CAF World Giving Report 2021: A Pandemic Special

2 August 2021 | By Edward Drew

For better or worse, there aren’t many aspects of life that the pandemic hasn’t turned on its head – and that includes global trends in generosity. 

Published every year since 2010, the Charites Aid Foundation (CAF) produces the World Giving Index that offers a glimpse into how countries fare comparatively on Helping A Stranger, Donating Money and Volunteering Time, by asking respondents if they had taken part in any of those activities in the last month. 

With the extraordinary events of the pandemic reinforcing the importance of civil society and international collaboration, there are lessons that all charities can learn from reading the latest report.  

So how much has actually changed? In this blog, the Cause4 team respond to the report:


Helping a Stranger

Cause4 Development Associate Erin Hughes recently completed a Degree in Psychology at the Open University, and gave her reflections on the ‘Helping a Stranger’ section of the report:


It is not uncommon in friendly conversation to hear the words ‘these days’ banded about, usually to express the sentiment that the world is just not as ‘good’ as it once was. Included in this is the belief that people are less giving than they used to be. The data in the CAF World Giving Index tells a different story, though. According to the report, more people helped a stranger in 2020 than in any year since 2009. More than half of the world’s adult population helped a stranger last year – that’s over 3 billion people!

Of the ten countries where people were most likely to have helped a stranger, six are on the African continent. At the same time, almost all of the bottom ten countries are in Europe, with the only exceptions being Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan. 

Contrary to the CAF report, which interprets this data in terms of a homogenous ‘African culture’ of compassion based on the philosophy on Ubuntu, the real reasons why these different patterns have emerged across different continents are likely to be as varied and complex as the people to whom they relate. 

There is a wealth of research pointing to cross-cultural differences in helping strangers, which offer fascinating insight into how people can be subtly encouraged to help strangers more. If the charity sector in Europe, where the CAF data appears to suggest we are less helpful towards people we don’t know, is to thrive in the future, the sector will need to strive to understand what barriers to helping might exist, and how they can be overcome.


Donating Money

Development Manager Naomi Chapman reflected on the Donating Money section of the report:


In the Donating Money section, the CAF report highlights the connection between religious attitudes to giving and the percentage of adults donating to charity, as many of the most generous countries also have highly religious populations.

It would be useful to see additional research that investigates not only if someone has donated (as the CAF report does), but the percentage of their income they give per year. 

With religious commitments to giving in faiths including Buddhism (the Theravada branch is mentioned in the report, but all branches share a commitment to Dãna, or generosity); Islam (2.5% of income above the ‘Nisab’ threshold level); and Christianity (10% of income suggested in the Old Testament), it may well be that the strong performance of highly religious countries such as Myanmar and Thailand in this report only grows. 

It is interesting to consider – given the reduction in religious belief in the UK  – how fundraisers can encourage atheistic commitments to giving at a similar level. Some examples exist already, such as the “Giving What We Can Pledge” which commits pledgers to donate 10% of income each year. 

On a different note: all of the European countries in the top ten for donating money have seen a decrease in the proportion of people making donations during 2020. The charity sector must work hard over the next few years to rebuild a culture of individual giving: as members of the public feel more confident in their income, charities should encourage donations by clearly demonstrating impact; building on the sense of community solidarity fostered through the pandemic; and making philanthropy easy and enjoyable for donors.


Volunteering Time

Edward Drew is Development Associate at Cause4 and started in the charity sector through various volunteer fundraising roles. He offers his reflection on the Volunteering Time section of the report:


Volunteering time has consistently remained the most elusive act of ‘generosity’ since the inception of the World Giving Index. A slightly decreasing trend continued in 2020, which, despite the barriers of the pandemic, showed that 1 in 5 people globally had still volunteered their time in the last month (19%). This is in line with the UK where 22% of people said they had.

Indonesia topped the list with 60% of those surveyed volunteering, which the CAF Report puts down to national enthusiasm for gotong-royong, ‘a practice of mutual aid across islands, ethnicity and religions, particularly during times of emergency’. Indeed, at the start of the pandemic many will remember the local Mutual Aid groups that sprung up from local communities across the UK. 

Volunteering can take many forms, from befriending schemes in your local care home to helping fundraise for a charity – you can read the team’s blog on volunteer fundraising here. However, what remains consistent across volunteer motivations is that people want to feel that they have made a meaningful change to the cause they are devoting time to. Charities should reflect on the volunteers that come through their doors (or otherwise!) and assess whether their volunteers’ expectations are being met, and whether their time is being used most effectively. 

Online volunteer directories like Reach Volunteering and DoIT have made it easier than ever for charities of all sizes to advertise their volunteer vacancies to a wider audience, and charities should try to make use of this. But as we emerge out of the pandemic, charities can again opt for more traditional ways of recruiting volunteers. So, stick a poster on the window, and ask that regular supporter in person if they can lend a hand.


What surprised you the most from the World Giving Index 2021? What is your organisation doing differently to harness generosity? Join the conversation at @OfficialCause4



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