Charitable givers in the U.S. plan to maintain their current giving levels while being more selective in what organizations receive their financial support, according to a report published by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy on Jan. 26.

In recent decades, the U.S. has experienced a downward trend in charitable giving, falling from two-thirds of households donating to charitable causes in 2000 to around half doing so by 2018.

Focus groups were used by the report’s researchers to better understand the motivation of charitable givers, how their donations have changed in recent years (including during the COVID-19 pandemic) and what giving trends might look like in the next decade.

After conducting 16 sessions with 83 participants from May to November 2021, researchers summarized the comments and insights offered by study participants into several key findings:

  • Donors plan to maintain overall giving levels, but to be more selective in what organizations they support.
  • Awareness of a need is a strong motivation for charitable giving.
  • A desire “to address root causes of systemic and structural issues” is important for donors.
  • Organizations that effectively communicate the programs, resources and overall impact of its work are more likely to attract charitable givers.
  • Connections to an organization are a key factor in donations.
  • Personal values and experiences are a stronger motivation than social identity among most participants.
  • Increased virtual / digital engagement of constituents is a challenging, but inevitable, aspect of fundraising.
  • Donors that perceive a lack of impact among organizations they support are less likely to continue giving at the same level.
  • Any uptick in giving during the pandemic is generally thought to be temporary.
  • The entities that donors support financially are those trusted to make a significant impact with their gifts.

Religious affiliation is among the social identity elements that influences and guides donors.

“One participant described supporting faith-based organizations due to his Jewish background and gave in response to the increased presence of anti-Semitism,” the report said. “Other participants who primarily gave to faith-based organizations gave through their churches, and some viewed giving and service as ‘one of the tenants of Christianity.’”

However, personal relationships were a more prominent and influential factor than religious faith or other aspects of social identity.

For example, one donor who self-identified as Christian said, “In the next year or so, the largest donation I am going to make is going to be to a local Buddhist organization here in town because the lady monk in charge of that group was a tremendous support to my sister.”

The full report is available here. An infographic summarizing key findings is available here.

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