Reliable giving data is essential to society but hard to find 

René Bekkers

Mirror, mirror, on the wall – who is the most generous of us all? As if it were a beauty contest, journalists often ask us at the Center for Philanthropic Studies which country in Europe gives the highest amounts to charity. 

‘We are one of the most generous countries in Europe!’ the prime minister of the Netherlands proudly stated on national television. He referred to the ‘World Giving Index’, which includes the proportion of the population making gifts to charities in the course of a year. The index, published by the UK’s Charities Aid Foundation, measures financial generosity among citizens by just one question in a global survey conducted by Gallup.

This is a very poor basis to proclaim a top rank in global generosity. We should count not only the proportion of the population making gifts, but also the amounts donated. It is nice if many people pitch in, but small contributions only go so far. Larger contributions help more.

We should also factor in the wealth of nations. Obviously we expect higher contributions per citizen in Switzerland and Sweden than in Spain and Slovakia. A better metric is therefore the total amount donated relative to GDP.

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