About 4 in 10 Americans will match their 2020 charitable giving levels in 2021

ST. LEO, FL – A new survey from the Saint Leo University Polling Institute (polls.saintleo.edu) found that the top charitable actions Americans have taken, or are likely to take before the year is over, are donating some of their used clothing and recycling any other items that can be repurposed.

The answers emerged from an online poll of 1,000 Americans who responded between October 17 and October 23, 2021. When all 1,000 answered the margin of error for the results is plus or minus 3.0 percentage points. The majority of that sample, 869 respondents, report taking some charitable action or actions.

Those respondents selected answers from a list of things they could do specifically to benefit others; 14 of the items were purely charitable, such as donating, volunteering, and raising money. Another choice listed, shopping from local merchants or enterprises, while not strictly charitable, also ranked high. Respondents were allowed to select multiple answers. Florida results, collected from 500 respondents from across the Sunshine States, were often similar to the national findings. The margin of error for Florida results is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

The most frequently reported activities, in order of popularity nationally, were as follows:

Acts that benefit others National 2021 – % Florida 2021 – %
Donating used clothing  46.3  47.6
Shopped local  36.7  38.4
Recycled anything that can be recycled  36.5  35.6
Donating money to favorite causes  32.2  34.4
Donating, or donated food to help end hunger  27.3  31.4
Helping neighbors in any way you can, such as a meal, baking, or pet care  24.5  27.2
“Paid it forward” at a laundromat, restaurant, drive-through, toll booth, or other opportunity  13.7  15.0
Donating any items (not furniture and clothes) such as supplies to a classroom, or baked goods  12.1  14.4
Volunteer more time than in 2020  11.0  11.2
Supporting or donating to community efforts such as food gardens  10.0  13.2
Donated furniture to a charity or distribution center  9.6  16.2


Four other choices offered were far less popular, attracting only single-digit percentage-level responses. They were: walking or running to raise money for a charity; attending a gala, a concert, or sports event to support a fundraising effort; volunteering or mentoring activities that tap into personal capabilities, such as musical ability, or sports or business talent; and personally renewing or securing certification to perform CPR.

Year-over-year levels of giving

The survey also asked people about their level of charitable giving in 2021—and “giving” could be interpreted as money or objects or services—compared to the prior year, 2020. The polling institute asked the same kind of question in 2019 (prior to the onset of COVID-19), requesting that poll respondents compare that year with 2018.

The most frequently occurring answer in the 2021 findings among the 1,000 national respondents was cited by 39.2 percent: that they would give about the same amount as they had in 2020. That percentage level is down slightly from 2019, when 45.6 percent said they would maintain their giving from 2018 levels.

The October 2021 survey results also show that they next largest group, 22.3 percent of respondents, say they will not be giving in 2021. That level is up slightly from 2019, when 17.9 percent of respondents said they had no plans for charitable giving that year.

Dr. Nancy Wood, who directs graduate studies in human services administration at Saint Leo University, said it is reasonable to wonder if some current pocketbook issues are affecting levels of cash giving.  Even though unemployment percentages are down, Wood said, “consumers are seeing higher prices.”

Charitable Giving Level in 2019 and 2021 National 2019 – % Florida 2019 – % National 2021 – % Florida 2021 – %

Giving more to charity this year than last year










Giving about the same to charity this year










Giving less to charity this year compared to last year










Have not / will not be giving  to charity this year










Unsure / Don’t know










Respondents in the 2021 survey who say they will be giving more to charity this year amount to 17.1 percent, and that percentage was about the same in 2019.

Those giving less this year, 2021, were tabulated at 8.9 percent, which is about the same percentage reported back in 2019.

When all those in the national sample who indicated at least some level of giving in 2021 were counted, they came to 652 individuals (65.2 percent), or nearly two-thirds. That is slightly off from the 72.3 percent of the national sample from 2019.

Both percentages are lower than the 87.1 percent who noted in the 2021 survey that they had participated in some charitable action, from donating clothing to helping a neighbor. The reason for the gap may simply be that when people took the survey, they encountered the question about their level of giving first. After answering, they moved to the newly added question about what deeds they may have done that benefit others—and the list of those activities jogged the memories of some respondents who helped others in ways beyond giving money.

Dr. Susan Kinsella, dean of Saint Leo University’s College of Education and Social Services, said another factor may be involved. “I think the pandemic has caused people to think carefully about their income, and they are more strategic about where they spend it,” said Kinsella, who came to academia after a career in social work.

“Many people lost jobs or found new ones, and I think they realize that although employment opportunities are available, they may also disappear just as fast with any continuing COVID issues. So instead of giving cash,” she said, “they are giving what they can in other ways.”

Survey results from the 2021 national sample also indicate that those with some religious affiliation were more likely than the overall average of 65.2 percent to report giving to charity. In fact, 71 percent or more of Catholics, of non-Catholic Christian groups, and members of other religions report giving to charity. Among those of no religious affiliation, charitable giving was less frequent, reported by 46.7 percent.

Wood, the human services administration studies director, pointed out that 2021 is still not over, opportunities to give remain, and noted that Congress even extended a tax benefit to help encourage giving among non-wealthy taxpayers. When the pandemic hit, Congress decided that taxpayers who do not itemize deductions—most taxpayers—should be allowed to deduct on their taxes up to $300 for charitable gifts in the case of single filers and $600 for married couples. People usually cannot get this benefit in calculating their tax obligations and when Congress decided to add this in 2020, the tax break was conceived of lasting only for that year. But in September 2021, Wood pointed out, Congress extended the break to cover this calendar year to again reward donors to qualifying charities.

About the Poll

METHODOLOGY: This national survey was conducted from October 17, 2021, through October 23, 2021, among a base of 1,000 respondents nationally, using an online instrument. The national sample has an associated margin of error of +/- 3.0 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence for questions asked of all 1,000 respondents.

The statewide survey was also conducted during the same time period, among a base of 500 respondents, using an online instrument. The sample has an associated margin of error of +/- 4.5 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence for questions asked of all 500 respondents.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute conducts its surveys using cutting-edge online methodology, which is rapidly transforming the field of survey research. The sample is drawn from large online panels, which allow for random selections that reflect accurate cross sections of all demographic groups. Online methodology has the additional advantage of allowing participants to respond to the survey at a time, place, and speed that is convenient to them, which may result in more thoughtful answers. The Saint Leo University Polling Institute develops the questionnaires, administers the surveys, and conducts analysis of the results. Panel participants typically receive a token incentive—usually $1 deposited into an iTunes or Amazon account—for their participation.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute survey results about national and Florida politics, public policy issues, Pope Francis’ popularity, and other topics, can also be found here: http://polls.saintleo.edu. You can also follow the institute on Twitter @saintleopolls.

Media contacts:

Jo-Ann Johnston, Saint Leo University, University Communications jo-ann.johnston@saintleo.edu or (352) 588-8237 or (813) 601-2548 (cell/text).   

Mary McCoy, Saint Leo University, University Writer & Media Relations, mary.mccoy02@saintleo.edu, (352) 588-7118 or cell (813) 610-8416.

 About Saint Leo University

Saint Leo University is one of the largest Catholic universities in the nation, offering 62 degree programs to more than 15,800 students each year. Founded in 1889 by Benedictine monks and sisters, the private, nonprofit university is known for providing a values-based education to learners of all backgrounds and ages in the liberal arts tradition. Saint Leo is regionally accredited and offers a residential campus in the Tampa Bay region of Florida, 16 education centers in five states, and an online program for students anywhere. The university is home to more than 100,000 alumni. Learn more at saintleo.edu.