Inequality and volunteering – half-formed thought

I’ve just been next door talking to Anjelica Finnegan about philanthropy in the US.  The new NCVO Almanac (p.14) shows a nice bubble chart illustrating how much people in different countries give to charity (as a percentage of GDP).

Americans give a lot.  But it’s worth bearing in mind that they get a tax break everytime they give to charity.  Clothes to the Goodwill?  Tax break.  Endow a chair at Harvard (a private university)?  Tax break.  And if you get a tax break, you sure as hell get counted in the official statistics. 

Even so, Americans do give a lot.  Could inequality be a contributing factor?  In the foreword to the NCVO Almanac “Participation: trends, facts and figures,”  Stuart Etherington says: “As some in the sector have highlighted, it is concerning that the proportions of people giving time or money are static – and over a longer timeframe, fewer people giving more has disguised this.”  In an unequal society, with more super-rich individuals, would that result in more charitable giving?

Of course, it’s a lot more complicated than that.  The US is also a very religious society, and one in which the state has historically provided fewer services and a smaller welfare state than in Western European countries.  Nevertheless, it would be interesting to look at inequality and charitable giving (and volunteering).  Does inequality have a different effect on giving and volunteering than poverty?  Does inequality have different effects on giving than on volunteering?  It might be time to dig out my (OK, my Dad’s…) copy of The Spirit Level again.

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