanksgiving.

Even so, Deacon, community engagement director for the Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter, is quick to acknowledge that if the result of the charitable holiday is unpredictable in a normal year for nonprofits, 2020 is just one giant shrug emoji.

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“You can do everything that you normally do — you can do more than what you normally do,” she said. “But you can’t control the world and everything that’s going on.”

In a typical year, as much as a third of annual giving occurs in December alone, when generosity inspired by the holiday spirit comes together with the looming promise of tax benefits from the IRS. But 2020 has been anything but typical for nonprofits, as the coronavirus pandemic has slashed at the personal finances of American households and punted fundraisers to a virtual space.

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Bailey Deacon, director of community engagement for the Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter (BARCS), gives Rowan some attention. Rowan, a stray, is FIV+, feline immunodeficiency virus positive, and is in an office away from other cats.
Bailey Deacon, director of community engagement for the Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter (BARCS), gives Rowan some attention. Rowan, a stray, is FIV+, feline immunodeficiency virus positive, and is in an office away from other cats. (Kim Hairston/The Baltimore Sun)

So, as the kick-off to the holiday giving season approaches, many nonprofits are holding their breath to see what the last stretch of 2020 will hold for them.

“Who knows?” Deacon said. “We don’t even know what the news cycle tonight will bring.”

It’s been a rocky year so far for nonprofits. About a quarter of nonprofits in the state reported significant declines in individual donations, and about 14% reported that giving was down by more than half, according to survey results shared by Heather Iliff, president and CEO of Maryland Nonprofits. These losses were preceded by the lasting effects of the 2017 tax reform law, which suppressed incentives to give to nonprofits, Iliff said.

The Ulman Foundation, based in Locust Point, has raised only about 65% of what it typically would by this time of year, said Katie Norton, the nonprofit’s senior director of external relations. The foundation plans to end this year in a deficit, she said, and will almost certainly run a deficit next year, too.

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Throughout the pandemic, the foundation has continued providing support services to those affected by cancer, as well as accommodations for people who travel to Baltimore for treatment. But after having to cancel some of its usual fundraising programs and revamp others, Norton says the organization is much more dependent than it usually is on individual donations.

Still, she says the foundation isn’t holding out for Giving Tuesday to bring in a large stream of donations — it usually puts more stock on its year-end mail appeals.

Michelle Payne is director of development at the Caroline Center, based in Baltimore’s Old Town neighborhood. She hopes her nonprofit will recoup some of the losses this giving season that it sustained after having to cancel its March fundraiser. During the pandemic, the Caroline Center — which helps underprivileged women find employment in the healthcare industry — shifted the training it offers to a virtual environment.

“Hopefully the message will get out, and we’ll be able to gather some new support from the community,” Payne said. “If nothing else is needed right now, we need healthcare professionals.”

Since Giving Tuesday emerged in 2012 as an antidote to the frenzied consumerism that accompanies Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the holiday has grown rapidly. In its nascent year, Giving Tuesday raised $10.1 million for participating nonprofits and charities. But when nonprofits came together this year to hold a nontraditional Giving Tuesday in May as the pandemic raged across the globe, they brought in over $503 million in online gifts.

Two years ago, when Nathan Dietz — a researcher with the Do Good Institute at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy — looked into donation patterns on Giving Tuesday, he found that giving on that day is not much higher than it is on any other Tuesday during the end-of-year giving season.

Nonetheless, Dietz is optimistic that this year’s Giving Tuesday could be “really big.”

He pointed to an upward trend in charitable giving in the second half of 2020, including a nearly 20% increase in donations less than $250. As a social scientist, Dietz says he’s always looking for tentative silver linings, and believes that this uptick in giving has come about as people have realized that now, more than ever, others are in need.

Indeed, Elise Krikau, senior vice president of development for the Maryland Food Bank, says her organization has seen an outpouring of support in private and public dollars as it’s had to spend 400% more than it usually does on purchasing food to address a heightened need across the state.

“People are thinking about hunger,” she said. “People are thinking about their neighbors.”

Helping Up Mission, a faith-based Baltimore organization that supports men and women experiencing homelessness, poverty and addiction, will also be hosting a prolonged Giving Tuesday campaign. It is to begin Friday and continue through Tuesday.

Though the last few months have been difficult for everyone, Kristopher Sharrar, the organization’s director of philanthropy, believes the Baltimore community will continue to support the organization.

“When we recognize that COVID knows no bounds and is a thing that is affecting every single one of us,” Sharrar said, “a better Baltimore, a more positive Baltimore comes from that.”

MOMCares, which supports Black women navigating high-risk pregnancies in the Baltimore area, is another nonprofit hoping people will be generous this Giving Tuesday.

During the pandemic, the services the organization provides expanded drastically in scope. Volunteers and staff members delivered food and fresh produce to homes and hosted supplies giveaways. Ana Rodney, the nonprofit’s executive director, even funded a mini-grant program for moms who needed help meeting expenses.

Need has exploded in the community MOMCares serves over the past few months, Rodney said, and it will only continue to grow. Her organization wants to meet that demand, she says, but it needs support to do so.

“Our organization feels every donation,” she said. “If it’s $5, you know, that’s money that can go towards buying more masks. If it’s $25 . . . that’s a canister of formula.”

“I think that having a clear understanding that there is no ‘somebody else will do it,’” is important, she went on. “There’s you. And we all have something significant to give, whether it be time, talent or treasure.”

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