- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 20, 2019

The U.S. ranks as one of the most giving nations on the planet, despite a report showing charitable donations by individual Americans declining in the past year.

The U.S. is ranked fourth on a list of the most generous nations in a 2018 survey by the Charities Aid Foundation. The Britain-based group surveyed 140,000 individuals from more than 140 countries on whether they have donated money, time or assistance to a stranger.

The top country for all three charitable deeds? Indonesia, where 59% of respondents said they had engaged in a charitable act in the preceding month. Australia, also at 59%, and New Zealand, at 58% with the U.S., followed closely. Yemen ranked last, at 144th.

Rick Dunham, chairman of Giving USA Foundation, points to America’s high participation in faith traditions as the main reason for its gifting.

“You’re taught at a younger age, generally speaking, when you’re growing up in a faith community the idea of stewardship and giving as an organic part of that faith,” Mr. Dunham told The Washington Times.

Greater church attendance generally results in more charitable donations. That may help explain the dip in 2018.

Giving USA announced Tuesday that Americans gave $427.71 billion to charity in 2018, a decline of nearly 2% when factoring in inflation. The organization called it a “complex year” because of a fluctuating stock market and diminished deductions for charitable donations under the tax plan enacted last year.

The Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University reported that 20 million fewer households gave in 2018 than in 2000.

“Giving and attendance at religious services have a high correlation,” Mr. Dunham said. “So with the nonaffiliation numbers going up and attendance going down, there’s a probable cause that the actual practice of giving is going down.”

However, America still ranks high in giving relative to the rest of the world. Over the past five years, the U.S. has been No. 2 when averaging a wide swath of charitable practices, suggesting “giving behaviors are entrenched and relatively stable,” according to the foundation.

In raw numbers, only India bested the U.S., with 191 million Indians giving money to charities, compared with 150 million American donors. The nations with the top scores for helping a stranger were Libya and Iraq, with more than 80% of respondents indicating they had assisted someone they don’t know in the previous year, according to the Charities Aid Foundation.

Americans give predominantly to domestic charities — 94% in 2017. Tax deductions require that nonprofits be established in the U.S. Other countries do not have such limitations.

It’s unclear how the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, pushed by congressional Republicans and signed by President Trump, will impact the strong showing of the U.S. when updated numbers are released in October.

Under the new tax law, standard deductions have doubled, making it less likely that households will itemize deductions including charitable giving. The law effectively removes one incentive for donations to 501(c)(3) organizations such as churches, volunteer fire departments and private foundations such as the Boy Scouts.

But even a small dip likely won’t remove the U.S. from the top spots.

“The United States is often considered the most generous country in the world. Why? Because Americans donate a lot of money,” Jon Clifton wrote in a 2018 Gallup report.

Mr. Clifton reported that America’s people, foundations and companies donated roughly 2% of the country’s gross domestic product in 2017.

According to the Charities Aid Foundation report, less than 60% of Americans surveyed said they had donated money or time or had helped a stranger in the previous year. Northern European nations, often lauded for strong social welfare programs, showed up lower on the list with Sweden at 42nd, Finland at 44th and Denmark at 24th.

“Where taxes are higher and government does more, when it moves toward a socialist system, the less charity is valued,” Mr. Dunham said.

In the Charities Aid Foundation report, Germany, Europe’s wealthiest nation, ranked 22nd. The United Kingdom, ranked sixth, was bested slightly by its neighbors to the west and south, with Ireland listed fifth.

“The levels of generosity we see in countries is truly humbling, particularly when it shows huge support for others in countries which have suffered years of conflict, war or instability,” said John Low, chief executive of the Charities Aid Foundation. “That really demonstrates our shared human values shining through.”

Global giving ebbs and flows for a host of reasons. A rising middle class in China resulted in a 400% increase in Chinese and Chinese American charitable foundations from 2000 to 2014. Myanmar held the top spot on the five-year ranking of the World Giving Index, bolstered by Theravada Buddhism, which requires donations to support a monastic lifestyle.

Americans don’t just give; they also receive. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the U.S. received offers of aid from Canada, Afghanistan and other countries for medical kits, blankets and food rations.

The U.S. government, like others around the globe, provides aid. But this aid can be tied to political incentives.

The State Department announced Monday that it would withhold $185 million in international assistance to the Central American “Northern Triangle” — El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala — until those countries stem emigration.

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