Carnegie. Gates. Rockefeller. Buffett. Daniels. Penrose. Depending on where you live, some may be household names for many Americans. Yet we often forget how our country’s culture of philanthropy is unique. What seems normal and natural to us is still a tiny fraction of economies across the globe.
Why are charitable donations so much lower in many foreign countries? Part of the answer is that most countries lack the charitable infrastructure we enjoy here in the United States. Things we take for granted, such as tax deductions, United Ways, and a plethora of private and public foundations, simply do not exist in many nations.
However this is starting to change. The Philadelphia Inquirer recently highlighted a program at the University of Pennsylvania designed to introduce American philanthropy to Chinese officials interested in developing a culture of giving.
What was the biggest difference between the two countries? In one word: oversight. As Michael Fischer notes, the Chinese officials could not believe how loose American government controls of nonprofits appear:
“They kept asking the same question that they couldn’t believe our answer to: ‘Tell us again’ how the government controls your nonprofits and philanthropic organizations,’” said the school’s Dean, Richard Gelles. “When we said they are required to file a [Form] 990 and to abide by the tax code, they couldn’t believe that the controls are that loose.”
While it is apparent the Chinese philanthropic sector will not be taking off any time soon, the program provided the officials an opportunity to hear about our country’s effective system of philanthropic giving. Moreover, for us Americans, the story is a tale of just how unique our culture of philanthropy really is.
Want to learn more about international differences in philanthropic giving? Check out these links below to read more:
- The 2011 World Giving Report (UPDATED: The 2018 World Giving Index) – The largest study of charitable behavior across the globe
- The 2012 Global Philanthropy Forum – The Forum took place in mid-April 2012, however you can watch many of the presentations online