Governor addresses spirit of giving

Today I’d like to talk about the Natural State’s spirit of giving, which I’ve witnessed consistently through the years. When a friend or neighbor is in need, Arkansans show up in a hurry with pickaxes and open wallets.

That’s not just the opinion of a proud governor. According to AspireArkansas.org, a report compiled by the Arkansas Community Foundation, on average, Arkansans give 3.8 % of their income to nonprofit organizations. Based upon IRS reports, Arkansas’s giving regularly ranks in the top five states nationwide based upon the percentage of income. That is what I call the generous spirit of our state.

COVID-19 has upended our lives and forced us to change and adapt. But it hasn’t diminished the spirt of giving. In the spring, when I encouraged Arkansans to donate to the COVID-19 Relief Fund, $3.6 million poured in over a three-month period. That level of generosity in such a short time is unprecedented in the Community Foundation’s history, according to CEO Heather Larkin.

Despite this generosity, this has been a difficult year for the nonprofit organizations our communities depend upon. The Arkansas Nonprofit COVID-19 Impact Study, conducted this summer, found that 64% of nonprofits that responded to the study said that their individual donations had decreased this year, and 64% said that they had lost income due to cancellation of programs and events. The study comprised 316 nonprofits of all sizes that serve every county in Arkansas.

The pandemic has delivered a double whammy. As businesses have cut salaries and laid off employees, donations to nonprofits have dropped. As contributions have decreased, the needs of newly unemployed or underemployed Arkansans have increased. Nonprofits also are spending money to meet the requirements of social distancing and increased sanitation.

Nearly half of the organizations in the survey reported they had applied for the Paycheck Protection Program, and nearly all of those were approved. The survey, taken during the summer, found that 70% of the organizations were operating at reduced capacity, and 8% were not able to deliver any services. Food pantries have been hit harder than any time in recent history.

The $3.6 million raised for the COVID-19 Relief Fund provided 746 grants to over 800 nonprofits, which helped struggling Arkansans buy food, secure transportation, and cover other living expenses.

This year, as always, The Salvation Army has stationed its bell ringers and red kettles at the front door of stores all over the state. The Salvation Army’s national commander’s observation reflect what’s happening in our state. The commander says that as the United States is drowning in a tsunami of need, he anticipates a 50% decrease in donations. It’s not because people don’t want to provide support, but it’s because everyone is traveling the same tough path. A decrease in the number of shoppers going to stores in person is further complicating The Salvation Army’s fundraising.

This is the time of year that we are most aware of the suffering around us. This year, the pandemic has magnified and expanded the misfortune. But I am confident that Arkansans will dig deep, as they always do and come to the aid of those less fortunate. Tough times don’t diminish our spirit of giving.

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