COVID-19 and philanthropy: How donor behaviors are shifting amid pandemic

Man with a mask on his face looking out the window

In the span of only a few weeks, the COVID-19 pandemic has upended daily routines and impacted communities across the world in unprecedented ways. No corner of our society has been left untouched by the effects of the pandemic, including the nonprofit sector.

To understand how this pandemic could impact the nonprofit community, Fidelity Charitable conducted a survey of philanthropic individuals to see how they’re thinking about philanthropy in response to the pandemic and how the situation could affect their giving and volunteering behaviors. The study underscored the following key takeaways:

COVID-19 shifts in giving study
  • Most donors plan to maintain—or even increase—the amount they donate to charity this year. 
    Support from donors is needed to sustain nonprofits at any time, but it is particularly critical in times of crisis. Our survey found good news for the nonprofit sector: a quarter of donors plan to increase their donations in response to COVID-19, while 54 percent plan to maintain their giving levels. Younger generations plan to step up their donations in greater numbers; 46 percent of Millennials say they will give more in response to the pandemic, compared to 14 percent of Baby Boomers and 25 percent of Gen X. Of those who say they will decrease their donations to charity, concern over a recession and the economy in general was a top trigger.
  •  In contrast, volunteer activity is likely to dramatically decrease due to the pandemic.
    State and local governments are urging residents to stay home to prevent the spread of the virus—which creates challenges for many nonprofits who rely on volunteers to deliver critical services. Nearly half (47 percent) of recent volunteers believe the amount of time they volunteer will decrease or stop entirely because of the pandemic. Older donors are more likely to say that their volunteering will decrease (61 percent of Silent Generation donors and 57 percent of Baby Boomers)—while 19 percent of Gen X and 31 percent of Millennials say they expect their volunteer time to actually increase. 
  • Donors are most concerned about the way that COVID-19 could impact the ability of health- and human services-related nonprofits to do their work, but concern is high for organizations in all charitable sectors.
    Under the circumstances created by the COVID-19 pandemic, many donors’ first thought is for the health-related nonprofits on the front lines of the pandemic and the safety net organizations that are serving our communities’ most vulnerable populations, with roughly 80 percent of donors reporting that they are concerned about these nonprofits’ ability to operate. But no organization is isolated from the effects of the crisis—and at least half of donors are also concerned about organizations working in other areas, like the arts and environment.
COVID-19 response efforts study
  • Most donors do not plan to shift their giving to different organizations in light of the pandemic; they will stay the course by continuing to support their favorite nonprofits.
    Many donors plan to continue supporting their usual charities even amid the pandemic. Forty-three percent say they will continue to donate to the nonprofits they supported before, as they will probably be impacted by COVID-19 in some way. A quarter of donors say they will give to different organizations as a result of the pandemic—shifting part or all of their donations to organizations responding to COVID-19.
  • Many donors don’t feel that they have the information they need to effectively support efforts to combat COVID-19.
    Many donors are not sure how they can effectively address the impact of COVID-19 with their contributions. One-third of respondents say they don’t have the information they need to understand where they can direct their support effectively. Older generations feel particularly unsure of how to direct their donations—with 35 percent of Baby Boomers saying they don’t have enough information, versus only 27 percent of Millennials. 


How donor-advised fund donors are responding

In addition to surveying general donors about their response to COVID-19, we also conducted a survey among Fidelity Charitable donors to understand how donor-advised fund donors are taking the pandemic into account in their giving. Donor-advised fund donors tend to be more engaged in philanthropy and planful in regard to their charitable contributions, and their response to the COVID-19 pandemic reflects these qualities.

  • Donor-advised fund donors are more likely than general donors to ramp up their giving in response to the pandemic. One-third of donor-advised fund donors expect to increase their donations this year—compared to a quarter of general donors. 
  • Donor-advised fund donors are more likely to stay the course in their approach to giving, rather than shifting their donations to organizations that are directly responding to the pandemic. Fifty-nine percent say they will continue to contribute to the nonprofits they normally support, as they will likely be affected by the pandemic.
  • Nearly 70 percent of donor-advised fund donors feel that they have enough knowledge and information to direct their support to address COVID-19—compared to only 51 percent of general donors.

For more on how the COVID-19 pandemic could influence donor giving behaviors, read the detailed results from our survey.


Artemis Strategy Group, an independent research firm, conducted a research study on behalf of Fidelity Charitable about the effect of COVID-19 on giving and volunteering behavior. 1,842 adults in the U.S. who donated at least $1,000 to charity in 2019 were surveyed in March 2020.

How to help with COVID-19

We are continually monitoring the situation and will update our COVID-19 giving guidance as circumstances change and new information comes available. 

How Fidelity Charitable can help

Since 1991, we have been a leader in charitable planning and giving solutions, helping donors like you support their favorite charities in smart ways.

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