Minnesotans on Thursday gave more money to charities and causes on Give to the Max Day than they did before the COVID-19 pandemic prompted unprecedented levels of generosity.

Donors contributed more than $34 million to nonprofits and schools across the state in the 14th annual collective online fundraiser, known as Minnesota's annual "giving holiday." The amount of donations fell just shy of last year's record-breaking $34.4 million, but far surpassed the $21.6 million given in 2019 and the $30.4 million collected in 2020.

"We're thrilled to see that the floor for generosity has been elevated," said Jake Blumberg, executive director of GiveMN, which runs the fundraiser. "Give to the Max Day still continues to be one of the largest grassroots fundraising events of its kind in the country."

Nationally, donations have dropped from historically high levels of giving during the pandemic, but remained higher than pre-pandemic. This year, more donors may be struggling financially amid global high inflation, while others are likely returning to pre-pandemic spending on travel and dining out, shifting their dollars away from philanthropy.

While Give to the Max Day is pegged as a 24-hour fundraiser, its final total included all money raised since Nov. 1.

In Minneapolis, Metro Meals on Wheels has seen lower donations this year, prompting the nonprofit to scale back its fundraising goal Thursday. After two years of record amounts of money flowing in through Give to the Max Day, executive director Patrick Rowan said donors are being more fiscally conservative this year.

The average donation has dipped for Meals on Wheels, at the same time the nonprofit's costs have gone up 8% to 10% this year on everything from food to fuel. The organization, which served 10,500 people last year, isn't seeing the demand for help waver.

"We've serving more people than ever before," Rowan said. "We're kind of getting pinched on both ends."

His organization isn't alone. In a new report by the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, more than 70% of nonprofits surveyed said they've seen an increase in demand for their services, or expect to see it. The rising demand for services, along with the crimping of nonprofit budgets by inflation, means that more than 80% of the organizations are bracing for higher expenses.

Many nonprofits are reporting that government and foundation grants have dropped back to pre-pandemic levels after a spike in aid. That's leaving more of them financially crunched; while half the nonprofits surveyed ended 2021 with a surplus, most expect to end this year with a deficit.

About a third of the nonprofits that participate in Give to the Max Day count it as their biggest fundraiser of the year. That's the case with Huge Improv Theater in Minneapolis, which held an "Improvathon" — 28 continuous hours of improv to fundraise for the Uptown theater's move to a larger location on Lyndale Avenue next fall.

"We don't want to be constantly pestering people for money," said Sean Dillon, Huge Theater's managing director. "It's really nice we can concentrate it in one time."

The theater relies on Give to the Max Day to bring in about half the donations it receives all year long. While federal aid has helped the theater rebound from COVID revenue losses, Dillon said financial help is still needed, citing the number of theaters and arts organizations nearby that have closed.

"Theaters have been really hard hit the last few years," Dillon said. "If folks want arts organizations to be part of a vibrant community, they need continued support."

Some companies are offering employees incentives to participate in the annual giving holiday, much like longstanding workplace giving campaigns. In St. Paul, the Bush Foundation gave $100 to each of its 33 employees to give to a cause or charity of their choice on Give to the Max Day. Bush also provided $100,000 to GiveMN for prize grants to organizations to incentivize donations.

Give to the Max Day has become a tradition at Clockwork, a Minneapolis digital/technology company that has doled out $100 to its 50 employees each of the past five years to give to a nonprofit during the online fundraising blitz.

"Our employees love it," CEO Nancy Lyons said. "It becomes a sort of kickoff to the end-of-the-year energy. It's a really easy way to encourage philanthropy and infuse a culture with that spirit of giving."