By Jeannie Infante Sager
The Women’s Philanthropy Institute has released a new report that explores shifts in household giving between May 2020 and May 2021. COVID-19, Generosity, and Gender: How Giving Changed During the First Year of a Global Pandemic highlights how broader social and economic forces may have affected the charitable giving of U.S. households, with a focus on gender and marital status.
A strain on women’s giving
The report finds that while giving by all household types increased between May 2020 and May 2021, both single women and married/partnered couples gave less to charity compared to before the pandemic and compared to single men. This trend differs from previous research from WPI and others, which has consistently shown that single women and couples are more likely to give than similarly situated single men.
The disproportionate effects of this crisis on women have been well-documented. Women—especially mothers of school-aged children—have left the workforce in high numbers. Compared with their counterparts in many other developed nations, American women are disadvantaged due to a lack of public policies like support for child care.
The findings from this report suggest that this ongoing strain has affected not only women’s giving, but married couples’ philanthropy as well. In a similar vein, the report found that the economic impacts of the pandemic on households’ giving were clear: losing a job or losing income were strongly negatively associated with giving as well as volunteering.
No giving fatigue here
The report tells an encouraging story about how U.S. households respond by giving during a prolonged crisis. Rather than experiencing generosity fatigue, people continued to support organizations, especially those focused on basic needs and health.
The share of households giving directly for COVID-19 relief increased by more than 9 percentage points since the early months of the pandemic. This finding aligns strongly with the experience of some of our council members.
When I asked Sara Lomelin, founding CEO of Philanthropy Together, about how her giving changed during the pandemic, here’s what she had to say: “My giving increased last year. My regular giving circle, the Peninsula Latina Giving Circle, gave an emergency round of grants at the beginning of the pandemic to support current and past grantees and these were gifts with no strings attached.
“I also participated in several pop-up giving circles during the year and gave to different causes and became a monthly donor to a couple of organizations: one supporting the LGBTQIA+ community and one supporting Native American communities affected by COVID. All this to say that last year opened my eyes to causes that had not been on my radar before, and that after being exposed to grassroots organizations working on those issues, I expanded my philanthropy.”
Transformative giving to meet the moment
In the face of prolonged challenges, WPI council members shared how they adapted their own philanthropy to better respond to the crisis. According to Dr. Jax ML Black, a coach, author, and speaker on joy: “I felt compelled to shift my giving to focus on more community-based initiatives. The pathways to give to leaders that were elevating their models and programs for impact from first-order to second-order change became more clear and the opportunity for transformation more evident.”
Julie Fisher Cummings of the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation explains how they adapted their giving to better meet the moment: “Our giving was influenced by the burgeoning needs such that we made many emergency grants, relaxed our reporting standards and provided monies to more grassroots organizations. It was a time for philanthropists to respond to those most impacted by the pandemic without making them provide reporting to accommodate our needs.”
Flexibility is so important as fundraisers look ahead to 2022 planning. The report findings suggest that COVID-19 has had an uneven impact on different types of households, especially by income and wealth. Nonprofits and development professionals should be sensitive to these differences and consider tailoring their appeals based on a donor’s current situation.
The fact is that the pandemic affected us all, across so many aspects of our lives. It changed the way we work, the way we spend our time, and the way we give back. And while some of these changes will be temporary; others are here to stay. In this moment of transformation, I’d love to know: how has the pandemic changed your approach to giving or fundraising?
View the full report and visual summary
Jeannie Infante Sager is the director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute.