World Giving Index Underscores Need for Better Data

Global Philanthropy
Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Co-authored by Mark Sidel, Senior Fellow, TPI and Professor of Law, University of Iowa

The Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) recently released a World Giving Index 2010. The raw data included in the report is informative and valuable, and we are grateful to CAF and to Gallup – who gathered the data through their WorldView Poll – for bringing the data to the public’s attention.  We are additionally grateful to CAF for continuing to shine a spotlight on the role and value of philanthropy in society; something they have done effectively for many years.

To create a World Giving Index from the raw data contained in the report is perplexing, and potentially harmful to our understanding of the rich, diverse, and complex ways that philanthropic giving is practiced around the world. 

 The index is based upon three available but arbitrary data points on charitable and compassionate behaviors: the number of individuals who have undertaken, over the previous month, to (1) donate money to an organization; (2) volunteer time to an organization, and/or (3) help a stranger who needed help.  This extremely limited set of data is hardly sufficient to “establish a rounded measure of charitable behaviour across the world.”   For example,

  1. The index does not consider the far more diverse range of charitable and philanthropic practices and behaviors that take place within various cultures and countries. (for example, giving from institutions, giving to individuals, or – if one is to include helping a stranger – helping someone you know)  
  2. The index gives  equal weight to the charitable behaviors surveyed – both within and among each category – without regard to any quantitative dimension (e.g., the amount of a donation; the level of time volunteered; or the frequency of helping someone)
  3. The index does not consider an act of giving in relation to one’s ability to give. (Indeed, a small gift of time or money may well represent greater generosity than a mega-gift if considered in light of one’s ability to give.)

There is a paucity of data on philanthropic giving around the world.  In most countries, neither governments nor private organizations collect or make available important data on philanthropy and social investment. Cultural traditions and political sensitivities further restrict and inhibit the sharing of information about philanthropic giving. With few exceptions, there has been little attempt to quantify the volume of giving, classify its purposes, or seek to understand its current and potential impact.  Moreover, given the different methodologies of existing studies, data is seldom comparable within or across regions. 

There are several promising initiatives – national, regional, and global - underway to help fill the knowledge and data gaps.  At the global level, The Worldwide Initiatives for Grantmaker Support (WINGS) will soon publish a preliminary study exploring institutional giving around the world.  The Foundation Center has begun to track global grantmaking in several countries.  The Global Philanthropic Capital Project, led by a consortium of global philanthropic experts and coordinated by The Philanthropic Initiative and the Salzburg Global Seminar, is developing a framework and methodology to map institutional philanthropic capital in a systematic, reliable, and globally comparative manner.  Each of these efforts, along with the work of CAF and many others, will help to develop a careful, comprehensive understanding of global giving.

We hope that CAF’s report stimulates greater dialogue and more research around the diverse and rich practice of global philanthropy.  We also fervently hope that analysis and conclusions around global giving follow, and not precede, the development of the reliable data upon which they must be formed.