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A person contributing to a donation box
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/B. Thissen

Germans spread Christmas charity despite coronavirus

Astrid Prange | Peter Hille
December 23, 2020

Germany has experienced a second wave of COVID-19 with Christmas approaching, but it doesn’t seem to be diminishing people’s willingness to donate to charity. In 2020 private donations are set to reach record levels.


Germans are normally in a charitable mood in the lead-up to Christmas. In November and December, they donate double as much money to good causes as the rest of the year. But does that still apply in 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic has led many to fear for their health and jobs?  

Yes, says Burkhard Wilke, director of the German Central Institute for Social Issues (DZI), which monitors charities. "When the need is there, donors are more sympathetic and willing to go above and beyond what they would normally give," he told DW. That has happened in the past during floods in Germany or earthquakes and storm disasters abroad. "And without doubt we are reaching such a point now with the coronavirus crisis," Wilke said.     

Record donations expected 

According to a DZI survey, donations to the 30 largest charity organizations in Germany rose 11.6 percent in the first six months of this year, compared with the same period of 2019.

"According to everything we are hearing from the organizations, the willingness to donate has also been positive during the second half of the year," Wilke said. "That means this year we could reach something like 11 billion euros' worth of private donations."

Burkhard Wilke, director of the German Central Institute for Social Issues
Researcher Burkhard Wilke: Even as the economy has slowed, people's willingness to give to others has continuedImage: DZI

Fundraising concerts from home

The global aid organization Doctors without Borders is also reporting an increase in incoming donations this year. "Even people who themselves are struggling with insecurity and fears for their livelihoods, for example artists and companies, have organized living room concerts to collect donations for Doctors without Borders," said Barbara Gerold-Wolke, who leads the organization's fundraising department. "That helped us financially, but also gave us a real boost emotionally." 

In Germany, three quarters of all donations go to humanitarian aid organizations like Doctors without Borders. The rest is donated to environmental, animal rights, sport, education or science groups. That hasn't changed much in the year of the pandemic. "A new phenomenon in coronavirus times is that donations are being made not only to non-profit organizations, but also to businesses," said Wilke from the DIZ. "Such as something for the cafe around the corner or a local theater or a concert promoter."

Documenting the pandemic

Christmas without collections

Fundraising will be a big problem this year for anyone trying to do it face-to-face: There are no benefit concerts and only a handful of people at Christmas church services.

"We calculate that donations from Christmas collections, which make up half our income, will decrease by several million euros," estimates Michael Heinz, director of Adveniat, a German Catholic relief organization which works in Latin America. 

The need grows

At the same time, the need for donations and voluntary work is now extraordinarily high. "In the past eight months, many of our project partners have approached us saying they need medicines, oxygen tanks, toiletries and even groceries," Heinz reports. In response, the organization carried out 427 coronavirus emergency projects, worth €7.3 million euros ($8.9 million). 

Medical personnel of Doctors without Borders in protective gear in Cite Soleil, Haiti
Doctors without Borders operates in 80 countries around the world, including at this hospital in Cite Soleil, HaitiImage: Getty Images/AFP/P. Michel Jean

The aid organization Doctors without Borders has also expanded its projects due to the pandemic. "At the moment our teams are working against COVID-19 in more than 80 countries," Barbara Gerold-Wolke said. Plus, "Malaria, measles and malnutrition were there before and remain so now, and the people need treatment." That comes with an increased need, for example for protective clothing, as well as massive logistical challenges due to travel and quarantine regulations.

Fewer donors, bigger donations

According to a survey published by opinion research institute Civey on December 1, one in four German residents wanted to give less money to social and non-profit organizations this year because of the pandemic. About 13% wanted to give more. These 13%, it seems, want to dig especially deep into their pockets. So, while fewer Germans in total will donate this year, the individual amounts donated will be higher.    

Germany's most generous donors tend to be older people, and this year is no exception, Wilke said. Some feel encouraged to donate more because of the pandemic. "We've had a lot of feedback that older people feel a sense of gratitude for the way wider society has looked after them as an at-risk group," Wilke said. "By making donations, they want to give back."

This article was translated from German.

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