Affluent Donors Shared Their Wealth During 2020

Affluent households in the United States remained generous during 2020 in their support of charities across age, race/ethnicity, gender and sexual identity, increasing giving on average by 48% compared with 2017.

The 2021 Bank of America Study of Philanthropy: Charitable Giving by Affluent Households is the eighth in the series of biennial studies researched and written by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy in partnership with Bank of America. The survey, conducted in January 2021, reflects charitable giving in 2020 and is based on a nationally representative random sample of 1,626 households.

The study includes analysis based on age, gender, race and sexual identity. Households in the study have a net worth of $1 million or more (excluding the value of their primary home) and/or an annual household income of $200,000 or more. Average income and wealth levels of the participants in the study exceeded these threshold levels; the average income and wealth levels of study respondents were approximately $523,472 and $31.1 million, respectively, with median income and wealth levels of $350,000 and $2 million, respectively. Respondents’ average age was 52.5 years.

Affluent donors gave an average of $43,195 to charity during 2020 — 48% more than the average $29,269 in 2017. The increase was more concentrated at higher wealth levels. By comparison, donor households in the general population gave $2,581. Median gifts by affluent households also increased from $2,150 in 2017 to $3,000 during 2020.

The top three types of charities supported by donors were consistent with previous years: basic needs (57%), religion (47%) and health (32%). The highest aggregate dollar amounts were donated to religion (32%), basic needs (20%) and education (16%), which includes K-12 and higher education.

In response to the pandemic, nine out of 10 affluent households gave locally to organizations to help people in need of food, shelter or other basic necessities or to organizations focused on health and medicine.

One-third of affluent households volunteered, with households that reported volunteering also reporting higher average giving amounts. Fewer affluent donors volunteered in 2020 (30%) compared with 2017 (48%), likely due to pandemic lockdowns and social distancing. However, volunteering was still positively associated with higher gift amounts. In 2020, affluent donors who spent time volunteering gave more than twice as much on average ($20,838) than those who did not volunteer ($9,047).

The majority of those surveyed (74%) indicated they did not expect the coronavirus pandemic to change their future philanthropic behavior. Nearly one in five said their giving would be more directed toward specific issues.

The primary reason affluent Americans give is they believe in the mission of the organization (58%). By comparison, only 15% give to receive a tax benefit. Nearly three-quarters (72%) of affluent households indicated their charitable giving would stay the same if income tax deductions for charitable giving were eliminated.

Likewise, 73% of affluent households indicated they would include charitable gifts in their estate plans regardless of whether the estate tax was eliminated. More than one in five (23%) affluent Americans said that their giving would increase somewhat or dramatically if the estate tax was eliminated.

The primary reason for the one in 10 affluent households who chose not to give was that the family’s financial needs were more important (31%). About a fifth (22%) of these individuals indicated they declined to give because they did not have a connection to an organization, while slightly fewer chose not to give because they were not asked (20%). In addition, almost a third (30%) of affluent donors who stopped giving in 2020 cited concerns about too many requests from the organization or that the requests were too close together.

For the first time, the study also asked about qualified charitable distributions from an IRA. This method of giving surfaced as the second most popular giving vehicle, with 8% of affluent donors giving via the qualified charitable distribution. Nearly six in 10 households (59%) with a total net worth between $5 million and $20 million currently use or expect to use a giving vehicle in the future.

To access the 2021 Bank of America Study of Philanthropy: Charitable Giving by Affluent Households, visit https://philanthropy.iupui.edu/news-events/news.html