With a few exceptions, most of Europe lags behind in the kind of charitable giving that has made the US one of the most generous nations in the world – generosity that will be on display on this third annual #GivingTuesday.
But as the holidays approach, some European countries are embracing the notion of giving back by joining the global giving bonanza gaining momentum worldwide.
Britain is making its first foray into #GivingTuesday, becoming the 28th country to do so. It joins Ireland, the continent’s most generous nation which is also launching its first campaign this year, and Spain, which participated last year, in celebrating philanthropy instead of the mass consumerism that has come to signify the start of the holiday season.
#GivingTuesday was started in New York in 2012 by the 92nd Street Y and has spread from Canada to Colombia, from Singapore to El Salvador and a host of other countries. Hailed as “a call to action to celebrate giving,” the campaigns provide an alternative to the bargain-hunting frenzy of Black Friday and Cyber Monday – post-Thanksgiving traditions that the UK has also imported from the US.
The Charities Aid Foundation (CAF), an organization that encourages giving, is spearheading the first effort in the UK with support from software provider, Blackbaud, according to CAF spokesman, Ben Russell. More than 700 partners signed up to participate in the inaugural event.
“It’s an opportunity for people to organize their own events, to talk about charities and good causes and what they care about,” Mr. Russell says.
CAF measures charitable behavior by asking people if they recently donated to charity, volunteered their time, or helped a stranger. In all, it ranked 135 countries based on a Gallup survey representing 94 percent of the population, or roughly 4.96 billion people.
Britain earned a 7th place ranking, along with Malaysia, on this year’s World Giving Index and second place in northern Europe after Ireland, which came in 4th overall.
Globally, the most common way of giving is helping a stranger, and Americans – roughly 203 million last year – were more likely than any other nationality to do just that, according to an index produced by CAF. The US is the only country ranked in the top 10 for all three types of generosity. It shared the top spot with Myanmar, where 91 percent of people said they had given to a charity in the previous month.
The UK tied for 4th place with Ireland in financial donations with 74 percent, according to CAF, and in 2012-13 British adults donated an estimated £10.4 billion ($16.3 billion). Eight European countries, including Germany and Finland, rank in the top 20 of the most giving nations.
But British charitable numbers may be set to improve as individuals and charities throw their weight behind #GivingTuesdayUK, with many mounting sleek social media campaigns.
One idea encourages people to post a video recording of their particular talent, like singing on stage, and then asks potential viewers to donate to a cause before they can watch. Another asks people to post an “UNselfie,” a self-portrait declaring one’s cause and the manner of participation.
Businesses are offering matching donations – a popular way to give to charity in Britain – or pledging paid volunteer days to employees, while English actresses like Dame Helen Mirren and Joanne Froggatt of Downton Abbey are lending their celebrity power.
Ms. Mirren, for example, acts as ambassador for Age UK, which warns that “Over the last 10 years a staggering quarter of a million older people have died from the cold – 1 older person every 7 minutes.” The group's campaign urges people to check on their neighbors this winter, given that “1.7 million older people in the UK can’t afford to heat their homes, and over a third (36 percent) say they live mainly in one room to save money.”
“People tend to give when they connect personally with people or a cause,” Russell says. “Social media is brilliant at this.”