A New Handbook on Global Philanthropy: Q&A with Femida Handy & Pamala Wiepking

The Palgrave Handbook of Global Philanthropy is a new comprehensive guide to the practice of philanthropy and nonprofit sector in 26 countries. We spoke with the co-editors of this handbook, Femida Handy & Pamala Wiepking to find out what donors can learn from their findings. Dr. Handy is a Professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy & Practice and Dr. Wiepking is an Assistant Professor at the Rotterdam School of Management in Erasmus University Rotterdam.

Center: Why did you decide to write this book? 

We felt there was an enormous gap in research on comparative philanthropy. The seminal John Hopkins Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project started over 15 years ago, and we wanted to build upon that work. We asked over 50 philanthropy experts from Asia, Europe, the Middle East, Australia and the Americas to contribute knowledge and empirical data about the nonprofit sector in their country of expertise. We also asked them to identify the factors that shape philanthropy and the nonprofit sector across these nations. A generous grant of the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) enabled us to carry out this research project.

Center: What key questions about global giving does your book explore? 

Our key research question is, “How can we shape a society with the best conditions for philanthropic giving?” We know that nonprofit organizations provide important public goods and services in societies across the world. In times of economic crisis, when governments are forced to decrease public spending, these organizations become even more important in meeting demands for these goods and services. But what are different motivations for giving across the world? Why are nonprofit organizations much more omnipresent and successful in some countries than in others? What roles do the government, religion, and other factors play in philanthropy & the social sector?

Center: Did any findings surprise you?

We were surprised to find how important history is in shaping the current state of the nonprofit sector and philanthropy across the world. Philanthropic culture is deeply rooted in most countries we studied, often dating back centuries. Factors such as colonization, introduction of poor laws, and changes of political regimes are all key historical influences that have shaped current-day nonprofit sectors. For example, the French philanthropic sector emerged from the efforts of the Catholic Church to care for the sick or orphaned during the Middle Ages. Conversely, the Poor Laws of 1939 in Ireland led to a decrease in charity, as there was now a state-run relief system for the destitute.

Organizations that help create a philanthropic infrastructure and professionalize the nonprofit sector in a country are also surprisingly important. For example, they can facilitate or help establish formal training programs for employees in the nonprofit sector, and function as spokesperson to other actors such as the government or the media in case of conflicting interests. On an international scale, sector bodies such as the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) help to professionalize emerging nonprofit sectors by developing professionalized fundraising bases which can reach donors across the globe.

Overall, despite the large diversity in nonprofit sectors and adverse conditions in some countries, philanthropy seems to be flourishing in most of the 26 countries we studied. Even in countries with unstable political regimes or in countries going through economic hard times, philanthropy and the nonprofit sector remain able to provide their important public goods and services.

Center: Any final thoughts for our readers?

There is a lot of diversity in philanthropy and nonprofit work across different countries, but also a lot of similarity. Philanthropy is ultimately a human act. The numbers may differ, but the reasons for giving are the same all over the world. With the rise of globalization and innovative trends such as crowdsourcing, we can only expect these similarities to grow.

For more on giving and nonprofit work around the world, see The Palgrave Handbook of Global Philanthropy.