Understanding Generosity: A Look at What Influences Volunteering and Giving in the United States
Do Good Institute, School of Public Policy, University of Maryland (November 2023)
In the recent research report “Understanding Generosity: A Look at What Influences Volunteering and Giving in the United States,” authored by Nathan Dietz and Robert T. Grimm Jr. from the Do Good Institute at the University of Maryland, the decline in volunteering and charitable giving in the United States is meticulously analyzed. Funded by the Generosity Commission, this study is particularly insightful for nonprofit professionals as it examines both micro- and macro-level factors contributing to this downward trend. The report reveals a significant decrease in formal volunteer rates and charitable donations, a pattern that emerged before the COVID-19 pandemic and has continued since. The decline, which began in the early 2000s for donations and early 2010s for volunteering, is linked to various individual, family, and state-level characteristics.
Key micro-level factors identified include educational attainment, age, parenthood, gender, marital status, employment status, and living area. For instance, college graduates are more likely to volunteer, and giving rates increase with age. Surprisingly, those who are unemployed are more likely to volunteer than full-time workers, while rural residents are more likely to volunteer than their urban or suburban counterparts. The report emphasizes the role of nonprofits in understanding these trends to better target potential donors and volunteers. Macro-level factors, such as state poverty rates and the prevalence of nonprofits, also influence these behaviors, albeit to a lesser extent. For example, states with widespread poverty see higher rates of volunteering and giving. The findings challenge assumptions about the link between the prevalence of nonprofits and individual generosity, underscoring the need for more effective engagement strategies by these organizations. This research offers valuable insights into the dynamics of philanthropic behavior, crucial for shaping strategies to revitalize volunteerism and giving in the US.
Nathan Dietz, PhD, is an Associate Research Professor and the Research Director at the Do Good Institute, as well as the Director of the Do Good Lab at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy. Joining in March 2017, Dietz brings over two decades of research experience in government, the nonprofit sector, and academia. His work primarily revolves around social capital, volunteering, charitable contributions, civic engagement, and social entrepreneurship. Dietz has authored numerous Institute research publications and peer-reviewed articles in notable journals. He also teaches State, Local and Nonprofit Financial Management and chairs the Faculty Diversity Committee at the School of Public Policy.
Before his current role, Dietz was a senior research associate at the Urban Institute’s Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy, leading various research and evaluation projects. His previous experience includes serving as a senior program manager at the Partnership for Public Service and as an associate director for research and evaluation at the Corporation for National and Community Service. Dietz’s academic journey includes appointments at American University and degrees from the University of Rochester and Northwestern University, where he earned his PhD in political science and a bachelor’s degree with a dual major in political science and mathematical methods in social sciences, respectively.
Robert T. Grimm Jr., PhD, is a Professor of the Practice and holds the Levenson Family Chair in Philanthropy & Nonprofit Leadership at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy. As the founding Director of the Do Good Institute, he leads efforts to inspire and empower individuals to make a positive impact. Under his leadership, the Institute has expanded significantly, offering numerous programs and courses that engage thousands of students annually in social change initiatives. The Do Good Institute’s impact was recognized with the 2021 Regents Award for Faculty Excellence in Public Service by the University of Maryland Board of Regents and the inaugural Voinovich Public Innovation Prize by NASPAA. Notably, Grimm’s involvement facilitated the growth of the Food Recovery Network and the launch of successful companies like Hungry Harvest and Imperfect Foods.
Dr. Grimm’s extensive experience in public service includes his roles at AmeriCorps as Senior Counselor to the CEO and Director of Research & Policy Development. He played a key role in the creation of President Obama’s Social Innovation Fund and significantly expanded AmeriCorps’s research funding. A recognized expert in philanthropy and civic engagement, Grimm’s research has been featured in prominent media outlets and academic journals. He also testified at the first hearing of the National Commission on Military, National and Public Service. An Iowa native, Grimm received his PhD from Indiana University, which honored him with its 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award.