39 Million Americans Donated Money to Help Others Pay COVID-Related Expenses in First Month of Pandemic

The majority of donations were for food or for supplies for health care workers, with approximately 25 million people (or 62 percent) donating for food and 15 million people (or 37 percent) donating for supplies for health care workers.

Twitter analysis found that, at the end of March, over 30 percent of all crowdfunding tweets were seeking donations for coronavirus-related causes, up from 2 percent in the first week of March.

CHICAGO, May 20, 2020 — One in five Americans (about 39 million) reported that they or someone in their household had contributed to a person or organization raising money for coronavirus-related expenses during the first month of the pandemic, according to a new AmeriSpeak® Spotlight on Health national survey from NORC at the University of Chicago.

The survey also found that, among those who donated, almost 77 percent (30 million) made direct contributions like check or cash payments to a person or organization. Another 17 percent (7 million) individuals made donations via online cash transfers through Venmo, CashApp, or Zelle. Six million people also donated through crowdfunding sites, such as GoFundMe, which enable individuals to raise funds from a large number of people.

“These results highlight the generosity of Americans as they step up to help others in need during this unprecedented time,” said Mollie Hertel, senior research scientist at NORC Health. “Donations early in the crisis focused on direct cash contributions, but we expect donations through crowdfunding sites to grow as the pandemic continues to impact individual households.”

Using data from NORC’s Social Data Collaboratory, NORC Health staff conducted a simultaneous analysis of Twitter users posting links to crowdfunding platforms during the month of March and found over 70,000 tweets about campaigns raising money for people affected by the coronavirus. As the pandemic spread, the number of crowdfunding tweets in the United States related to COVID-19 increased 20-fold, from about 1,600 tweets in the first week of March to over 32,000 in the last week of March. In the first week of March, coronavirus-related tweets made up less than 2 percent of all crowdfunding tweets. By the end of the month, over 30 percent of all crowdfunding tweets were seeking donations for coronavirus-related causes.

Growth of COVID-19 Related Crowdfunding Campaigns on Twitter in March 2020

Among the March tweets related to U.S. COVID-19 crowdfunding campaigns, 28 percent requested support for workforce-related expenses (lost employment, etc.), 13 percent for medical equipment, 12 percent for bills or rent, and 10 percent for food donations. The remaining tweets were more general appeals for support related to COVID-19.

Majority of donations were for supplies for health care workers and food

In the AmeriSpeak® survey, 62 percent (or an estimated 25 million) of those who had donated directly, online, or to a crowdfunding campaign reported donating to a person or organization for food. Many Americans also reported making donations for supplies for health care workers (37 percent), rent (25 percent), and medical bills or treatments (20 percent). Thirty-six percent of respondents reported donating to more than one cause.

Percent of Donors Who Gave to Various Coronavirus-Related Causes

Most Americans made small donations of less than $50

Of those who made COVID-related donations, about half reported that their largest donation was no more than $50, whereas 31 percent of people donated more than $100, and 15 percent between $50 and $100.

Large Donation Amount to a Cornavirus-Related Cause

“From the outset, Americans began responding to the pandemic by giving what they could to help others with food, rent, and medical supplies,” said Susan Cahn, senior research scientist at NORC Health. “While many Americans are suffering financially at this time, people are giving what they can, with half of donations being under $50.”

The self-funded poll was conducted between April 23-27, 2020, during a monthly Omnibus survey. It included 1,007 interviews with a nationally representative sample (margin of error +/- 4.1 percent) of adult Americans age 18+ using the AmeriSpeak Panel. AmeriSpeak® is NORC’s probability-based panel designed to be representative of the U.S. household population. A comprehensive listing of all study questions, tabulations of top-level results for each question, and detailed methodology is available here.

All U.S. tweets posted between March 1-31, 2020, with a hyperlink to 1 of 7 crowdfunding websites were pulled down from Twitter’s Historical PowerTrack API. The text of each tweet’s body, URL description, and hashtags were searched for references to COVID-19. Tweets related to COVID-19 were further mined for keywords pertaining to particular subject categories (e.g., “food,” “meals,” and “groceries” were coded as “food”). Tweets containing keywords for multiple categories were allowed to count once towards each category.

About the AmeriSpeak® Spotlight on Health
NORC at the University of Chicago’s AmeriSpeak Spotlight on Health is a series of quick-hitting national surveys on issues vital to health and well-being conducted using AmeriSpeak’s probability-based panel.

About the Social Data Collaboratory
NORC’s Social Data Collaboratory maintains an ongoing collection of health-related content from Twitter’s Historic PowerTrack.

About NORC at the University of Chicago
NORC at the University of Chicago is an objective, non-partisan research institution that delivers reliable data and rigorous analysis to guide critical programmatic, business, and policy decisions. Since 1941, NORC has conducted groundbreaking studies, created and applied innovative methods and tools, and advanced principles of scientific integrity and collaboration. Today, government, corporate, and nonprofit clients around the world partner with NORC to transform increasingly complex information into useful knowledge.

Contact: For more information, contact Eric Young at NORC at young-eric@norc.org or (703) 217-6814 (cell).