Is South Africa Still A ‘Nation of Givers’?

volunteering philanthropy donors giving
Tuesday, 31 January, 2012 - 08:49

In this article, the author takes a closer look at philanthropy and giving behaviours in South Africa. The country’s poor ranking on the World Giving Index 2011 does not mean that South Africans are not involved in giving and or volunteering 

In December 2011, the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF UK) released the second edition of a world survey on giving and voluntarism. The ‘World Giving Index 2011’ shows that the United States of America is the most charitable country, while Ireland is ranked second and Australia third. This Index is the most globally inclusive study into altruistic behaviour, covering 153 countries.  The report shows that the world has become a more generous place over the last 12 months – with a two percent increase in the global population ‘helping a stranger’ and a one percent increase in people volunteering. However, the worldwide financial turmoil is almost certainly the reason that percent fewer people have given money to a nonprofit or charitable organisation in 2011.

South Africa is not favourably ranked in this study, as we are placed 108 out of the 153 countries surveyed. This ranking seems to contradict a 2005 national study on giving (the most recent in-depth national research available) which suggested that SA is a ‘Nation of Givers’, and that a potential 93 percent of respondents gave either money, time or in-kind contributions.

Giving behaviours are complex social phenomena, particularly in multicultural and increasingly inequitous SA, and therefore notoriously difficult to quantify accurately. For example, if we consider various estimates of the national rate of volunteering: the 2011 World Giving Index reports a South African volunteering rate of 14 percent, the ‘Nation of Givers’ study reported that 17 percent of South Africans volunteer, while the new Statistics SA volunteering survey calculates a volunteering rate of only 3.5 percent of the working age population.

The Stats SA study has been criticised for failing to survey the particular giving behaviours that take place within poor communities. In addition, the Stats SA study overlooked the substantial contributions made through employee community involvement – the corporate-sponsored contributions of working people.

Susan Wilkinson-Maphosa’s respected indigenous research into giving in SA and the region has revealed the rich and long-established traditions in philanthropy that exist.  (Susan Wilkinson-Maphosa ‘The Poor Philanthropist’)

Because the term ‘philanthropy’ is not universally popular with Africans, and does not capture the range of nuances of giving which exist, an emerging body of literature on philanthropy in Africa uses the terms ‘help, solidarity or philanthropy of community’. This refers to giving by many, particularly the marginalised or the poor, to other poor individuals of their community.

Among African communities in which there is a strong religious presence; Christianity, Islam, and Hindus, all subscribe to beliefs that prescribe helping individuals who are less fortunate. This has been recognised by some African states (for example Kenya in the 1960s) as a means of mobilising communities to pool resources for local development. It may be that South Africa could adopt this model to augment established local economic development initiatives. In addition to the potential increase in development resources, this model of community development should increase social cohesion and/or social capital. As a proven indicator of social cohesion, social capital is increasingly viewed (by socio-economic analysts) as one of the preconditions for democracy and development.

Another critical area of South African giving which would not be revealed through the Gallup Poll data, are the myriad independent foundations established by wealthy South Africans. In addition to foundations established by liberal white people under apartheid, since the 1994 democratic elections a growing number of newly-wealthy black Africans are practicing various forms of organised philanthropy. Much of this giving takes place privately, without publicity, and for the benefit of rural home communities.

In order to provide a current and reliable basis for national policy and planning it is imperative that we have new studies to quantify and understand South African giving behaviours. For example, recent Australian research revealed that over Aus$ 20 million (R160 million) per annum is contributed through payroll giving by 11 million employed Australians. Here in South Africa, we unfortunately do not have regular measuring of the scale and value of employee community involvement.  For example, according to Stats SA there are 13 million employed people in South Africa. This is a significant, largely untapped and definitely overlooked collective resource for development.  The latest edition of the prestigious CSI Handbook estimates that 76 percent of South African corporates support some form of employee involvement (up from 63 percent in 2008). But currently only an estimated 22 percent of companies support payroll giving - which at this stage has the most likely developmental potential. More work is necessary to establish payroll giving as an accepted aspect of corporate social responsibility and concomitant development resource.

CAF Southern Africa is currently fundraising to conduct a national study on individual giving and voluntarism, with a specific focus on employee contributions. Our study will be undertaken by well-regarded local researchers and will use innovative and culturally-sensitive instruments to measure and analyse the entire spectrum of uniquely South African practices of giving and volunteering. As a highly unequal developing economy, we need this information in order to influence the policy environment, promote giving behaviours, improve impact and link ‘philanthropic’ resources to processes of economic advancement and positive social change.

For more about the World Giving Index 2011, refer to

- Colleen du Toit is chief executive officer at CAF Southern Africa.

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