Giving around the world – how does Canada stack up?

The World Giving Index ranks countries based on citizens’ tendencies to care for others. According to this year’s numbers, Canadians are setting a global example when it comes to donating and volunteering. 

By: /
November 10, 2015
Volunteers sort through donated goods at the Siksika Nation evacuation centre near Gleichen, Alberta, June 24, 2013. Many natives in the area are now living at the evacuation centre after their homes were flooded by the Bow River in southern Alberta. Alberta has called this the worst flood in their history. REUTERS/Todd Korol.

Canada ranks fourth out of 145 countries in the annual World Giving Index (WGI) report released today by the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF). The index measures the propensity of a country to care for people within and beyond its national borders. According to the report, the index is used to gain insight into the scope and nature of giving around the world.

 The index measures a country’s giving capability by using data collected from market research firm Gallup on the basis of three behaviours of giving: helping a stranger, donating money to a charity, or volunteering at an organization. Interviews were self-reported and conducted in 2014. Participants were asked if they had partaken in any of the three giving behaviours in the month prior to the interview.

Canada had one of the highest percentages of volunteerism in the world, ranking fifth with 44 percent of respondents saying that they had volunteered in the last month. The report found that 69 percent of Canadians helped a stranger, while the number of those donating to charities fell from 71 percent last year to 67 percent this year.

Although Canada had an overall ranking of 3rd place last year, Ted Hart, the president of CAF Canada and CEO of CAF America, said that moving one or two spots has more to do with how other countries are growing and shifting than Canada itself.

“Canada, not being one of the largest countries population-wise, is a country that cares for others. It cares for others within Canada [and] Canada has a long tradition of caring for others outside Canada,” says Hart.

This tradition of generosity known to be a Canadian trait has been challenged recently in international media when the death of Alan Kurdi sent shockwaves around the world; it was later discovered that the Kurdi family had been seeking asylum in Canada. Hart says that the WGI shows that Canadians still remain a strong and giving people and the index tells a more long-term story. Canada has consistently ranked in the Top 10 of the list since its creation in 2010.

Two of the strongest determinants of a country’s standing in the WGI are the economic and cultural factors within a country. A country that is doing well financially is likely to move up against poorer countries, according to Hart, while a slow down in the economy could make people increasingly introspective and focused on their families.

However, cultural and religious practices have the power to trump even the strongest economies. Only five countries in the Group of 20 (G20) were listed in the Top 20 countries in the WGI. Myanmar, the number one ranked country in the 2015 WGI, provides an interesting case study and “confounds assumptions about the association between wealth and generosity,” according to the report.

Despite being classified by the World Bank as Lower Middle Income, Myanmar has consistently topped the WGI. The report suggests that because most people in Myanmar follow Theravada Buddhism and practice Sangha Dana, the act of giving and generosity are naturally encouraged in their culture and done routinely.

Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan also saw large improvements in this year’s index because of religion. Many of the interviews conducted in these countries were either during or just after the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, where giving is particularly encouraged and actively sought.

Considering Canada is so diverse, Canada’s high rates of giving may be less attributed to a single religion and more to the nature of what it means to be Canadian. Hart believes that the index shows how “consistent the philanthropic sector is in Canada,” and demonstrates that Canadian donors have a strong culture of giving in a thriving charitable sector.

When asked about what Canadians can improve on, Hart suggested that “public expressions of philanthropy” could help to inspire others.

“I say perhaps more philanthropists tell their story in a way to be instructive for future generations,” says Hart, “and to be inspiring to others who may be considering joining them as philanthropists.”

Other highlights in this year’s report included a global increase in donations (up 3.2 percent since 2013), men being more likely to donate than women (a first since 2008), and an increase in young people aged 15-29 contributing in all three areas of giving since they had a fallback in last year’s index.