Giving without frontiers

Cathy Pharoah

Global markets bring individuals from different nation states into ever closer economic, social and political relationships with each other. The creation of a global civil society is an integral part of these burgeoning, if as yet embryonic, new relationships. How ready are individual citizens to support a global civil society?

The concept of a global civil society involves considerably more than aggregating the activities of individual organizations in different countries. It involves a recognition that many issues such as poverty, peace and environmental sustainability can be tackled only at an international level. Civil society is likely to have a central role in fostering mutual awareness and promoting understanding at a global level.

Total cross-border philanthropic flows

Recent research commissioned by CAF from the Johns Hopkins Institute provides some estimates on total philanthropic funds (government, corporate, foundation and individual) flowing from one country to another for four major donor countries: US, UK, Japan and Germany.

Total outflows from major donor countries
Country US$ billion 
 Total  11
 US  5.6
 Germany 2.5
 Japan  1.3
 UK  1 (approx)*

*  British figures would be boosted if the £375 million grants from the British Council and university grants (fees and grants for British researchers and students in other countries) were included.

Within these broad figures, the private support element of cross-border flows is quite small. Figures available for Japan indicate that about 2.2 per cent of all outflows came from private individuals and about 25 per cent from foundations. In the US about 6 per cent came from foundations and as much as 10 per cent from private individuals, largely collected by philanthropic intermediary organizations, particularly of the ‘Friends of’ type.[1]

Individual support through international non-profits

A slighlty different picture emerges if you look at individual support for international organizations. UK international fundraising charities get a substantial 33 per cent of their income from private giving, about £380 million. New research from CAF will show that private UK trusts and foundations make about £98 million of grants to overseas causes, 6 per cent of their overall grantmaking. International organizations raise large amounts from private contributions in the various countries in which they operate. UNICEF, for example, raises US$56 million in Germany, $23.4 million in Italy and in Luxembourg, and $2.1 million in Spain. Greenpeace has a similar range, from $37.8 million in Germany to $9 million in the UK.

Evidence of country variations in levels of international activity comes from other sources. The JHI international comparative research, for example, shows international activity among NPOs ranging from 0.3 per cent of all activities in the US to 2.6 per cent in Spain.

Public attitudes

Recent evidence from the Eurobarometer (1998)[2] shows considerable variation in the extent to which humanitarian aid is seen as the responsibility of associations (NPOs), ranging from 35 per cent in Germany to only 5 per cent in Ireland. There was a similar range of views on whether responsibility for the disadvantaged and excluded lies with governments, associations or corporates. Only 4 per cent of the population in Portugal see it as an association responsibility, compared to 11 per cent in Spain, 24 per cent in Italy and 25 per cent in Luxembourg.

There also seems to be considerable variation in views on what are appropriate activities for the non-profit sector. Strikingly, within Europe as a whole culture and leisure activities appear most likely to be regarded as suitable areas for non-profit activity. Over two-fifths (42 per cent) of a 15-country sample said culture and leisure activities should be carried out by ‘associations’. The next largest category was the care of children or the elderly, favoured by an average of 14 per cent. Environment scored even lower at 8 per cent, with health at a mere 4 per cent. These findings suggest that culture and leisure activities would be most likely to attract pan-European support, but this does not sit well with the main activities of the non-profit sector in many countries, where NPOs are largely concerned with social care, education or health activity. Would it be difficult to develop a pan-European consensus for support for such social welfare activities?

Domestic concerns tend to take precedence in people’s minds, and the public does not identify its own, for example, unemployment problems with those of nearby similarly  placed neighbours. But a fundraising survey carried out by WW Rapp in five European countries found that at most 40 per cent of people were willing to fund needs in other countries but this figure rises dramatically if other was not seen as ‘Europe’ but as the third world.

The ‘implicit’ global civil society

It is also worth noting the high, if implicit, acceptance within our multicultural societies that donations to charities are for the benefit of all clients. In many countries donors are well aware that when they give to needs such as poverty, education, health and social care they are giving to many people who have come from other countries as refugees or recent immigrants and whose rights are often poorly established. Many donors themselves come from non-indigenous or mixed race backgrounds. Many governments and other funders now insist that the organizations they fund have equal opportunities policies towards staff and clients — and many of these organizations also attract substantial individual support.

In this sense, people are already giving without frontiers and accepting that need does not fit into national boundaries. To this extent civil society is already global — although individual supporters may not see it this way. Sadly, organizations that do explicitly support minority ethnic communities often find it hard to attract funding. Civil society organizations need to raise these debates.

The challenge for civil society

Turning the small but not insignificant trickle of private support for global needs and causes into a flood of support presents a huge challenge. It is unlikely to happen without some strong proactive effort. There are clearly wide variations between countries both in public attitudes towards international causes and in levels of support for international activities. Some comfort can perhaps be drawn from the very fact of this variation: to some extent it is likely to be ad hoc, and the evidence of success in international fundraising by some organizations in some places suggests that there is scope for considerably more activity.

However, NPOs themselves will need to begin to set the agenda, to raise public awareness of the ways in which needs and people themselves cross frontiers, and of the way in which solving problems in one country has an impact on others. Organizations in different countries need to develop joint programmes for which they can approach private funders, both institutional and individual.

Awareness, however, is only one side of the coin. The other is mechanisms for collecting and handling transactions at a global level. The fundraising success of the big international organizations shows the value of the intermediary role in raising funds for activity in other countries, as does the evidence from the Johns Hopkins Institute research. For individuals to get involved in global civil society involves a leap of faith and a step into the unknown. It is unlikely to happen without the development of a stronger global non-profit sector infrastructure.

Cathy Pharoah is Head of Research at CAF. She can be contacted via email at

1  ‘Friends of’ organizations are organizations set up specifically as intermediaries to collect funds from a variety of sources for a particular cause or interest, eg Jewish people living in Israel.

2  The Eurobarometer is a survey commissioned by the European Commission to track a number of cross-European attitudes to European issues and citizenship.

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