Global generosity during the COVID-19 crisis. Recommendations for philanthropic organizations and governments in times of crisis from 11 countries


The COVID-19 pandemic presented a unique opportunity to undertake a cross-national study of how people living in different countries manifested generosity behaviors during the crisis. Cross-national data allow us to consider how generosity presented in countries with various welfare and health systems, as well as varying public and private responses to manage the effects of the pandemic. The present study also provides valuable insights about which actions philanthropic organizations and governments can take to promote a strong, viable social sector and to support societal wellbeing during times of crisis.

To this end, philanthropy researchers across 11 countries studied the generosity responses emerging in their own country during the early COVID-19 crisis in 2020. The 11 countries included in this project are Australia, Austria, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Israel, Norway, Sweden, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation and the United States of America. In 11 individual country reports, the researchers compared generosity behavior data for their country with data from the other participating countries.2 Second, they expounded what both philanthropic organizations and governments could learn from the findings, with the goal of facilitating people’s future generosity responses more effectively, especially during crises.

Individual generosity behavior across 11 countries during times of crisis Our findings, which resulted from surveying over 44,000 people from 11 countries, revealed a clearly predominant philanthropic activity: the donation of money to philanthropic organizations. There was significant variation in the beneficiaries of donor funds—for example, with some countries reporting as many as 53% of donors giving to philanthropic organizations in health and social services, while in other countries, only 22% of donors gave to the same types of organizations. Overall, giving to philanthropic organizations appeared relatively stable compared to pre-pandemic times. However, upon closer look, we found that this was due to those not engaging in giving prior to the pandemic largely did not engage once the pandemic started. By contrast, those giving pre-pandemic were almost equally as likely to increase as decrease the size of their donations to philanthropic organizations during the pandemic. While in some cases people reported their decline in engagement was due to the uncertainty of the pandemic or worsening of their own financial conditions, perhaps counterintuitively, others, even in the face of similar challenges, reported increasing their engagement in generosity behaviors.

Actions for philanthropic organizations in times of crisis: To best support community needs, we recommend that philanthropic organizations focus on the following key actions during crises:

  1. Innovate and keep fundraising. Use (technological) innovations such as shifting to online platforms and promoting in-kind giving to maintain engagement with existing donors and volunteers, and to attract new ones.
  2. Communicate. Philanthropic organizations are uniquely positioned to identify local needs and share with service providers. They can also serve as community hubs to disseminate verified information during a crisis and leverage the social networks of those who they currently serve to reach the wider community.
  3. Focus on equity. Philanthropic organizations can ensure that vulnerable or underserved populations are provided access to the information, services, and support they need. Government actions to support philanthropic organizations during times of crisis

To promote the vitality of the social sector and public trust in government, we recommend the following government actions during crises:

  1. Engage in cross-sector collaboration. Governments should incentivize, facilitate, and engage in cross-sector collaborations in order to maximize resources and meet broad needs within communities.
  2. Communicate effectively. Clear, consistent, and effective communication is essential. Accurate and consistent communication can help build trust in public authorities and the government.
  3. Bolster the capacity of the nonprofit sector. Governments need to ensure that legal policies are in place that facilitate and promote smooth functioning of nonprofit operations (volunteering, donating, receiving services), as well as promote corporate and individual generosity and provide direct government funding to philanthropic organizations.
  4. Be mindful of those who are vulnerable. Ensure that those on the margins of society or who are disproportionately affected by the crisis are resourced and served and take action to provide support for mental health and social needs that may be exacerbated during times of crisis.
Cite As
Hampton, D., Wiepking, P., Chapman, C., McHugh, L. H., Kim, S. J., Neumayr, M., Vamstad, J. Arnesen, D., Carrigan, C., Feit, G., Grönlund, H., Hrafnsdottir, S., Ivanova, N., Katz, H., Kristmundsson, Ó. H., Litofcenko, J., Mersianova, I., Pessi, A. B., Scaife, W., Sivesind, K. H., and Yang, Y. (2023). Global generosity during the COVID-19 crisis. Recommendations for philanthropic organizations and governments in times of crisis from 11 countries. Indianapolis, IN: IU Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.
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