Over the past two decades, Americans have changed their giving behavior significantly. Participation in charitable giving among Americans has declined since 2000. Approximately 66 percent of American households donated to nonprofit organizations in 2000. However, the percentage of donating households began to drop during the Great Recession, having declined to around 50 percent in 2018, just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The year 2020 was one of the most impactful years for our contemporary global society. In what is considered one of the most severe public health crises since the 1918 flu pandemic, the COVID-19 pandemic affected every country worldwide and shut down many of the world’s largest economies, including the United States. In the United States, the effects of the pandemic were compounded by the heightened national awareness about racial and social injustices and inequalities. The combined effects of these economic, political, and social shifts affected every sector, including the nonprofit sector. The economic shocks from the global COVID-19 pandemic have disrupted normal giving patterns in ways that we do not yet fully understand.
The Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy conducted a series of research on the landscape of charitable giving and drivers for donor engagement, funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The goal of The Giving Environment report series is to provide data and analysis to better understand the causes and implications of the decline in donor participation shortly before the significant societal changes that took place in the United States in 2020, while also exploring the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the movements for social and racial justice on individual giving decisions moving forward.
Brief #1: Understanding Pre-Pandemic Trends in Charitable Giving
This is the first report in this series, published in July 2021. It analyzes five national datasets to understand trends in which American households donate to charity and how much in the years leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic. The brief is also the first to analyze new data from the 2019 Philanthropy Panel Study on giving in 2018. The report offers key insights for nonprofits about the state of the philanthropic sector before the major social, economic, and political changes that took place in 2020. Fact sheets about the 2019 PPS data, about giving in 2018, are available along with the report on the school’s GenerosityForLife website.
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Brief #2: Understanding How Donors Make Giving Decisions
This report is the second in this series, published in January 2022. It presents findings from 16 focus groups that included 83 participants. The report explores how individuals consider internal and external factors, their personal identities, and the events of 2020 when making current decisions about giving to charity, as well as how they plan their future charitable giving decisions.
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Brief #3: New Models to Engage Donors
This report is the third in this series, published in January 2022. It focuses on subscription-based giving, and shares findings from a survey of donors of nonprofit organizations that are a part of Network for Good’s pilot study on Subscription GivingSM. It provides insight into donor perspectives on various motivations and incentives for giving, such as unique and exclusive content, and what factors affect donors’ decision to subscribe to a nonprofit organization’s work and values.
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Brief #4: Understanding Drivers for Donor Engagement
This is the fourth report in this series, published in January 2022. It presents the results of an experiment designed to determine the relative effectiveness of fundraising messages in their ability to build a connection to potential everyday donors. The experiment focused on people who were likely unfamiliar with the nonprofit that designed the fundraising messages. It offers insights to help nonprofits better understand the impacts of fundraising messages and communications.
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The Giving Environment: Annotated Bibliography
The research highlighted in this annotated bibliography focuses on and describes five key themes that impact charitable giving:
- Understanding of community
- Information and Choice
- Habit Formation
- Technology and new ways of giving
We explore and examine each of the themes throughout The Giving Environment report series to understand how ideas and prosocial behaviors present in the above themes influence participation in charitable giving.
View the annotated bibliography