The Numbers Are In: American Generosity Hits an All-Time High During COVID

Charitable giving was one of the bright spots during a very challenging year in 2020, as the world struggled to fight off a once-in-a-generation (hopefully) pandemic. Even with all the economic insecurity that so often accompanies a crisis, Americans opened their hearts and wallets to help their family members, friends, neighbors and strangers.

Throughout the year, there was no shortage of anecdotal examples of American generosity during COVID – everything from buying groceries for the elderly to support for frontline health workers. But now the numbers are in. The American people not only maintained previous levels of generosity, we broke records. 

On July 7, 2021, the Giving USA Foundation released the full results of its 2021 Annual Report, now available by subscription, which analyzes total charitable giving for 2020 in the United States.

Here is the key takeaway: American individuals, companies and foundations donated an estimated $471.44 billion to U.S. charities in 2020. This represents an increase of 3.8% over 2019 when adjusted for inflation and an all-time high for charitable giving in the United States.

Among the highlights:*

  • Giving to education organizations increased by an estimated 7.7% to $71.34 billion.
  • Giving to human services organizations increased by an estimated 8.4% to $65.14 billion.
  • Giving to public-society benefit organizations increased by an estimated 14.3% to $48 billion.
  • Giving to international affairs increased by an estimated 7.8% to $25.89 billion.
  • Giving to environmental and animal organizations increased by an estimated 10.3% to $16.14 billion.

Somewhat ironically, considering the support given to hospitals and health-care workers during COVID, giving in the category of health dropped by an estimated 4.2% to $42.12 billion. However, the Giving USA Foundation notes this was more than likely due to a decline in participation in the “many in-person walks, runs and other fundraising events that disease-specific health organizations host as major fundraisers.” 

The same can likely be said for the arts, culture and humanities, which saw a decline of 8.6% to $19.47 billion. Hopefully, as the world awakens from COVID-induced isolation in search of community and entertainment, these numbers will improve drastically by the close of 2021.

 Speaking of 2021, the early returns show no slowing down for charitable giving this year. The Fundraising Effectiveness Project estimates a total dollar increase of 6% for the first quarter according to its quarterly fundraising report.

In times of crisis, speed and agility are critical factors in relieving the suffering of people in need – two competitive advantages for philanthropy when compared to the response of government agencies.

It is inspiring to see that in these moments, when fear, pain and insecurity are at their apex, and our survival instincts try to coax us into self-protection, there are so many who can rise above them to do what is both simple and difficult at the same time – give.

Giving USA 2021: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2020, a publication of Giving USA Foundation, 2021, researched and written by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Available online at

*Note: All numbers listed have been adjusted for inflation.

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