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CAF Policy Team

A champion for charities

Charities Aid Foundation


11 October 2017

Although globally there has been a decrease in generosity since our last report, Africa has bucked this trend as the only continent to see an increase in giving.  This year’s study highlights the potential for fast growing emerging economies to drive a ‘golden age of generosity.’

For eight years, CAF’s World Giving Index has provided a clear breakdown of charitable giving across the World. Giving and generosity can manifest itself in a number of different activities, so in order to understand giving in its various forms the report looks at three aspects of giving behaviour – helping a stranger; donating money to charity and volunteering.  

This year sees a general global decrease across all three of our measures of giving. The biggest declines are in the helping a stranger and donating money to charity, both decreasing by 1.8 percentage points.


Although it has retained its top ranking, Myanmar’s score is five percentage points lower than last year’s report, slipping from 70% back down to 65%, in line with its score in 2013 and 2014. This lower score is generated by fewer people claiming to have helped a stranger or volunteered their time in the month prior to interview. The proportion of people in Myanmar who donated money is unchanged since last year at 91%.

It may be surprising that Myanmar ranks first in global generosity.  In 2015, the National League for Democracy came to power, overthrowing a 25 year military dictatorship. This change in government has not been smooth, with conflict arising in the country throughout 2016, resulting in allegations of serious human rights abuses against displaced Rohingya Muslims.  Although the WGI does not comment on these events in the report, we are all shocked at the reports of human rights abuses coming out of Myanmar in recent months. 

In a previous blog post, we discussed potential explanations to why Myanmar is continually coming out on top of the World Giving Index (WGI).  80-90% of Myanmar’s population is Buddhist, with the vast majority following the Theravada branch of the religion.  Followers of this branch of Buddhism take part in small and frequent acts of giving, specifically to support those living a monastic lifestyle.   

Africa is the only continent to increase across all three categories, with eight of the thirteen most improved nations being from the African continent. One particular success was the result of Sierra Leone, which has climbed up the rankings in the helping a stranger category, rising from 8th to first place, with 81% of participants responding that they had helped a stranger in the month prior to the interview. Since 2013, Sierra Leone has undergone a series of crises, such as the 2014 Ebola outbreak, a decline in iron ore prices and a subsequent economic crash in 2015.  However, these events have only served to increase the likelihood of the population to help a stranger, as there was a 19% increase in this category since 2013.  This suggests that a culture of giving can not only endure but find reserves of compassion that ensure communities can be resilient even in desperate times.

Ecuador was the only country to improve in both 2014-2015, and then again in the 2015-2016 period. However, our report suggests that such a large jump in giving this year could be explained by a generous response to the earthquake which struck the country in April 2016.  As discussed in previous World Giving Index reports, it is common to see an increase in charitable giving in times of natural disasters.

This year’s WGI highlights the increasing trend of giving in transitional economies.  The report often confounds assumptions that wealthier nations are the most generous and this years results show that only six members of the G20 club of large economies appear in the list of top 20 countries (Indonesia, United States, Australia, Canada, United Kingdom and Germany). Our data shows that where developed and developing nations decreased in charitable giving over the last year, transition economies grew 0.3 percentage points in giving to charity. Projections by the Brookings institute suggest that 2.4 billion people could transition into the middle classes by 2030.  Building on this, our Groundwork for Growing Giving suggests that if this emerging middle class were to donate just 0.5% of their spending to charitable causes – about the same as the Republic of Korea – it would generate $319 billion a year for civil society organisations.


Due to its population size, China has one of the highest numbers of people reporting that they have donated money. However, it still has one of the lowest participation rates in charitable giving in the world at just 8% of their population donating money to CSOs.  One particular problem in China is a lack of trust in civil society organisations.  A key example of this was after the Sichuan earthquake in 2008, where the government controlled Chinese Red Cross lacked transparency in their governance and were accused of embezzling public donations.  This, coupled with a young woman posing as a Chinese Red Cross employee caused much of the population to question the reliability of civil society organisations in China. However, there may be cause for optimism that the world’s most populous country could become more generous.

China’s overall giving score increased by 14% when compared with last year’s survey.   However, recent changes to charity law in China may see even more significant improvements. This year’s survey was taken before the change to the charity law in China, which now allows domestic charities to publically fundraise and forces charities to be more transparent in their governance.  Our Groundwork for Growing Giving suggests that having good governance and building public trust in civil society are important parts of an enabling environment of giving in society.  With this in mind, it will be interesting to see if this change in the law will caused a more dramatic increase in charitable giving in China in next year’s survey.

A five percentage point decrease in the USA’s overall score is driven by lower levels of donating money (down seven percentage points to 56%) and volunteering time (down five percentage points to 41%). It should be noted that the survey in the USA was conducted in June/July, prior to the election of President Donald Trump.  It will be interesting to draw upon next year’s survey to analyse the impact of Trump’s first year in office will have on US levels of generosity. More widely, it remains to be seen whether there is a relationship between the global shift to populism in politics and a loss of trust in institutions and falling generosity.

There are disparities in levels of giving when it comes to age and gender. Globally, men continue to be more likely to help a stranger than women (except in Moldova, Sweden and Taiwan).  In terms of age, it is the over 50s who have seen the sharpest drop in the helping a stranger category.  While 30-49 year olds remain on top in this category, there has been a 1.7% decrease since 2015. 

There is little difference between men and women when it comes to donating money, with men 0.4 percentage points ahead of women.  This trend is reversed in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, where women give significantly more than men.  Scandinavia is known for its high levels of gender equality, thus suggesting that if efforts to improve gender equality around the world increase, then civil society will benefit and continue to grow. Indeed, analysis of previous WGI data shows this to be the case.

Our data has shown a North South split in terms of charitable behaviour this year, but what really stands out is the potential of increasing the space for civil society in filling the funding gap left behind from aid.  Additionally, this year’s World Giving Index really suggests a coming of age in African giving.  It is inspiring to see that even in the face of devastating disasters, having a culture of giving can bring communities together and ensure a compassionate response.

Amy Shaw