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Wealthy Americans Boosted Giving to Local Causes in 2020: Study

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What You Need to Know

  • 90% of wealthy American households made charitable donations in pandemic-disrupted 2020.
  • 30% of survey participants volunteered in 2020 despite the constraints of social distancing.
  • 90% of affluent households that increased their giving for basic needs and medical care donated to local organizations.

Some 90% of wealthy American households made charitable donations in pandemic-disrupted 2020, and 47% donated to nonprofits or financially supported individuals or businesses in direct response to the pandemic, according to a new study from Bank of America and Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, 93% of households maintained or increased their giving to frontline organizations providing basic needs, healthcare and medicine, while 85% maintained or increased their giving for spiritual and religious purposes and 94% did the same for other purposes, such as education, the arts and the environment.

In addition, 30% of survey participants volunteered in 2020 despite the constraints of social distancing and other challenges brought on by the pandemic. Among these, 48% maintained and 23% increased their volunteer activities.

“This sustained commitment by donors shows the importance of a strategic approach to philanthropy that is still flexible enough to respond to a sudden surge in need,” said Ann Limberg, head of philanthropy at Bank of America Private Bank, in a statement.

“It is also a testament to the resilience of those charitable organizations that were able to pivot and effectively use technology to engage with donors during such difficult times.”

The study was based on a survey conducted by Ipsos among 1,626 U.S. households with a net worth of $1 million or more (excluding the value of their primary home) or an annual household income of $200,000 or more.

Shifts in Giving Behavior The study revealed three distinct shifts in giving behavior related to the pandemic.

Well-off households focused their charity primarily on the communities in which they live, increasing their support of local charities, individuals and businesses.

Ninety percent of affluent households that increased their giving for basic needs and medical care in 2020 directed their donations to local organizations, 35% supported U.S. organizations outside their community and 15% gave internationally.

Another shift occurred away from constraints on how or where gifts may be spent to unrestricted gifts to nonprofit organizations, allowing recipients flexibility to meet priority needs.

Eighty-three percent of households gave unrestricted gifts to arts and cultural organizations, 75% to health and medical groups and 74% to educational institutions.

Although 88% of wealthy survey participants said the lockdowns and social distancing in 2020 had little to no effect on their households’ philanthropy, the pandemic did change how they engaged with the organizations they support. Thirty-one percent reported that their preferred nonprofits contacted them virtually.

Fifty-three percent of these households received more frequent contact via email, 43% experienced more frequent virtual events and galas, 32% had more frequent outreach via social media and 27% received more physical mail.