News Details

Report examines pandemic’s national impact on individual generosity

Two hands form the shape of a heart around a setting sun

Authored by: Juliana Rosati

Photography by: Mayur Gala on Unsplash

Faculty & Research


How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect people’s volunteering, donating, and helping behaviors? A report by SP2 faculty and students summarizes a nationally representative study aiming to answer this question.

With collaboration and funding from the Generosity Commission of Giving USA, SP2 Professors Ram Cnaan and Femida Handy, along with PhD in Social Welfare students Tiana Marrese, Daniel Choi, and Anna Ferris conducted a survey asking respondents to report their behaviors both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The results, released in “Generosity Trends and Impacts: Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic in the USA,” represent the first large nationally representative data on volunteering, donating, and other prosocial, or generous, behavior before and during the pandemic. Questions asked respondents about volunteering and donating in “formal” contexts (involving established nonprofit organizations) and “informal” contexts (involving friends and neighbors), as well as other positive contributions to one’s community. Among a number of findings, the report documents the following trends during the pandemic:

  • Virtual volunteering increased and in-person volunteering decreased.
  • The total number of donors decreased, while the average donation amount increased significantly, by over 200%.
  • Informal volunteering and/or donating remained stable at high levels, engaged in by about two-thirds of respondents.
  • While showing gratitude to frontline workers and ethical buying and buycotting intensified, donating blood decreased.

“Understanding the trends in volunteering and donating is vital for understanding the well-being of individuals and society,” write the authors. “It is too early to assess the long-term effects of the pandemic on generosity. However, we can ascertain how the pandemic impacted people’s generosity during the height of the outbreak.”

About SP2

For more than 110 years, the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy & Practice (SP2) has been a powerful force for good in the world, working towards social justice and social change through research and practice. SP2 contributes to the advancement of more effective, efficient, and humane human services through education, research, and civic engagement. The School offers five top-ranked, highly respected degree programs along with a range of certificate programs and dual degrees. SP2’s transdisciplinary research centers and initiatives — many collaborations with Penn’s other professional schools — yield innovative ideas and better ways to shape policy and service delivery. The passionate pursuit of social innovation, impact, and justice is at the heart of the School’s knowledge-building activities.