Fundraising was down slight already last year before COVID-19 struck and threatened to decrease donations even further, according to a Fundraising Effectiveness Project report released today.

The big question that remains now is how much the disruption from the virus will affect charities, according to the report, which is part of the Growth in Giving Database that includes 4,456 charities that raised more than $4.7 billion in 2018.

Giving decreased by 1.4% in 2019 compared to 2018, but remained 6% higher than in 2017. Donations in 2018 reached an all-time high, the report said.

“One of the biggest questions facing the nonprofit sector in 2020, especially for nonprofits not directly serving the victims of the coronavirus, is if they can attract new donors and keep existing donors engaged,” the report said. “The number of new donors in 2019, and new donors from 2018 who gave again in 2019, saw drastic drops of 5.7% and 6.4% respectively, trends that are unsustainable for the long-term success of philanthropy.”

Charitable leaders are not too worried about the 2019 decline in donations, but the future is uncertain.

Mike Geiger, president and CEO of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, said, “While there was a modest decline in donations in 2019, the money raised in 2019 is still higher than 2017. What we saw in 2018, then, was a surge in giving, and in 2019, a correction. The real question ahead is what impact the coronavirus will have on giving in 2020.”

“Nonprofits should focus their time and budget on retaining current donors,” said Jim Greenfield, a member of the Growth in Giving Initiative steering committee.

“As the entire world adjusts to COVID-19, uncertainty is everywhere,” added Jon Biedermann, president of The Biedermann Group and treasurer of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. “A decline in donation size is imminent but should not be as drastic as the decline in the market.”