Every year, millions of Americans roll up their sleeves or pull out their checkbooks to help nonprofit organizations. But the last year has been…well, a little unusual. The COVID-19 pandemic “created both a public health crisis and an economic crisis in the United States." It has disrupted lives in so many ways, changing how individuals work, learn, shop, socialize, and yes, even how we give.
Let’s begin with volunteering for nonprofit organizations. Experts predicted that “volunteer activity [would] dramatically decrease due to the pandemic”, particularly given fears and limitations related to in-person gatherings. These predictions ultimately panned out. According to a recent Op4G study, a staggering 44% of participants are volunteering less and 29% have suspended their volunteering entirely. Meanwhile, only 4% are volunteering more and 23% are volunteering the same amount as pre-pandemic. But there is a silver lining! The study also revealed that Americans will volunteer again once they are fully vaccinated (41%), once the majority of other volunteers are vaccinated (36%), or when the nonprofit resumes in-person volunteering (52%).
But what about changes to donation habits? After a devastating wave of pandemic-related job losses, many assumed that donations would drop accordingly. In the words of the Nonprofit Practice Leaders, “Donors of all types are…in strained financial circumstances….this may limit their ability and willingness to give." However, our recent research suggests otherwise. Nearly half of Americans are donating the same as before, 26% are donating more, and 22% are donating less. A recent Blackbaud study of 8,500 U.S.-based nonprofits even found that charitable giving saw an increase of 3.4% in the last year. This further proves that donations seem to be remaining stable for organizations.
Along the same topic, many donors say that they will continue giving to their usual organizations throughout the pandemic. Though donors are most concerned about the ability of health and human services organizations to weather the storm, only a quarter planned to shift “part or all of their donations to organizations responding to COVID-19." This largely reflects the belief that “no organization is isolated from the effects of the crisis."
What is changing, in some cases, is how Americans are donating to their favorite causes. For instance, purchasing tickets to museum exhibitions, charity galas, or theatrical performances is not feasible in certain cities, due to closures and social distancing requirements. Thus, donors have had to find alternative ways to lend support. 3 in 5 of those who completed our recent study said they typically donate online via a nonprofit's website. In fact, US nonprofits saw a 25.3% increase in online fundraising over the last 12 months.
Some also believe that COVID-19 has “driven a surge in localism”, or more nonprofit giving within one’s own community. According to our research, 60% of Americans prefer to support local or U.S.-based organizations over foreign or international nonprofits. This phenomenon may be due to the fact that “COVID-19 has…[brought] increased attention to pressing needs within our communities." Moreover, small local nonprofits are often “able to act quickly and provide locally specific support."
In sum, COVID-19 has certainly impacted philanthropy in the United States. But now, with 67.7% of Americans vaccinated, the end of the pandemic is within sight. So what does the future hold – will giving return to normal or will there be lasting changes? Look out for future Op4G studies and blogs on the topic as we move forward!