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U.S. Charitable Donations Rebound; Volunteering Still Down

U.S. Charitable Donations Rebound; Volunteering Still Down

Story Highlights

  • 81% donated money to charitable organizations, up from 73% in 2020
  • The 56% volunteering still below pre-pandemic levels
  • Donating to religious organizations remains at 44% historical low

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Eighty-one percent of Americans say they donated money to a religious or other charitable organization in the past year, and 56% volunteered time to such an organization. After dipping in April 2020 during the early stages of the pandemic, charitable donations have rebounded and are essentially back to the level measured in 2013 and 2017 surveys.

Volunteer activity also dropped in 2020 but, in contrast to charitable giving, remains lower than it was in pre-pandemic surveys. While lower today than in recent years, the rate of volunteering has been at its current level in the past, most notably during the Great Recession.


Line graph. Trends in U.S. Adults' Charitable Activities. 81 percent of U.S. adults say they donated money to a religious or other charitable organization in the past 12 months, up from 73% in 2020 and similar to the 83% figures measured in 2013 and 2017. The percentage donating was typically above 80% before 2013 but dipped to 79% in 2009. 56 percent of U.S. adults say they volunteered their time to a religious or other charitable organization in the past year, similar to the 58% who did so in 2020, but lower than the 64% in 2017 and 65% in 2013. Volunteer rates were similar to what they are now in 2003 at 59%, 2008 at 58% and 55% in 2009, but were 60% or higher in 2001 and 2005.

The decline in donations was seen among all income groups in 2020, but more so among those in lower- and middle-income households. Charitable donations are back up among those in all income brackets, with upper-income Americans now returning to pre-pandemic rates. Giving rates among lower- and middle-income Americans are only slightly below where they were in 2017.

Volunteer activity is also lower now among all income groups than before the pandemic

Changes in Charitable Activities by Annual Household Income, 2017-2021
2017 2020 2021
% % %
Donated money
$100,000 or more 92 87 92
$40,000 to $99,999 90 78 84
Less than $40,000 73 56 68
Volunteered time
$100,000 or more 76 75 68
$40,000 to $99,999 71 58 59
Less than $40,000 49 44 42

Gallup has asked about charitable activities periodically since 2001, usually in December surveys, including the most recent Dec. 1-16 poll. Each respondent is asked about their donations and volunteering for religious organizations, and separately, for any other charitable cause or organization.

No Recovery in Donating to Religious Organizations

With respect to donations, the bounce back from 2020 appears to be confined mostly to secular giving. Forty-four percent of Americans say they gave money to religious organizations in the past year, unchanged from 2020, which was the lowest in Gallup's trend by a significant margin.

Meanwhile, 74% say they gave money to another charitable cause, up from 64% a year ago and essentially the same as the 75% who did so in 2013 and 2017.

Over time, as formal church membership has declined, so too have donations to religious organizations. The 44% of U.S. adults donating to a religious organization nearly matches the 47% who belong to a church, synagogue, mosque or temple.


Line graph. Trend in monetary donations to charitable organizations. In 2021, 44% said they had donated money to a religious organization, unchanged from 2020 and the lowest in Gallup's trend. Before 2000, no fewer than 52% of U.S. adults had donated to a religious organization, and in 2005 and before, at least six in 10 had. Monetary donations to nonreligious organizations have not shown the same long-term decline but did fall in 2020 to 64% from 75% in both 2013 and 2017. In 2021, 74% of U.S. adults say they had donated money to a nonreligious cause in the past 12 months.

Volunteering is not yet back to pre-pandemic levels for either religious organizations or other charities. Thirty-five percent of Americans report volunteering for a religious organization in the past year, down slightly from 38% in 2020 and well below the 44% from 2017. The current figure is the lowest in Gallup's trend, although not meaningfully different from 37% readings in 2008 and 2009.

Forty-seven percent of Americans say they volunteered their time for a secular charity in the past year. That is slightly higher than the 43% measured in 2020 but still down from 50% in 2017.


Line graph. Trend in volunteering time to charitable organizations. In 2021, 35% said they had volunteered time to a religious organization in the past 12 months. That compares with a 38% reading in 2020 and a 44% reading in 2017. In many years, more than four in 10 Americans said they volunteered for a religious organization, with the percentages below that level only in 2008 and 2009 and the past two years. Volunteering for a nonreligious organization recovered somewhat in 2021, to 47% from 43% in 2020, but remains below the 50% from 2017 and 49% from 2013.

Bottom Line

Amid economic uncertainty and restrictions on public activity in the initial stages of the pandemic, Americans' charitable activity declined. More than a year later, monetary charitable donations are mostly back to their pre-pandemic levels, while volunteerism still lags.

The increase in donations is consistent with Americans' intentions in the 2020 Gallup survey when more U.S. adults said they planned to increase (25%) rather than decrease (7%) the amount of money they gave to charity in the coming year. Two-thirds planned to maintain their level of giving.

Donating may have been aided by the growth in income for Americans in 2020 and 2021, from government payments designed to boost the economy and savings from reductions in spending on travel, entertainment and other public activities.

A recovery in volunteering may be more elusive as concerns about COVID-19 exposure and public health safety measures limit Americans' willingness and ability to perform volunteer work. While there was hope earlier in 2021 that COVID-19 vaccines would allow Americans to return to their normal activities, the unpredictable nature of the virus and emergence of new variants has forced leaders and citizens to reconsider when -- or if -- the pandemic will end.

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