The Common Good

A Charitable Disconnect?

Something’s wrong here: The United States is the most charitable nation in the world, and yet nearly half of Americans are classified as poor/low income, with 16 percent now living below the poverty line.

This week, the Charities Aid Foundation released the 2011 World Giving Index, a comprehensive study that ranks countries by their generosity. The study, gleaned from 150,000 interviews with participants in 153 nations, focused on three categories:  monetary donations, time spent volunteering, and willingness to help a stranger.

This year, the United States topped the list, up from fifth place in 2010.

While the amount of money Americans give to charity has not increased markedly, the study found a 4 percent increase in volunteering time, and an 8 percent increase in helping a stranger. (While this may not seem like drastic change, one percent means thousands of people.)

Overall, the study found that:

  • two-thirds of Americans have donated to charity
  • 43 percent have volunteered their time
  • 73 percent have helped a stranger.
  • worldwide giving increased less than 1 percent in the last year (from 31.6 percent in 2010 to 32.4 percent in 2011)
  • while the monetary donations have dropped across the board, volunteering time and helping strangers has increased
  • giving money and volunteer time is increasingly popular in the oldest age group (over 50), and
  • helping strangers is most common among the middle aged (25 – 34 years old).

Read the full report here.

The World Giving Index and its findings beg us to consider what charity and giving mean; how people of faith can best give generously within their means; and what these studies might teach us about ourselves and our world.

The most generous country in the world shouldn’t abide half of its citizens living in poverty.


Joshua Witchger is an editorial web assistant for Sojourners. Follow Joshua on his blog, Hail Fellow, Well Met.


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