This week, the Women’s Philanthropy Institute (WPI) released COVID-19, Generosity, and Gender: How Giving Changed During the Early Months of a Global Pandemic, which explores how men and women gave in response to the pandemic and how their overall giving changed in spring 2020.
The study uses data from a WPI survey on U.S. households’ charitable responses to the crisis. The survey was conducted online among a sample of 3,405 respondents from the general population in mid-May 2020. The following Q&A provides a brief overview of the motivations for the research, what the study found, and what the results mean for nonprofit and fundraising professionals and donors.
Why did WPI conduct this study?
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The spring of 2020 was marked by disruptions to society on a level many Americans had never experienced. The public health crisis brought about by COVID-19 required widespread community shutdowns and social distancing, upending virtually all aspects of American life. Record-high unemployment rates, coupled with the fall of financial markets, caused a sudden, severe economic downturn in the U.S. and across the globe.
As a result, scores of Americans struggled to make ends meet. Nonprofits providing food and other basic needs experienced a dramatic influx of households seeking assistance, many of whom had never previously required their services.
These circumstances created an unprecedented environment for charitable giving during the initial months of the pandemic. While many of these conditions are still present due to the ongoing nature of the public health crisis and associated economic downturn, the study offers an early snapshot of how U.S. households responded to COVID-19 through philanthropy.
COVID-19, Generosity, and Gender: How Giving Changed During the Early Months of a Global Pandemic examines whether and how much households contributed, the types of philanthropy in which they participated, and how their charitable giving changed. The study also looks at the effect of specific elements of the crisis on individual giving and highlights differences across household types, with a particular focus on gender and marital status.
What did the study find?
In response to public health concerns and the economic downturn brought about by the pandemic, a majority of U.S. households (56.1 percent) engaged in some kind of charitable activity during the spring of 2020. Other key findings include:
- Around one-third of U.S. households (32.0 percent) gave directly to charitable organizations, individuals, or businesses in response to COVID-19 during the initial months of the crisis.
- Nearly half of households (48.3 percent)—particularly those from younger generations—gave indirectly in response to the pandemic during the early months of the crisis (for example, by ordering takeout to support restaurants and their employees, or continuing to pay individuals and businesses for services they could not render).
- The majority of U.S. households’ overall giving stayed the same during the initial months of the pandemic; however, those who reported changes were more likely to say their giving decreased rather than increased as a result of COVID-19.
- Households were more likely to decrease than increase their overall giving as a result of conditions present during the early months of COVID-19 in the U.S. (such as uncertainty about the spread of the virus and further economic impacts).
- Single women were more likely than single men and married/partnered couples to decrease their giving as a result of specific elements of the pandemic during the initial months of the crisis.
What are the implications of the findings?
The “dual crises” of a global pandemic and accompanying economic downturn defy comparison with previous events. COVID-19, Generosity, and Gender: How Giving Changed During the Early Months of a Global Pandemic provides new insight on how U.S. households responded philanthropically in this unique environment.
The study’s findings serve as a starting point for understanding changes in household giving in response to the pandemic as it continues to unfold. The findings can help nonprofit and development practitioners and donors adjust their individual fundraising and giving strategies as the current crisis continues, as well as inform their approach to future crises.
Although the study emphasizes changes in households’ charitable giving during the initial months of COVID-19 in the U.S., the fact that the majority of households did not adjust their giving during this time can be viewed as a positive sign for philanthropy. This suggests that charitable giving is an ingrained habit for many households that will endure regardless of their personal situation and that the fundamental principles of fundraising still apply.
To encourage continued giving, nonprofits and fundraisers should keep in mind the importance of explicitly communicating the actions they are taking in response to the crisis and why their cause still requires support.
Connecting with donors virtually is also important during the pandemic and beyond. Research shows that creating a sense of community, whether in person or online, is especially critical for those seeking to attract women donors. Even when the economy is healthy, studies show that methods of giving beyond financial contributions also appeal to women donors.
Finally, nonprofits and donors alike should keep in mind that the situation will eventually improve. Even when donors need to pause their contributions, they should remain part of the giving community, receiving communications and updates from the organizations they typically support.