StoriesEvents GivingEveryTuesday

A Closer Look at Informal Giving, Mutual Aid, and Community Care in a Global Context

1 Apr 2022 by GivingTuesday

A holistic approach to measuring generosity requires looking beyond financial transactions. If we continue to look at “giving” as being defined as monetary transactions between donors, institutional foundations and registered charities, we’re looking at only a small piece of the full picture. The world of giving is interconnected and interdependent, involving human behavior, cultural traditions, giving efforts both structured and unstructured, and grassroots leadership, all of which have enormous daily, local, and global impact. 

In our latest brief, the GivingTuesday Data Commons investigated community care, mutual aid, and other types of informal giving within the United States, Canada, Mexico, United Kingdom, Brazil, India, and Kenya. The brief provides our first broad view of patterns of nonmonetary generosity around the world. 

The concepts of community care and mutual aid, while popularized in mainstream media during the pandemic, have been around for thousands of years in various iterations across cultures around the world. Capturing what this type of informal giving encompasses, who it serves, and how it manifests in communities will be vital to the sector’s understanding of how generosity is expressed. 

The pandemic gave us an opportunity to see this ecosystem—which doesn’t operate within the traditionally defined social sector—in a much more pronounced way. This crisis has put a spotlight on how crucial these community care networks are for providing healing and supporting a thriving and more connected society.

The term community care typically refers to the voluntary exchange of resources and services between community members to provide support for those who need it. It enables people to pool resources to share collectively. These resources could be food, clothes, diapers, money, or virtually anything that can be shared. 

From self help groups in India to block clubs in Chicago to sponsoring a family member’s education in Kenya, informal, unincorporated giving happens in all kinds of different ways depending on where you are in the world. Other types of giving that we consider as falling under this category include: child or senior care collectives, bail funds, rent relief, community fridges, meal trains for sick neighbors, and “paying it forward.” Most of these types of giving are borne from cultural or religious traditions that emphasize community over the individual, a sense of togetherness, and sometimes a duty to society. In the case of mutual aid, this kind of giving is political, focused on redistribution of wealth and power and upending violent systems of oppression. 

In the brief, we present some examples of informal giving from around the world, stories from people who participate in informal giving, and country-level data on how people are giving both formally and informally. 

Key takeaways:

  • In many countries giving tends to happen through unincorporated networks rather than registered organizations. Indeed, in places that exhibited strong cultures of giving, the mechanisms are often not dominated by nonprofit organizations or registered charities.
  • The survey results cast a different light on giving data in the United States. We tend to view the U.S. as the most generous country, but that’s incorrect as that view is only looking at one structure of giving that doesn’t exist everywhere else.
  • Participants in mutual aid networks tend to be more philanthropically inclined in general. They are also less likely to see distinctions between various forms of giving or between giving to organizations and other recipients.
  • In most places around the world, generosity is the default behavior, not considered as something extra, it’s ingrained in their cultures and societies.
  • People around the world express their generosity in many ways. No matter where, it is rare that people only give in one way.
  • 12% of respondents indicated they had participated in a mutual aid network in the past 12 months
  • 76% of younger respondents (18-34) agreed with the statement “I prefer to give directly to individuals-in-need, and not via nonprofit organizations, platforms, or websites,” while 46% of those 50+ agreed with the same statement.

This is not to say that one form of giving is preferable over others. On the contrary, understanding the diverse landscape of generosity shows us that encouraging more types of giving begets more giving of all types.

It’s important to note that this is a snapshot of generous behavior and isn’t an exhaustive view of the myriad ways people step up beyond formally recorded actions. This brief is an initial look that helps us understand baseline aspects of mutual care and presents us with additional questions that we are eager to explore with our collaborators across sectors.

GivingTuesday is dedicated to leading further exploration of the topic. The GivingTuesday Data Commons will deploy and release weekly survey data in 2022 that will illuminate a wider range of giving behaviors and provide useful data and insights for nonprofits, funders, researchers, and community organizers.

Find the full report here.


Join us Thursday, April 14th at 1pm ET / 5pm GMT for a discussion on the history and traditions of giving in communities, how people organize around their giving – and how they think about the impact of mutual aid and direct community care, and problems with being prescriptive with how we measure impact. Register here.

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