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Affluent Americans Gave 48% More on Average Last Year: BofA

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What You Need to Know

  • Donors were about as likely to base their giving on issues as on organizations, a departure from previous studies.
  • The number of affluent donors who participate in sustainable/impact investing nearly doubled between 2017 and 2020.
  • Amid the prospect of no tax deductions for charitable giving, 72% of respondents said their philanthropy would stay the same.

Nine in 10 affluent U.S. households gave to charities in 2020, according to the 2021 Bank of America Study of Philanthropy: Charitable Giving by Affluent Households, released this week.

Average giving to charities by affluent Americans increased by 48% last year to $43,195, up from $29,269 in 2017.

“Charitable activities last year and into this year reflect unwavering commitments by philanthropists to give in good times and bad, and to address societal issues as well as challenges faced in their local communities,” Katy Knox, president of Bank of America Private Bank, said in a statement. 

“We’re also seeing a next generation of change-makers beginning to transform how giving gets done and philanthropy’s role in society.”

The study, a collaboration between Bank of America Private Bank and the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at IUPUI, is based on a survey conducted in January among a nationally representative random sample of 1,626 wealthy households, and includes in-depth analysis based on age, gender, race and sexual identity. The households in the study have 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. 

Key Findings

Affluent donors in the survey were about equally likely to base their giving decisions on issues as on organizations. This is a departure from previous studies in the series, in which clear majorities of affluent households reported that organizations drove their giving decisions or strategies. 

Among donors aged 38 and younger, 55% said they are more focused on the issues or causes they consider most important, compared with 34% whose focus is on organizations. 

Twenty-two percent of affluent households said they support social and racial justice causes through their giving, with 11% saying social justice was one of their top three most important cause/issue areas and 19% wanting to know more about this area. 

The number of affluent donors who participate in sustainable/impact investing nearly doubled between 2017 and 2020. Not only that, 59% of these donors said their sustainable investing was in addition to their other charitable giving. 

Just 5% of donors said that impact investing was in lieu of all other charitable giving. 

According to the survey, 57% of donors gave via a nonprofit’s website in 2020. Eighteen percent used digital tools such as GoFundMe and other crowdfunding platforms, and 17% used payment processing apps such as Zelle and Venmo. 

Younger and diverse donors were more likely than others to use such channels for their giving. For example, 74% of Asian Americans gave via a nonprofit’s website, while 31% of Black/African Americans used a payment processing app.

In 2020, 18% of donors 38 or younger made a donation to a giving vehicle, such as donor-advised funds, charitable trusts and private foundations, compared with 7% of older ones. Use of giving vehicles was also popular among 21% of Black/African American and 16% of Hispanic/Latino donors. 

Although fewer people volunteered last year because of the pandemic, affluent donors who did volunteer donated more than double the amount of time to charity on average than those who did not volunteer. 

Forty-eight percent of respondents said they consider themselves knowledgeable and 5% consider themselves expert about giving. The survey found that these donors are more likely to monitor the impact of their giving, report that it is having their intended impact and use giving vehicles. 

Conversely, 56% of affluent donors do not have a strategy for their giving, and 55% do not have a giving budget. Respondents said these are the top challenges they face:

  • Identifying what they care about and deciding where to donate: 40%. 
  • Understanding how much they can afford to give: 32%.
  • Monitoring their giving to ensure it has its intended impact: 24%.

Asked how the prospect of no income tax deductions for charitable giving would affect their philanthropy, 72% of respondents said it would stay the same, 6% said it would increase and 22% said it would decrease.

Confidence in Nonprofits

The top charities that affluent donors supported in 2020 were broadly consistent with those in previous years: those providing for basic needs, 57%; religious institutions, 47%; and health care organizations, 32%. 

Thirty-two percent of funds donated went to organizations focused on religion, 20% to basic needs and 16% to K-12 and higher education.

The survey found that nonprofit organizations generate the most confidence among donors to solve societal or global problems, with some 90% placing their highest confidence in nonprofits. 

Other institutions are rising, however. Affluent individuals’ confidence broadly increased with respect to the ability of small to midsize businesses and branches of government to solve societal or global problems. 

Government institutions saw substantial jumps, including the president and executive branch, 60%, up from 46%; the Supreme Court and federal judiciary system, 60%, up from 53%; and Congress, 52%, up from 40%. 

In a year dramatically disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, 47% of affluent Americans donated to charitable organizations or financially supported individuals or businesses in direct response to the pandemic. 

In addition, 93% of households maintained or increased their giving to frontline organizations providing basic needs, health care and medicine.