Giving Reached Record Levels in Response to COVID-19

Kristi Knous, president of the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines, says the organization “was made for times like these.”

Writer: Steve Dinnen

Central Iowans stood tall last year in supporting nonprofits that met the many food and security challenges posed by the pandemic. They also contributed mightily to arts and cultural organizations whose finances were ruined when shows were canceled, theaters were emptied and basically the world shut down to await better, post-pandemic days.

The Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines reported that donors contributed a record $86.6 million in 2020. A total of $70.1 million was disbursed to charitable groups by those donors – again, a record. (2019 was also a solid year, with $78.7 million coming in and $51.4 million disbursed.)

At United Way of Central Iowa, data is still being analyzed from its fundraising campaign (which relies upon staffers at companies making payroll checkoffs – potentially a problem if those employees are all working from their homes). Still, Andy TeBockhorst, chief strategic communication officer at United Way, said overall corporate support, “particularly around special initiatives focused on current need, was incredibly generous and allowed us to create innovative strategies, try new things (many of them virtual), and ultimately exceed our campaign goal.”

Donor generosity was widespread in Iowa. In Cedar Falls, Kaye Englin, president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Northeast Iowa, called the response to the pandemic unprecedented. Grants overall rose 12% from 2019, but in the human service sector, grants rose 41%.

At the Des Moines Area Religious Council, which distributes food to dozens of food pantries and mobile food delivery sites, CEO Matt Unger said a boost in demand for its services was met by an increase in financial support. As early as April 2020, DMARC received funding from the Community Foundation’s Disaster Recovery Fund to not only acquire adequate supplies of food but to develop a method to convert food packaged for commercial clients to sizes more amenable to families.

Of course, the foundation and United Way don’t tell the whole story, as tens of thousands of individuals and companies made donations on their own. There’s no practical way to tally up their benevolence. But in at least one instance, at DMARC, Unger said that “individual gifting broke records.”

Overall, the challenges the pandemic created appear to have been recognized – and are being addressed. As Kristi Knous, Community Foundation president, summed up: “The Community Foundation was made for times like these. We are here to serve, support and lead, no matter the challenges or opportunities before us.”

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