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Oct. 1, 2021, 3:25 p.m. EDT

Issues-Based Philanthropy Is Becoming More Important to Affluent Americans

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Affluent American households increased their charitable giving significantly last year even in the middle of a global pandemic, according to a Bank of America study released Wednesday.

In 2020, nearly 90% of U.S. households with a net worth of US$1 million or more, excluding their primary residence, and/or an annual household income of US$200,000 or more, gave to charities—a figure comparable to past years, according to the biennial study, Philanthropy: Charitable Giving by Affluent Households.

On average, affluent families donated US$43,195 last year, a surge of 48% compared to 2017, when Bank of America Private Bank, in collaboration with the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, did its last study.

This year’s study is based on a survey conducted in January of 1,626 affluent U.S. households about their giving in 2020. 

The top three charitable sectors wealthy donors supported were consistent with those in previous years, namely, religion (accounting for 32% of the dollar value donated), basic needs (20%), and education (16%). 

However, social and racial justice issues drew increased interest and support last year, according to Bill Jarvis , a philanthropic executive at Bank of America Private Bank.

“One in five affluent households supported social and racial justice causes through their giving. And 11% said social justice was one of their top three most important cause/issue areas, and 19% wanted to know more about this area, indicating potential room for growth,” he says.

According to the study, 44% of affluent households based their giving decisions on issues, compared to 45% who gave to specific organizations. 

“Issues-based philanthropy is becoming increasingly important, especially among millennials and Gen Zs —55% say they give based on issues or causes they consider most important, versus 35% who give to organizations,” Jarvis says. 

“As this group moves into the mainstream, nonprofits have to be out there to promote their causes and charitable issues rather than relying on donors.”

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