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When help was needed most

How affluent households gave back in 2020

The extraordinary year that was 2020 — dominated by the global COVID-19 pandemic —profoundly affected every aspect of our society and our lives.

Despite the adversity, affluent1 families maintained the patterns of charitable giving that had been characteristic of better times. Nearly 90% of affluent households gave to charity in 2020, similar to previous years.

Bank of America partnered with the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy to produce the 2021 Bank of America Study of Philanthropy: Charitable Giving by Affluent Households, the eighth in this series of research reports, to provide insight into the charitable habits of affluent households.

Key findings


  • Affluent households remained generous and consistent in their giving.
  • The average amount given to charity increased from 2017.2
  • The top three types of charities supported were basic needs, religion and education.
  • The highest average gift amounts were given to religion, basic needs and education.
  • Sustainable/impact investing participation nearly doubled compared to 2017.
  • More affluent donors used giving vehicles than in 2017.
  • Affluent individuals expressed confidence in the ability of businesses, governments, nonprofits and individuals to solve societal problems.


Charitable giving by affluent donors rose

In 2020, affluent donors not only continued to give but their giving amounts increased. Some of the increase may be attributed to affluent households’ response to the pandemic; many of these households were more easily able to shelter in place, had more cushion to protect against the economic shocks, and benefited from market gains during the second half of the year.

Average giving per affluent household

In 2017: $29,000. In 2020: $43,000, a 48% increase.

Gave to charity, among all affluent individuals

91% of women. 86% of men. 90% of those over age 40 81% of those age 40 and younger

More individuals gave to support specific issues and causes

Affluent individuals’ giving decisions tend to be driven by the organization to which they’re giving or specific issues that organizations seek to address. In 2020, a plurality of affluent donors (45%) reported that organizations drove their giving decisions, a decrease from 2017’s clear majority of 54%.

In 2020, 44% of affluent donors said their giving was driven by the issues that organizations are addressing as compared to 31% in 2017, a significant jump. This was more pronounced with younger donors.

Donors gave based on issues

In 2017, 31%. In 2020, 44%.  Among donors age 40 and younger, 55% gave based on issues, versus only 41% of donors over 40.

Basic needs, religious organizations and education were the causes most frequently supported by affluent households.

However, the categories affluent households reported donating to weren’t correlated with the amount donated to those categories. For example, a majority of donors (57%) reported giving to basic needs, while only 20% of their donations went to support those types of organizations.

Giving and distribution of dollars

57.1% of donors said they gave to support basic needs, but only 19.9% of their charitable donations went to those organizations. 46.9% of donors reported giving to religious organizations, which received only 32.4% of dollars given. 36.1% of donors gave to support education, but educational organizations received just 15.8% of funds donated.


Donors included social and racial justice causes in their giving

Increased awareness of racial injustice sparked giving for social justice and racial justice causes, with nearly a quarter of affluent individuals giving to support these causes in 2020. Among affluent households, 11.3% selected social justice as one of their top three most important causes, and 18.7% indicated they wanted to become more knowledgeable about supporting racial equity or social justice through charitable giving.

More households used giving vehicles

Affluent households have many choices about how to make charitable gifts now and for the future. In 2020, there was an increase in usage of giving vehicles.

Included a charitable provision in a will

In 2017, 13%. In 2020, 17%.


Used a donor advised fund

In 2017, 5%. In 2020, 7%.

Impact Investing is of growing interest to affluent donors

Impact and sustainable investing aim to invest for the purpose of generating returns while supporting social, environmental or other causes.

Significantly more affluent households participated in sustainable and impact investing in 2020. (13.2%) compared to in 2017 (7.2%). Moreover, nearly 60% of donors said that their impact investing was in addition to their existing charitable giving.

The Bank of America Charitable Giſt Fund
A donor-advised fund (DAF) is a charitable giving account which enables donors to set amounts and timing for selected charities to receive grants. Learn more about the Bank of America Charitable Giſt Fund.

Affluent households relied on digital tools for charitable giving

In 2020, many affluent households turned to digital tools in order to support causes and organizations. In addition to the 56% of donors who used a nonprofit’s website, donors also used other digital giving tools.


Used digital tools for giving

Crowdfunding: 18%. Payment processing apps: 17%. Social media tools: 13%.


Confidence in societal institutions increased

In 2020, affluent individuals expressed significant confidence in the ability of many societal institutions to solve social problems.

Confidence in groups to solve societal or global problems

Nonprofits. 2020: 86.5%. 2017: 85.6%.  Individuals. 2020: 82.0%. 2017: 80.6%.  Religious institutions. 2020: 61.0%. 2017: 62.2%.  Small to mid-sized businesses. 2020: 69.9%. 2017: 61.2%.  Large corporations. 2020: 55.6%. 2017: 51.6%.  State or local government. 2020: 68.9%. 2017: 64.7%.  The president/federal executive branch. 2020: 60.1%. 2017: 46.3%.  The Supreme Court/federal judiciary. 2020: 59.5%. 2017: 52.9%.  Congress/federal legislative branch. 2020: 51.8%. 2017: 39.5%.

One in three households increased their giving to support needs related to the pandemic. Among those who gave, three distinct shifts in giving behaviors emerged:

Supported their local communities
gave to basic needs locally

Made unrestricted giſts
or more made unrestricted giſts to health care, educational, and arts and culture organizations

Found new ways to give
gave directly to individuals and businesses affected by the pandemic



During 2020, affluent households continued the American commitment to philanthropy in good times and bad. This group’s nearly 90% participation in charitable giving — in the face of adversity — is a hallmark of donors’ generosity.

Background and methodology

This study series has set the benchmark for research on the giving practices of affluent households in the United States. The 2021 Bank of America Study of Philanthropy: Charitable Giving by Affluent Households is based on a nationally representative random sample of 1,626 households and includes in-depth analysis based on age, gender, race and sexual identity. The 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. The survey, conducted in January 2021, reflects charitable giving in 2020. 

The study captures the philanthropic motivations, priorities and strategies of affluent donors amid a challenging year. In addition, this latest study investigates donors’ contributions to affinity groups, COVID-19 pandemic relief efforts and social/racial justice in 2020. The deeper analysis by age, gender, race and sexual identity provides a more nuanced understanding of affluent donors’ behavior. Subgroup findings throughout the summary reveal statistically significant differences between the highlighted group and members of the relevant reference group, e.g., younger individuals (age 38 and younger) compared to older individuals (over 38 years of age); women compared to men; Black/African American, Asian American, or Hispanic/Latino individuals compared to White/Caucasian individuals; and LGBTQ+ individuals compared to non-LGBTQ+ individuals.

For a copy of the 2021 Bank of America Study of Philanthropy: Charitable Giving by Affluent Households, please contact your advisor.

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