Dr. Gary Tobin: 415 386-2604
Institute for Jewish & Community Research

Even without Disaster Relief, American Mega-Generosity Far Exceeds That of Other Nations
Upcoming Study Shows that American Private Giving Sets Trends for Government Spending

Link to PDF of article: American Mega-Giving: A Comparison to Global Disaster Relief

SAN FRANCISCO, CA, January 13, 2005
An upcoming study, to be published in full in spring 2005 by the San Francisco-based Institute for Jewish & Community Research, finds that the top 6% of annual American charitable contributions exceeds the combined efforts of all other nations to aid victims of the recent Indian Ocean tsunami.

The study, Mega-Gifts in American Philanthropy, Volume II: 2001, by Gary A. Tobin, Alexander C. Karp, and Aryeh K. Weinberg, shows that in 2001 American individuals, corporations, and foundations donated nearly $13 billion in mega-gifts (donations over $1 million) without the impetus of a major disaster, including the attacks of September 11. The total for all tsunami relief, both private and governmental, stands to date at approximately $10 billion.

According to the study, the wealthiest Americans annually donate to charitable causes at levels that other peoples and nations barely reach even in the face of a major crisis such as the tsunami.

“Americans are so generous that every year, a number of single donors give gifts that dwarf the aid offered by other countries to those affected by the tsunami,” said Gary Tobin, one of the authors of the study. “Americans give at emergency levels every day. When the rest of the world has forgotten about this crisis, Americans will keep giving generously to this and thousands of other causes.”

According to Giving USA, published by the American Association of Fundraising Counsel, Americans donated approximately $241 billion in 2003. The next most generous nation, the United Kingdom, donated £7 billion, or approximately $70 billion when adjusted for population differences. France ($20 billion adjusted average 1995-2000) and Germany ($12.25 billion adjusted average 1995-2000) also lag far behind the United States in charitable donations.

Contrary to the tradition of governmental support, which is more pronounced in much of the rest of the developed world, the size and volume of American mega-gifts often creates trends that the American government then follows, according to the Institute’s report. When the news of the tsunami reached American households, individuals, foundations, and corporations donated more than $300 million. The United States government then pledged $350 million.

The report also shows that mega-givers open up entirely new areas of philanthropy, encouraging social awareness and action for previously underrepresented needs. Bill and Melinda Gates donated over $350 million in funding for AIDS research in Africa; the American government followed suit with a multi-billion dollar aid package.

The study shows that Americans also demand accountability for their gifts, especially those sent abroad. According to the report, “financial scandals that have plagued global efforts, including the oil for food scandal of the United Nations and the bloated personal bank account of the likes of Yasser Arafat create great skepticism and caution among donors who want to know that the monies they give will actually go for the intended purposes when they donate internationally.”

According to the report, the recent debate over American generosity points out “a fundamental difference between Americans and the rest of the world regarding the faith that Americans place in individual choice and the resulting moral vision as expressed through philanthropy.”

These findings are based on research conducted under the auspices of the Institute for Jewish & Community Research, San Francisco, an independent, non-partisan think tank, which provides innovative research and pragmatic policy analyses to Jewish and other communities around the world.

Link to PDF

Back to IJCR Home