Tomorrow is Giving Tuesday, a day dedicated to charitable giving (following Black Friday and Cyber Monday.) So, if you have any money left after all the holiday shopping… you might give it to your church or favorite charity. 

Or you might give it to your neighbor, who may be having a hard time affording groceries. But this latter type of giving probably won’t be recorded in any official metric of charitable giving. 

Before the COVID pandemic, my colleague Patrice and I examined trends in charitable giving in this IWF Policy Focus. But much has changed in the last few years. What can we expect this Giving Tuesday? In the midst of difficult economic times, there are some bright spots:

First—something to celebrate—official charitable giving has continued to increase each year in the number of dollars given. While the amount of money given to charity hasn’t kept pace with inflation, it’s still encouraging to see increases, and not decreases, in total money given. According to Giving USA, Americans gave $485 billion to U.S. charities in 2021, up 4% over 2020, which was also a record-setting year at $466 billion. It’s likely that when the numbers are added up for 2022, we will see the same thing: more money than last year (even if inflation flattens any gains).

But there’s more good news, even if not for non-profit organizations. The generosity of many Americans, especially younger ones, isn’t recorded in official numbers. That’s because many people give in unofficial ways, like person-to-person crowdfunding, for things like medical bills and other emergencies. And recent years have seen the rise of “Buy Nothing” groups where people can give non-cash donation items, including baby gear, household supplies, and even sometimes food. While this kind of giving is harder to measure, it’s still worth celebrating.

According to the group GivingTuesday, when measured broadly, (including monetary and non-monetary giving) 85% of people gave in 2021. Only 5% of givers gave only money. And only 2.5% just gave to official philanthropic organizations. The most popular kind of giving was items. I suspect 2022 will see a continuation of this trend. As Americans’ household budgets are squeezed by inflation, giving dollars can be more challenging. But giving items away is doable. 

And I imagine it’s exactly the hard economic times that motivate people to give: We may have to tighten our belts, but our concern is for those who are less well-off. If you plan to make a donation tomorrow, here’s some advice for Giving Tuesday from Philanthropy Roundtable. 

The only area where Americans haven’t recovered from COVID-19, giving-wise, is volunteering. Volunteering dropped in 2020; many volunteer opportunities were eliminated due to pandemic lockdowns and social distancing. While volunteering in 2021 came back up, it still did not match pre-pandemic levels. Maybe in 2022, more Americans will return to the volunteer work they love. 

Regardless of the type of giving, it’s encouraging to see that charitable giving remains a core part of American civic life and the American spirit. Americans continue to be the world’s most generous people, perhaps in part because our government is limited, and because we understand that it’s our personal responsibility to care for those closest to us who have a need, whether in our family, our neighborhood, our church, or our school.