Is the ‘Age of Giving’ over?

21 September 2017

Charitable giving across the globe seems to have fallen out of fashion according to the World Giving Index 2017, further fuelling the argument that giving has reached a plateau.

The eighth annual World Giving Index has just been published by CAF, and it makes for gloomy reading. The Index measures the number of people taking part in monetary giving, volunteering and helping a stranger, and is based on a Gallup World Poll of 13 countries, covering 146,000 people. The 2017 report reflects the state of giving in 2016.

The UK has fallen out of the top 10 most generous countries in the world, falling three places to number 11. Giving, volunteering and helping a stranger were all lower this year. This means that the Republic of Ireland is now ranked as the most generous country in Europe.

But it wasn’t just the UK’s giving that took a tumble. Giving was down across the Western/Northern hemisphere, with every Western country in the top 20 showing a decrease in giving. This meant that only 6 countries in the G20 appeared in the top 20 this year, and all posted lower overall scores.

The knock-on effect of this is a lower global giving score, with the proportion of people giving money to charity being the lowest for three years.

In fact the only real success story this year is that giving in Africa has increased across all three behaviours: giving money, volunteering and helping a stranger. After many years of stasis, Africa has, for the second year running, increased its giving (although the continent still posts the lowest score for donated money). In fact, African domination of charitable giving means that twenty percent of this year’s top 20 places were occupied by African nations, with Africa accounting for a majority of the countries on this year’s ‘most improved’ list.

Sir John Low, Chief Executive of the Charities Aid Foundation, commented:

“The big story this year is the amazing rise in giving across Africa. Around the world, economic development is lifting the income of millions of people and it is truly humbling to see that the natural reaction to increasing wealth is to give back to the society that nurtured.”

The top 10 giving countries globally

2016 CAF World Giving Index ranking









New Zealand


United States








United Arab Emirates




So what drives giving across the globe?

In retaining the top spot it has occupied since 2014, Myanmar was the world’s most generous country in 2016 (despite dropping a few percentage points), a fact which CAF puts down to the prevalence of Buddhism in the country. Myanmar’s position is driven primarily by an incredibly high proportion of people donating money, which reflects the strong Theravada Buddhist community with its estimated 500,000 monks receiving support from lay devotees. Last year’s highest giving score for Myanmar was hypothesised by CAF to have been driven by a sense of optimism ahead of the country’s first openly contested election for 25 years (although this was before the escalation of conflict in Myanmar and more recent allegations of serious human rights abuses).

Alongside Africa’s increasing giving profile and Ireland’s strong showing for Europe it might be tempting to suggest that religion plays a strong part in giving, and it surely does, but the equally strong performances of more secular countries such as New Zealand, Australia and the Netherlands seem to contradict such a black and white interpretation.

The first World Giving Index (2010) postulated that charitable giving was linked to happiness, with happy nations being more likely to give than wealthy ones. The analysis showed that the link between the giving of money and happiness is stronger (a coefficient of 0.69) than the link between the giving of money and the GDP of a nation (0.58). Myanmar, however, was recently ranked near the bottom of the global happiness scale, so again a simplistic answer is denied us.

It is more likely that a combination of factors contribute to a culture of giving, and to the breakdown of the same. This leads us to the standout takeaway message from this year’s World Giving Index report: “Generosity should not be taken for granted”. Indeed, John Low concluded that:

“Governments worldwide should make it a priority to encourage giving, build up civil society and seize the opportunity to translate economic development into a culture of generosity that will benefit everyone.”

In last month’s article I argued that a giving standstill could change the shape of the UK charity sector. With these latest revelations about international giving, it appears that the same could well be said of the global giving landscape.



Share this article
Cat Walker

Dr Cat Walker has worked in the UK voluntary sector for the last 17 years, including Charities Aid Foundation where she was Head of Research from 1999-2006, and Directory of Social Change where she was Head of STEAM (Sector Trends Evidence Analysis Metrics) from 2010-2015.

Cat now works as a freelance consultant and is the founder of The Researchery – a policy-focussed, strategic research surgery for those who want to get more out of data for evidence-led social change we can all believe in.

Read more articles by this author


Leave a comment

Your Name:
Your Organisation:
Job Title:
Email Address:
Your comment:

Unless you state otherwise, we will publish your comment on the website
Don't publish my comment

Type the letters you see in this picture to verify that a person is creating this email and not an automated program.

The letters are all lowercase