When it comes to charitable giving, cash is king.

It’s been a big year for charity organizations in America.

Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria sparked massive, nation-wide relief efforts, as non-profits like the Red Cross partner with corporations and state and local governments to raise record funds for hurricane relief efforts — funds that can be vital to a region’s post-disaster recovery.

But what does the average American think about charitable giving? Those who’ve given to charity — any charity — sometime in the past year?

To paint a better picture of how Americans think and behave when it comes to charitable giving, Haven Insights surveyed 350 Americans about their experience (or lack of) with charitable giving. Here’s what we learned.

Most Recognizable Charitable Organizations

The Red Cross is the most well-known charitable organization in the United States.

For all U.S.givers, the Red Cross, Salvation Army, and Goodwill — in that order — are the top three most recognizable charity organizations. Millennials are also very familiar with the Salvation Army and the Red Cross, but St. Jude’s Research Hospital takes third place in terms of awareness for those between the ages of 18 and 34.

In recent months, the Red Cross has come to national attention as controversy swirls around its reliability as an aid organization following natural disasters. In the wake of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, givers in the United States are more concerned than ever about the impact potential of their dollar.

Donation Channels

Ask the average American whose given to charity how prefer to give, and they’re most likely to answer “cash.”

It does come down to dollars — and cents — for many Americans, according to national trends. Thirty-eight percent of all charitable givers in the U.S. prefer to donate in cash. Millennials’ preferences for giving follow similar patterns to their older counterparts — they are most likely to have given in-person by handing over cash to a charitable organization.

“Millennials’ preferences for giving follow similar patterns to their older counterparts: they are most likely to give in person by handing over cash to a charitable organization.”

Only five percent of millennials prefer to use an app when they donate — just slightly above the overall total of three percent of givers. Still, the Red Cross, Salvation Army, Goodwill, and St. Jude’s Research Hospital have all promoted their proprietary apps in some form or another this year.

Of course, this doesn’t mean online- and app-based fundraising is not effective. This can be a low-cost way to raise funds fast across a broad population of people. But in-person cash gifts are what many Americans think of and prefer when asked about their charitable giving.


So how can charitable organizations find the most energized givers? As it happens, the site of these natural disasters might be the best place to look.

One in two givers nationwide (51 percent) has reported personal experience with the cause to which they give. Corroborating this finding, givers’ primary motivation to give is the ability to imagine themselves in the same situation.

And just under one in five givers (19 percent) cites guilt or pressure as a motivation to give financially. Meaning that the opportunity is ripe to build donor lists and ultimately bring attention and reconciliation to the areas charitable organizations seek to change.


Non-profits play an important role in post-disaster relief efforts. To maximize their fundraising, non-profit executives should consider the important role that in-person cash giving plays in the minds of Americans who give to charities. And soliciting donors who have personally experienced the hardships associated with specific relief efforts are likely to be more effective than guilt or pressure.

Haven Insights offers professionally-managed market research and custom analytics that empower growing organizations to understand their market, enhance their customers’ experience, and make truly informed decisions with real-world consumer data. For more information about this study, email info@haveninsights.com.