Is Philanthropy Going Global ?

Puck magazine cartoon from 1901

Understanding different peoples’ attitudes and behaviours towards charity and carrying out charitable acts has long proven to be a subject of interest to academics and researchers. In particular trying to understand why this varies between different countries and why philanthropic acts vary from one place to another is an ongoing topic of interest, not least for Wesley Longhofer (2014) of Goizueta Business School at Emory University. In 2014, Longhofer set out to understand this in greater detail, also looking at how globalisation may also have an impact on this type of behaviour and activities. An example of differences and change in this is given to be that of the existence of foundations, which Longhofer argues were once primarily an American type of entity, but which are now spreading throughout the world. Accounting for these kinds of changes is somewhat challenging.

Longhofer describes two cross-national studies that were carried out into philanthropic activity. The first used a “World Values Survey” to look at the importance of contextual factors. Such factors include areas such as trust, natural disasters and religiosity and their role in philanthropic acts. This study examined the extent to which these factors had an impact on people joining charitable organisations in 35 different countries. The second study that Longhofer reviews looked instead at the spread of grant making organisations in 100 different countries in the 35 year period between 1970 to 2005. This led to Longhofer finding that both studies firmly place charitable activities and philanthropic acts in a so-called “global moral order”. This moral order is explained by Longhofer to “champion virtue” and this view sees voluntary associations, including foundations and charities as being important actors for driving solutions to global problems.

As Longhofer puts it:

“The privatisation of state services, upsurges in private wealth and the heightened visibility of humanitarian crises have likely played important roles.”

As Longhofer (2014) puts it, other researchers have other explanations. For example, Longhofer describes how Hammack and Heydemann suggest that global philanthropy expansion has been driven by events such as the fall of the Soviet bloc. Longhofer explains that these researchers present a view that suggests that this activity led to efforts to improve civil society through both NGOs as well as non-profits. At the same time it is argued that the fall of the Soviet bloc led to an increased acceptance and understanding, and consequently a rise of individual rights. However, overall Longhofer explains that these areas are not well studied and therefore not well understood either.

In particular one of the findings of Longhofer was that global culture is important in shaping philanthropic activities among individuals and organisations. In this regard Longhofer noted that philanthropic acts are spread at least in part due to the fact that organizational structures that they are embedded in are globalizing, so this in turn leads to the globalization of philanthropy. The important point to note here is that organisations and structures that are globally based provide “an important source of empowerment and legitimation for philanthropy that is organised. At the same time however, Longhofer found that the relationship between world society and global philanthropy is not one way only. It was also found that foundations those organisations awarding grants are not “ordinary actors”, rather they are commonly made up of prestige ant elites that help to “guide a liberal and progressive world society”.

In addition Longhofer reviewed the role of the global humanitarian system and how this operates between countries. Longhofer’s findings somewhat support the idea that the Soviet bloc breakdown has led to more charity at least in the sense that he explains that the humanitarian system has grown both in size and scope since the end of the Cold War. However, one of the problems identified by Longhofer of studying this area is a general lack of information about humanitarian organisations, particularly with regard to numbers of people and budget size.

The encouraging point about the study of Longhofer and similar studies is that charitable acts and philanthropy appear to be growing, whatever the reasons. They are seen as an important way by which to demonstrate reciprocity and social solidarity. It will be interesting to see if in the future academics and researchers become better able to pinpoint the reasons why charity and philanthropy spreads so that these can be leveraged for further growth for the benefit of those in need.

Another example contributing to the debate of philanthropy in current times, is the following talk, given by Katherine Fulton. In it, the scholar traces the new future of philanthropy — one where collaboration and innovation allow regular people to do big things, even when money is scarce. Giving five practical examples of crowd-driven philanthropy, she calls for a new generation of citizen leaders.