Volunteering for a cause, donating to a GoFundMe campaign, buying from businesses that support charities – these kinds of activities are an integral part of society’s fabric today, but are often overlooked. New survey findings from CivicScience show that providing mutual aid – “giving back” – is becoming increasingly important to Americans, despite the pressures of inflation and COVID-19.

Volunteerism continues to climb upward into Q2 and stay ahead of pre-pandemic levels. Around half of U.S. adults say they participate in volunteer work, with a larger percentage reporting they do so every month or more (26%). In total, more people are likely to volunteer today than they were before the pandemic.

Two insights discovered in our report on mutual aid earlier this year were that the noticeable upswing in mutual aid is largely being led by one, adults under the age of 35; and two, people living in households who have contracted COVID-19. That prompts a closer look at what may be driving these groups to lend a hand.

In a survey of more than 2,300 adults, the majority of people identified the primary reasons they volunteer are to support causes they feel strongly about and to help people and communities.

However, younger adults are nearly three times as likely than those over the age of 35 to volunteer for the social aspect.

Given the lower levels of job happiness reported by remote workers (remote workers skew younger), which is likely linked to a sense of social isolation, volunteering may offer a welcomed opportunity for a social activity that also aligns with the strong purpose-driven values seen among younger adults. In fact, remote workers over-index when it comes to volunteerism; they’re nearly 60% more likely than office workers to volunteer on a regular basis.

Help Is On the Way

Donations are another important way to give back and provide support. CivicScience data show that donating is on the rise as well. 

Humanitarian aid tops the list, with 64% of U.S. adults saying they donate to health and human service non-profits annually – up from 53% this time last year.

The humanitarian crisis resulting from the war in Ukraine is a major part of this dialogue. Perhaps a bright spot in the midst of a distressing news cycle, a recent survey shows that close to 30% of U.S. adults have made a donation to aid the people of Ukraine, while an additional 22% plan to donate.

A closer look shows that more than 40% have donated through a non-profit organization, such as Red Cross, UNICEF, or Doctors Without Borders. A smaller – but still critical – avenue to collect donations for Ukraine is through crowdfunding platforms or fundraisers on social media (which tend to go hand-in-hand), such as the GoFundMe campaign set up by celebrities Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher which managed to raise millions. 

Young adults are also leading the charge. A full 45% of Gen Z adults and 34% of Millennials surveyed have made donations to aid Ukraine.

A Deeper Dive Into Donations

The other sources for donations not accounted for in the Ukraine survey could include donations to businesses that serve as intermediaries, such as grocery stores that prompt donations at checkout.

Nearly twice as many people today are choosing to regularly donate money at checkout compared to Q2 of last year.

Online businesses may also provide opportunities to donate to charities, such as Amazon and the ‘AmazonSmiles’ program or PayPal and ‘PayPal Giving Fund’. Nearly one-third of people who shop online and/or use apps have made a donation through a business, and the majority say they would do so again.

Finally, cryptocurrency – which has a shadowy history of use on the black market – is also being used as a force for good, offering a new and emerging way to fund mutual aid. Although still niche, 7% of respondents have made charitable donations through cryptocurrency and the majority have done so multiple times. That’s not insignificant, considering that 21% of adults have experience with crypto, as per April numbers from CivicScience.

All in all, mutual aid – whether in the form of volunteering or donating – appears to be increasingly important to Americans and this growth is largely being driven by young adults. This is likely indicative of a culture of heightened social awareness, as well as a desire to engage and impact society, which has enormous implications for brands and businesses.

However, other factors could be fueling the differences between age groups as well, such as concerns about donation scams and distrust in non-profit organizations to use funds appropriately, which likely has a hand in keeping more people from making donations.