Study examines U.S. households' giving in response to COVID-19

Study examines U.S. households' giving in response to COVID-19

By mid-May, nearly a third of U.S. households had made a charitable donation in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a report from the Women's Philanthropy Institute at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy finds.

Based on an online survey of more than thirty-four hundred households, the report, COVID-19, Generosity, and Gender: How Giving Changed During the Early Months of a Global Pandemic (28 pages, PDF), found that 32 percent of respondents said they had given directly in support of a charitable organization, individual, or business, while nearly half (48.3 percent) said they had provided indirect support — for example, by ordering takeout to support a local restaurant and its employees or continuing to pay individuals and businesses for services they could not render — including 58.4 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 29 and 52.6 percent of those between the ages of 30 and 44.

Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the study found that while the majority of respondents reported maintaining their level of engagement with various forms of philanthropy during the initial months of the public health emergency, those who reported a change in their level of engagement were more likely to say it declined rather than increased. The study also found that 18.1 percent of respondents said they gave more to charities working to respond to pandemic-related health and basic needs, while 19.4 percent gave less; 6.7 percent gave more to faith-based charities, while 21 percent gave less; 6.4 percent gave more to other charities, while 22.3 percent gave less; and 9.4 percent volunteered more, while 25.8 percent volunteered less.

Asked how various impacts of COVID-19 have affected their giving, 32.8 percent said they gave less because of uncertainty about the future economic impacts of the pandemic, 28.1 percent said they gave less because of uncertainty about the further spread of the virus, and 27.7 percent said they gave less because their income had fallen as a result of lockdowns. Single women — who were more likely to report giving less — also were more likely to report being affected by uncertainty about future economic impacts of the virus (38 percent), uncertainty about the further spread of the virus (33 percent), and reduced income as a result of virus-related lockdowns (31.8 percent).

"Women in particular may be feeling the effects of COVID-19 on their giving," said Debra Mesch, the Eileen Lamb O'Gara Chair in Women's Philanthropy at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. "As WPI research has shown, women are typically more likely to give than men. It appears that the circumstances of this crisis — which disproportionately affect women economically and disrupt the ability to network and connect — may be putting a strain on their giving. Taken as a whole, the findings from this initial research indicate that generosity is alive, well, and evolving during a global pandemic." 

(Photo credit: Los Angeles Area Food Bank)

"COVID-19, Generosity, and Gender: How Giving Changed During the Early Months of a Global Pandemic." Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy Women's Philanthropy Institute report 09/01/2020. "New report from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute finds Americans embraced expansive forms of giving during early months of pandemic." Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy Women's Philanthropy Institute press release 09/01/2020.