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Philanthropy News
September 09, 2021


Contact: Chelsea Kiene, 614/251-4000 or 

Charitable Giving from Columbus Foundation Reaches All-Time High During Pandemic

Foundation distributes record $231 million in grants in 2020; releases numbers alongside annual philanthropy awards 

Columbus, OH (September 9, 2021)—In a year marked by turbulence and uncertainty, philanthropic giving stepped up to help provide stability to thousands of central Ohio nonprofits and the clients they serve. 

The Columbus Foundation today released its annual grantmaking totals for 2020, and the numbers underlie the magnitude of need brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the significant charitable gifts that helped to alleviate those hardships.

Grants distributed from the Foundation reached $231,303,389, an all-time high. The number of nonprofits that benefited from the dollars also broke a record: 4,534 organizations received at least one gift, speaking to the breadth of support shown by Foundation and public donors.

Several Foundation initiatives contributed to the historic figure. In the first weeks of the pandemic, the Foundation created its COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund to assist nonprofits responding to the effects of the virus. Between mid-March and December, more than $7 million was distributed to 159 Franklin County organizations. Social service and health-focused nonprofits received 80 percent of the ERF dollars, with dozens of grants going to support food supplies and meals.

In June, the Foundation held its fifth Big Give event, which generated $32.4 million for central Ohio nonprofits, an 80 percent increase over the previous result in 2017. Donations came in from 20,700 donors across 12 countries, all 50 US states, and 1,246 cities, making it the most popular and geographically diverse iteration of the event to date. 

Later that fall, seeing the critical need for eviction prevention and stabilizing resources, an anonymous donor challenged the Foundation with a $2.5 million matching grant to benefit the Gifts of Kindness Fund, which assists individuals and families experiencing an emergency setback by providing one-time grants to prevent an acute problem from snowballing into a long-term challenge. In 2020, the fund provided 246 grants, averaging $1,500 each, to stabilize residents in crisis. 94 percent of the funding was applied to housing needs, such as rental assistance and utilities.

Closing 2020, the Foundation hit a milestone in its size as well – assets under management crossed the $3 billion threshold for the first time, making the Foundation one of the largest community foundations in the country. Since its founding in 1943, the Foundation has granted out close to the same amount – $2,910,297,985 – to help strengthen and improve communities.

“From the historic era of WWII during which we were founded, to the historic times in which we find ourselves today, The Columbus Foundation recognizes and celebrates the spirit of generosity that steps forward time and time again to support our community during its times of greatest need. We are honored to partner with our donors, our nonprofit colleagues, and our community members to advance the well-being of our residents and our region in these challenging times.”


The release of the 2020 numbers coincides with the airing of this year’s Celebration of Philanthropy, an annual awards ceremony that honors extraordinary philanthropists and standout nonprofit organizations.

The Harrison M. Sayre Award, given in honor of the Foundation’s founder and volunteer director for 25 years, recognizes leadership in philanthropy in central Ohio. This year, Tom and Nancy Lurie received the award. Longtime supporters of the Columbus community, the Luries have given their time, talent, and treasure to organizations supporting the arts, health, social services, women’s issues, and the Jewish faith. They have long served on boards and committees with local nonprofits, including the Columbus Cancer Clinic, Temple Israel, Directions for Youth and Family, and the Columbus Museum of Art. Nancy was a long-time volunteer tutor at Columbus City Schools, and Tom has served in board roles with leading national institutions serving the decorative arts world. 

The Columbus Foundation Award recognizes organizations that have made a difference in the quality of life in our community. This year, IMPACT Community Action received this recognition. With a mission to fight poverty by providing hope-inspiring help and real opportunities for self-sufficiency, IMPACT’s core programs center on benefiting those with barriers to success and stability. During the COVID-19 pandemic, IMPACT, led by CEO Robert ‘Bo’ Chilton, has been instrumental in preventing evictions for thousands of residents in Franklin County. IMPACT has acted as a local leader in stabilizing families, whose employment opportunities were disrupted as a result of the pandemic, by providing emergency rent, utility, and mortgage assistance. Through coalition efforts with 18 nonprofit partners, IMPACT has helped prevent eviction for 16,000 people, and dispersed $35 million in relief dollars.  

As part of the award, IMPACT received a $50,000 grant, presented by Governing Committee member, Marchelle E. Moore.

About The Columbus Foundation

The Columbus Foundation serves nearly 3,000 individuals, families, and businesses that have created unique funds and planned gifts to make a difference in the lives of others through the most effective philanthropy possible. The Columbus Foundation is Your Trusted Philanthropic Advisor® and is among the top ten largest community foundations in the United States.