The world through a lens: three ideas from the 2016 CAF World Giving Index

October 31, 2016

The annual publishing of the CAF World Giving Index always gives me pause to reflect on my own international priorities, taking a step back from the reactive approach that governs so many global prospect lists. The reach of philanthropy thankfully continues to grow, and effectively deploying insights into where we should be focusing our efforts is key to any successful international fundraising strategy.

The CAF World Giving Index is but one of a growing number of resources looking at charitable giving trends worldwide. The challenge is knowing what weight to give each new resource, and how best to combine this with institutional knowledge, data, and budget to draw the ‘right’ conclusions. Viewed in silo, the CAF World Giving Index could after all result in that planned visit to Hong Kong being cancelled to focus all resources on building a prospect pool in Myanmar (#1 in the index for the 3rd year running), and I struggle to think of any institution for which this would be an accurate and appropriate course of action!

For those with a dedicated research team and resources to conduct all manner of sophisticated analysis, I strongly recommend you take a look at the ‘Philanthropy For Us’ report that our Associate, Jason Briggs, compiled at the University of Sheffield.

If, however, you find yourself reading this year’s giving index as I did – grabbing a spare moment on a train or during a lunch break – you may be left wondering where on earth to start in filtering these trends through the unique lens of your own international landscape.

So for all those ‘small shops’ out there, here are three conclusions I would be drawing from this year’s World Giving Index:

1. Stop… trying to engage ALL of China

Given the sheer scale of China, it is perhaps unsurprising that it ranks bottom for the proportion of people volunteering their time (4%), whilst also ranking 4th by the number of people volunteering time (51 million).

I think every educational institution asks themselves how to truly leverage the potential of China in their alumni and donor engagement, too often seeking to measure success on the number of people engaged in giving, volunteering, or attending events. To me, this data reaffirms that energy will be much better spent identifying the minority segment of the population that genuinely does want to support your objectives and developing a targeted programme to suit their interests and put their skills to use.

2. Start… managing expectations in Latin America and Africa

Naturally, when seeking to expand student recruitment into new markets such as Latin America and Africa, organisations are keen for Development and Alumni Relations to support these efforts by setting up regional groups and establishing locally-funded scholarship programmes.

The first challenge comes from looking inside many databases, which are often lacking in the critical mass needed to build alumni communities. The CAF World Giving Index also highlights a further challenge: countries in Africa and Latin America routinely score lower than other regions when it comes to demonstrating mass philanthropic activity. Encouragingly, this is changing (Africa is up three percentage points on its five-year average), but the change is slow, meaning that extra work is needed to make your case and establish a culture of giving that extends beyond the occasional major gift.

So whilst sometimes it is necessary (and indeed appropriate) for international engagement priorities to be set in response to student recruitment needs, utilise the World Giving Index to demonstrate how the timeframe and success factors may need adjusting to account for the philanthropic climate of each country.

3. Continue… engaging religious and pastoral advocates

This year’s report suggests that this year’s survey coinciding with the holy month of Ramadan may have contributed to the addition of Indonesia and the United Arab Emirates into the Top 10 rankings. Religion is also highlighted as a factor in Myanmar’s ranking, with up to 90% of the population practicing Buddhism.

In my last posting, the Muslim Chaplain was one of my strongest internal advocates. In addition to championing our cause and enabling us to identify and engage key alumni in the Middle East, this relationship highlighted ways in which we could build a fundraising case that positioned Higher Education as a genuine funding priority for supporters seeking to serve their religion through philanthropy.

The connection between religion and education is, of course, a complex one, but if you are struggling to see how the World Giving Index’s insights on religion are relevant to your own institution, I encourage you to broaden your internal networks to see what opportunities could exist for you to realise this potential in a meaningful and authentic way.

My final (and perhaps most encouraging) takeaway from this year’s report is that in spite of challenges within the global economy, the percentage of people donating to charity has increased by 4% since 2011. It is certainly a relief to see the CAF World Giving Index support Graham-Pelton’s post-Brexit mantra – ‘Keep Calm and Carry on Asking’!

The full 2016 CAF World Giving Index can be downloaded here.

– Victoria Barthram, Senior Consultant

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