Most of us enjoy the odd fundraiser, sponsored run, or simply popping into a local charity shop. The relatively privileged among us like to think we're socially conscious, and when we see the occasional heartrending charitable appeal on our TV screens, we might even be moved to donate rather than merely shaking our heads and tut-tutting about the state of the world today. Some countries, however, are known to pull their weight more than others when it comes to addressing problems at both a local and a global level. Which of the world's nations take the giving spirit to the next level, making it a spontaneous, natural part of the country's culture?
The following list reveals that it's not just the richest countries - the most able to donate - that are determined to make a difference, it seems you don't have to be rich to make a difference. Some nations are more inclined to help in a more directly rewarding, 'hands on' way, working with charities to make a difference or simply making it their priority to adopt a helpful and friendly attitude towards those around them in everyday life.
The information on most generous countries comes from a report issued in 2013 by the Charities Aid Foundation that ranks countries' according to a Giving Index that takes into account the number of people in each country who would help a stranger, those who donate money, and those who devote some of their time volunteering with charitable organisations. Our list classifies the top 10 most giving countries according to their World Index Giving Score.
10 Sri Lanka - 48%
It's impressive to see that a country like Sri Lanka, hard-hit by natural disaster and poverty, makes its way on to our list. The country demonstrates a remarkable solidarity - especially in times of crisis. Sri Lanka is the second most generous developing country, with 45% of Sri Lankans donating money and 46% volunteering time to good causes. The extent of this generosity was demonstrated, for example, in February of this year, when residents of the Spittal community provided funding for a new well in the tsunami-hit village Thelulla Janapodaya. Before a new well was built, these villagers had to walk two miles to collect water for drinking and washing.
9 Qatar - 51%
Although only 19% of Qataris devote time to volunteering for a charitable organisation, they make up for it in other ways. Indeed, while 60% of citizens donate money to charity, an impressive 73% are willing to help strangers. This reflects a sentiment of community and healthy interdependence in the country. This generosity could be seen as a testament to the tradition of Arab hospitality, a tradition which is demonstrably alive in Qatar.
8 Netherlands - 54%
With 39% of people devoting time to working with a charitable organisation, and 57% of people claiming to have helped a stranger recently, the Netherlands appear to be an altruistic nation. Indeed, most impressively, it ranks as second only to Malta as the biggest country of charitable donors in the world, with 69% of people donating money to charity. It is a tradition for the Dutch to donate spare cash to a charitable organisation at the end of the year. Development aid, disease prevention, and conservation are some of the most popular causes. Despite the severe financial cutbacks of the recent financial crisis, the Dutch kept their charities afloat: in 2010-2011 the number of donations actually increased.
7 Australia - 55%
Since 2010, donations to charities in Australia have risen by 11 per cent, despite the fact that the country's high cost of living is the primary cause of consumer anxiety for Australians. According to National Australia Bank (NAB), Australians donated an average of $291 to charity in 2013. And there is no lack of choice when it comes to choosing a cause, with 45, 000 charities and not-for-profit organisations currently operating in the country. An impressive 67% of Australians donate money to charity, and 34% volunteer regularly. To top it off, true to the stereotype of Aussie friendliness, 64% of Australians are happy to help out a stranger.
6 United Kingdom - 57%
With an impressive 67% of the British donating money to charity, the United Kingdom is the most giving country in Europe when it comes to financial donations. Throughout the UK the charity shop culture is particularly thriving, with branches of Oxfam established in most major cities. The strong sense of community and friendliness throughout the country means that 65% of the British are likely to help out a stranger. The United Kingdom has climbed from 8th place in 2012 to 6th as of 2013. However, only 29% of people dedicate time to volunteering for charitable organisations.
5 Ireland - 57%
Ireland ranks as Europe's most giving country for the third consecutive year with 70% of Irish people donating money to charity. Ireland has been hard hit by austerity over the past years, but a remarkable generosity of spirit thrives nonetheless. It is an inherent characteristic of Irish culture - influenced by a strong sense of community and the marked influence of the Catholic church - that people are determined to uphold. Although the Irish tend to demonstrate their generosity mostly through financial support, 63% of people wouldn't think twice about helping a stranger out, and 37% of people give some of their time to volunteering for good causes - a figure that is on the rise, particularly in the over 50s age-group.
4 New Zealand - 58%
Renowned for their friendliness, Kiwis are also considered one of the biggest nations of givers, with a remarkable 67% of people stating that they would happily help out a stranger. 67% donate money to charity, and 40% give time volunteering for charitable organisations. The number of young volunteers in particular is on the rise. Chris Clarke, the CEO of World Vision New Zealand, remarks that giving is part of the country's psyche, particularly in times of crisis abroad. Indeed, despite having a population of just 4.5 million, New Zealanders gathered an impressive $1.4 million in just over a month in aid of typhoon Haiyan, demonstrating the extent of the nation's generosity.
3 Myanmar - 58%
Burma is the world's number one most giving developing country. 85% of Burmese donate money to charity, topping any other country in the world when it comes to monetary generosity. The country's highly karmic mindset goes in hand with its majority-Buddhist culture, which has been highlighted as one of the reasons for this benevolence. Most of these donations go towards religious causes. Burma did very well in the volunteering category, with 43% of people devoting time to charitable organisations (tied 4th place with the Philippines). A culture of volunteerism grew in the aftermath of the 2008 Cyclone Nargis, which hit the Irrawaddy Delta killing an estimated 140, 000 people. When poverty and disaster are on your doorstep, pulling together as a community seems the most productive response.
2 Canada - 58%
68% of Canadians donate money to charity and 64% are keen to give strangers a helping hand, bringing Canada to second place in our ranking. The positive attitude doesn't end there, though, with a full 42% of Canadians devoting time to volunteering with charitable organisations. After the recent World Index report was published, however, numerous pieces emerged in the Canadian media questioning the appropriateness of this, pointing out that the number of monetary donations and their amount have been in decline over the past year. Nonetheless, Canadians are more likely to go the extra mile than most of the world's nations.
1 United States of America - 61%
The United States tops our ranking as the world's most generous nation as of 2013. While 77% of people would be happy to help out a stranger, 62% donate money and 45% participate in volunteering groups and activities. The United States has made an impressive effort to encourage charitable behavior among its people, and as a result has risen to first place after ranking fifth in 2012. Religious faith has been determined as a key factor in the giving culture of the United States, but it can also be attributed to a number of highly developed, organised charities and the general economic prosperity in the country, as well as the nation's positive attitude towards interdependence and a respect for community values.