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COVID-19 and Philanthropy – Giving in 2020


February 2, 2021
TRG Arts and Purple Seven by David Brownlee and Eric Nelson


A new study of performing arts organizations in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. by TRG Arts and U.K. arts data specialists Purple Seven shows a decline in philanthropic revenue in 2020 on both sides of the Atlantic. However, despite a 13% decrease in revenue in North America and a 32% decrease in the U.K., there is a more diverse picture behind the aggregate figures.

The study, COVID-19 and Philanthropy – Giving in 2020, reveals that in the North American cohort almost half of organizations (49%) increased their gift revenue in 2020 and almost three-quarters (74%) received more gifts than they had in 2019.

Organizations who raised less funding from individuals in 2019 were more likely to increase their philanthropic income in 2020, and there was a growth in the number of smaller gifts in both markets, correlating with reports of revenue for cancelled shows being converted to gifts rather than refunds.

“Arts fundraisers have never faced a year like 2020. Many organizations have risen to the challenges and successfully engaged current and past patrons to continue to provide support, even when they have nothing on their stages or in their museums. As the sector recovers from the impact of the pandemic, organizations need to show their appreciation both to long-time supporters and to the many thousands who made a philanthropic contribution for the first time in 2020.

Smart cultural organizations are thinking about the next 10 years and those who showed their support by making a contribution rather than taking a refund for a cancelled performance or exhibit. If in 2030 we have a new cohort of major donors who began their philanthropic relationship thanks to the pandemic, the sector will have been strengthened mightily.”

Jill Robinson, CEO, TRG Arts

“It’s not just the scale of giving that’s different in North America compared to the U.K. Most U.K. organizations rely on a mixture of small gift top-ups when purchasing tickets or one-off support for particular appeals. In 2020, many organizations mounted ‘crisis’ campaigns, and some were relatively successful. A strategy of repeatedly proclaiming a crisis to drive fundraising will inevitably lead to diminishing returns.

The best U.K. arts fundraisers take the same approach as their North American colleagues in focusing on long term relationships where supporters understand and value what the organization is delivering for its community.”

David Brownlee, Managing Director, Purple Seven

Download the UK Press Release Download the North American Press Release

TRG Arts and Purple Seven will publish further studies on a monthly basis while the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the arts and culture sector. Previous Insight Reports available are:


About the COVID-19 Benchmark Dashboard

Purple Seven and TRG Arts continue to offer free access to the free COVID-19 Benchmark Dashboard to organizations in the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and the Republic of Ireland. Register here.

Expansion of the COVID-19 Benchmark Dashboard is supported in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to SMU DataArts, a national center for arts research and TRG Arts’ long-time partner in advancing the arts and culture sector.


TRG 30 is a bi-weekly 30-minute series of conversations and provocations with CEO Jill Robinson and invited guests. Open to anyone in the arts and cultural sector, the sessions provide insight, counsel and inspiration.

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