It was a year of unprecedented generosity from Minnesotans and donors across the country to the state's nonprofits.

While Minnesota dropped in some year-end rankings of most-generous states, the lists are only one measure of the giving spirit in a year unlike any other. Millions of dollars poured in to nonprofits in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and racial justice after George Floyd's death at the hands of Minneapolis police. Food shelves and hunger relief programs saw a surge in aid, especially from first-time donors and volunteers, to help feed a record number of Minnesotans during the pandemic.

Foundations gave away more money in 2020. Last month, a record $30 million streamed in for GiveMN's Give to the Max Day, the most in 12 years for the annual statewide fundraiser to benefit schools and nonprofits.

"Minnesotans stepped up to help those in need," said Susie Brown, executive director of the Minnesota Council on Foundations. "I think it's really noteworthy that charitable giving is quite high [and] foundation giving is quite high."

Last year, Minnesota topped WalletHub's list of most generous states but fell to No. 2 this year, behind Utah, based off data such as the volunteer rate to the share of income donated to the homeless. Minnesota also fell in GoFundMe's annual rankings based off the amount of donations per capita on its website, from No. 9 to 10th place.

But Jake Blumberg, executive director of GiveMN, said those year-end lists rely on Minnesotans using those sites, and so much of charitable giving is done locally, directly to organizations or through GiveMN's website.

"You can really give where you live," he said.

More than $50 million flowed in through GiveMN's site this year, a record amount. Of the $30 million from Give to the Max Day, most of the donations came from Minnesotans. But after Floyd's death sparked global protests for racial justice and civil unrest that destroyed many Minneapolis and St. Paul businesses, the opposite happened: Donations from outside Minnesota flooded in, with most of the more than $8 million on GiveMN's site coming from donors living in other states or countries.

Now in 2021, Blumberg said, he expects giving trends will continue to focus on supporting organizations responding to the pandemic such as food shelves and boosting racial justice and organizations led by people of color, which have been historically underfunded compared with white-led nonprofits.

Whether donors will continue to give at historic levels is unknown, Blumberg said, but it's clear that nonprofits have retooled into a "new normal." For instance, nonprofits have partnered more to distribute food to communities. Hunger relief organizations statewide shifted from allowing residents to shop for groceries inside or dine en masse to instead distribute food pre-boxed to cars waiting at the curb or in to-go containers.

Nonprofit galas and fundraisers went virtual, and nonprofit leaders say the online option will continue to be a part of fundraisers post-pandemic. Volunteering was reworked into activities done at home or online, such as United Way's largest volunteer event of the year, switching from thousands of volunteers inside a sports stadium to fill backpacks for students in need to a virtual event volunteers did at home.

"It was a year for nimbleness and creativity, and nonprofits came through ... reinventing every day," said Kate Barr, president of Propel Nonprofits, which helps nonprofits with finances and loans.

The pandemic forced nonprofits to be innovative, she said, but next year will likely bring more constant revising of budgets.

Nonprofits, especially arts organizations, hit their own tough times this year.

The pandemic spurred museums, historic sites and theaters to close, scuttling ticket revenue they depend on. From March to September, about 40% of all nonprofit employees filed unemployment claims due to furloughs, layoffs or reduced hours, according to a new report by the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits.

The nonprofit sector makes up about 14% of the state's workforce, and state data show that the nonprofit workforce shrank by 10% this year to about 350,000 employees from a record high last year.

Nonprofits are now bracing for a worse 2021, fearing the boost in donations, foundation grants and federal aid won't continue in the new year.

"This year has been a year of putting this puzzle together as it goes, so you don't even know what the picture looks like, and I think next year will be kind of a new version of that," Barr said. "There's a lot of concern about the level of uncertainty."

Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141