Has Philanthropy Enabled War?

What Matters

When was the last time a major philanthropist or even a grassroots movement decided to tackle war? A hundred years ago, war was a major philanthropic preoccupation and would continue to be so until the end of the Cold War. Rarely do comments on key trends in philanthropy in our still young century touch on war. Unless it is about helping its victims, there is little awareness that philanthropy has played, and could play again, a decisive role in tackling the stubborn institution of war.

One of philanthropy’s aims is to reduce human suffering and, so, our desire to keep civilians safe in war has been led and governed by one of philanthropy’s pillars. A nonprofit association, the International Committee of the Red Cross, is the guardian of the Geneva Conventions and the laws pertaining to the conduct of war – an arrangement that emerged from civil society movements that were appalled by the human devastation caused by industrialized warfare that saw its culmination in two world wars.  

History shows philanthropy responding to the effects of war. The helping professions, like nursing and war victims support groups (the precedents of our welfare state) emerged as the philanthropic impulse sought to alleviate the suffering resulting from the violence organized by governments.

You could say that the philanthropic limits on war have been so successful that 21st-century warfare, with fewer battlefield deaths due to superior health interventions, and the claim that modern weapons are designed – if not always utilized – to spare civilians, has made it possible for the United States to be at war for most of this century without war itself becoming a daily concern for many Americans and our civic sector.

But the social movements that spurred the creation of the United Nations did not seek as their end goal just to make war less horrible or less devastating. The UN was founded “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war” itself. Yale Professor Samuel Moyn argues in his new book that the efforts to make war more humane have helped make war more tenable for much of the American public. The renewed acceptance of war is best demonstrated by Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Writing on the Ukraine invasion in Foreign Affairs, University of Minnesota Professor Tanisha Fazal writes that  “the norm against territorial conquest has been tested in the most threatening and vivid way since the end of World War II.” 

We have further been lulled into complacency by the perspective prominently articulated by Steven Pinker, amplified by philanthropic leaders like Bill Gates, showing that violence within and among societies has been on a downward trend for centuries. Pinker sees World War II as an “anomaly" in an irreversible trend toward ever lessening violence. He does not seriously consider the prospect of another anomaly, one that would occur in the context of our vastly expanded destructive potential.

With nuclear weapons alone, of which there are some 10,000, each has the average explosive potential of about 10 times the power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. In the 70 years since that last “anomaly,” we have invented and accumulated other methods of killing each other beyond those of nuclear weapons. I am not convinced that Pinker’s thesis can protect us from the unthinkable becoming reality. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists seems to agree as they have returned the doomsday clock, gauging the likely risk of nuclear conflagration, back to Cold War levels.

But preventing war is not only a vital and under-appreciated grantmaking opportunity. War is the legally sanctioned taking of life by the state, the same entity to which we look to deliver justice. It fundamentally affects who we are and who we seek to be. Philanthropy has worked effectively to place limits on how we use violence and there is heroism in the support of refugees and other victims of war, as diplomacy (official and unofficial) seeks to end the violence in Ukraine and other ongoing wars.

But in the face of the aggression against Ukraine we continue to regret rather than actively reject the armed conflicts of this century that continue to kill and displace those that the civic sector dutifully rushes in to rescue. Violence among states is something we had committed to ending – not because we want to protect states, but because it is the least powerful soldiers and civilians who experience war’s horrors. And intentionally resorting to violence was deemed acceptable only if one was already its victim. Being the first mover to war was just not supposed to be acceptable anymore. After the invasion of Ukraine, it took Ambassador Kimani of Kenya to articulate the moral case against aggression and territorial conquest, even though he represents a country whose borders were drawn by colonial oppressors.

Countries have a way of getting carried away with themselves, becoming too certain of themselves, failing to take account of alternatives, and forgetting the moral principles that justify the power they wield. If philanthropically inclined civil society is not there to serve as a source of alternative ideas, or voices that ask for an accounting, not only is tyranny a danger, but so is foolishness, and the two seem to thrive together.

This is one reason why it is important to have a measure of the space available for philanthropy in countries around the world. The Global Philanthropy Environment Index is one project that seeks to provide this information. There is no guarantee that the space afforded philanthropy will not develop our current kind of moral obtuseness about war itself – historically one of philanthropy’s key concerns. But at least when there is space for civil society, philanthropy has the potential to work against tyranny and foolishness to imagine a morally uplifting future devoted to peace.

It is hard to imagine and implement alternatives to war when there is no civic space to do so. What is our excuse?

Best regards,

Dean Amir Pasic

Amir Pasic
Eugene R. Tempel Dean

Digital for Good: A Global Study on Emerging Ways of Giving

Hand holding lightbulb

By Caroline Jones, Luisa Lima and Kinga Horvath

The COVID-19 pandemic triggered the implementation and use of new ways of giving. While citizens across the world needed to follow strict lockdown measures, urgent challenges—often across national borders—had to be addressed in a timely manner. Findings from the 2022 Global Philanthropy Environment Index (GPEI) show that the COVID-19 pandemic transformed philanthropic activities as nonprofit organizations and social businesses introduced new and innovative ways of fundraising, often based on digital solutions.

Organizations in Brazil and in the United Kingdom have different philanthropic environments. In the United Kingdom, the favorable environment (at an overall score of 4.07)[1] and active and strategic governmental support promote philanthropic values. In Brazil, a less favorable philanthropic environment (at an overall score of 3.22),[2] along with the lack of government initiatives to facilitate philanthropy, characterizes the country’s philanthropic landscape. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has majorly affected the philanthropic landscape in both countries. While the resilience of many nonprofit organizations weakened during the pandemic, the new environment also enhanced the visibility of nonprofit organizations and the value of philanthropy and accelerated the implementation of new technologies in communication and fundraising. The report Digital for Good: A Global Study on Emerging Ways of Giving explores these emerging vehicles of philanthropy, such as crowdfunding, online giving, and social impact initiatives.

Technological innovation and digitalization have led to new ways of giving

In the last five years, philanthropy has become more digital, instant, and democratized than ever before. Technological innovations and new donation initiatives have the potential to change the mindset and behavior of everyday donors and strengthen philanthropy across the globe.

In the United Kingdom, online and digital giving have become more popular, especially during the pandemic. Cash has traditionally been the most popular means for people to donate to charity. In 2019, 51 percent of donors made a cash donation in the last year, but in 2020, this shrunk to just 38 percent of donors (CAF, 2021). According to Charities Aid Foundation (CAF)’s researchers “nowadays, the digital giving ecosystem encompasses in-app giving; Internet-of-Things applications that enable donations; donation buttons integrated into social media platforms; gaming platforms that allow users to collect donations on their respective platforms; large online retail platforms which enable customers to donate; and dedicated ‘rounding apps’ which enable donations when making an online purchase, such as Pledjar.”

In Brazil, new ways of giving, such as rounding up (giving money to a charity by using retail transactions at a retail store’s point of sale terminal or via its online website), recurring online giving, and social impact publishing aim “not only to provide new financial resources for nonprofit organizations, but also to promote philanthropy and enhance the giving culture by positively influencing donor mindsets”—as highlighted by researchers at IDIS—Institute for the Development of Social Investment. As an example, the online platform BSocial—one of the case studies discussed in the Brazil Report—invites donors to participate in recurring giving, hoping that the act of donation can be incorporated in many households’ day-to-day practices and budgets.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the onward course of philanthropy

In both countries, the COVID-19 pandemic led to new ways of giving and the acceleration of innovative, technology-based giving vehicles. In the United Kingdom, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated a move toward online giving and donations made via contact-free or digital methods. The use of these methods peaked in spring 2020 when the country first went into lockdown. In Brazil, the urgency of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic has also led many organizations to create, in record time, solutions that are both practical for donors and effective in facing global health and economic crises.

The COVID-19 pandemic had significant positive and negative impacts on philanthropy. Findings from IDIS show that the impact of the pandemic leveraged corporate donations and gave charitable giving greater visibility in Brazil. However, platforms aimed at micro-donations, which primarily relied on giving in retail stores, such as Arredondar and Editora MOL, were also quickly forced to make their operations viable on online platforms.

CAF highlights that with limited opportunities to host fundraising events during the pandemic and lockdowns in the United Kingdom, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated a move towards online giving—younger donors are still more likely to use digital methods, but older donors are increasingly shifting to using technology to donate than in previous years.

The future of giving is hybrid.

Both CAF and IDIS expect that post-pandemic giving and fundraising will likely remain hybrid, as the adaptation of digital and hybrid giving models will augment crucial human interactions.

In Brazil, both empathy and solidarity are increasing towards other members of society and towards nonprofit organizations as communication about philanthropy has increased in mainstream media; however, transparency and accountability are essential to improve the overall philanthropic environment in the country. Thus, new and innovative ways of giving are committed to promoting accountability and encouraging giving as a regular habit in the country.

In the United Kingdom, where philanthropy is more widespread, new ways of giving are also emerging, such as donating through voice software, which allows individuals to verbally donate to charities through voice-based digital assistant devices such as ‘Alexa.’

About the Authors

Caroline Jones is the Senior Communications Manager at Charities Aid Foundation. She leads campaigns to highlight the value and lasting impact of philanthropic giving, the work of charities in challenging times, and the important role that civil society plays across the globe.

Luisa Lima is the Communication Manager at IDIS – Institute for Development of Social Investment, responsible for managing institutional communication for the Institute. She is a leader in the strategic pillar of generating and spreading knowledge about social investment in the philanthropy sector and to other members of society.

Kinga Horvath is a Visiting Research Associate at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. She co-leads international research projects on global philanthropy and cross-border giving, including the 2022 Global Philanthropy Environment Index, the 2020 Global Philanthropy Tracker, and Digital for Good: A Global Study on Emerging Ways of Giving.

Findings from the 2022 GPEI suggest that the global philanthropic environment is slightly more favorable than in 2018, with three-fifths of the 91 countries and economies studied reporting a favorable environment for philanthropy. Yet among the 79 countries and economies studied in both 2018 and 2022, this improvement was inconsistent, with nearly 30 economies reporting a shrinking space for philanthropy as a result of their political environments. At the regional level, the Balkan Countries, Northern Europe, Southern and Southeastern Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa saw overall improvements in their philanthropic environment. Regions that experienced a slight decrease in their philanthropic environment scores include Canada and the United States, Latin America, the Middle East and Northern Africa, Oceania, and Southern Europe.

“Philanthropy is more visible today, but decision makers and policy makers often have a limited framework for understanding how philanthropy is shaping our response to global challenges,” said Una Osili, Ph.D., professor of economics and associate dean for research and international programs at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

“In order to support global philanthropy amid complex global crises, we need tools to help us understand where it’s thriving, where it isn’t, and why. GPEI provides us with this one-of-a-kind roadmap for making philanthropy more effective in our response to global challenges, but that ultimately requires that policymakers act on the insights and learnings GPEI provides.”

More than 100 country-level experts contributed to the 2022 GPEI, evaluating countries and economies on a five-point scale (1.0 to 5.0) across six key factors that comprehensively measure philanthropy: (1) ease of operating a philanthropic organization; (2) tax incentives on giving; (3) cross-border philanthropic flows; (4) political environment; (5) economic environment; and (6) socio-cultural environment for philanthropy. This is the first year the report has included a review of the economic environment as its own consideration in the analysis.

Key findings in the 2022 report include the following:

  • Three-fifths of the 91 countries and economies included in the 2022 GPEI reported a favorable environment for philanthropy.The overall philanthropic environment was moderately favorable at the global level (3.63); among the six factors, the ease of operating a philanthropic organization (3.97) scored the highest global average in 2018-2020 and the economic environment (3.46) scored the lowest in 2018-2020. The economic environment for philanthropy was especially variable, with countries in the Caribbean and Latin America demonstrating particularly low scores, driven in part by the pandemic, political instability and high inflation.
  • The 2022 GPEI shows that the space for philanthropy continued to shrink in one-third of the 79 economies originally reported on in 2018. In countries and economies where the political environment for philanthropy experienced a decline, philanthropic organizations faced attempts to control the distribution of foreign funding (Hungary) as well as opposition to human rights and watchdog organizations (Hungary, Serbia).
  • Even as the importance of global giving became increasingly apparent as a crucial tool to fight COVID-19, dozens of countries and economies continue to report regulatory burdens that limit cross-border donations. These include politically motivated permitting requirements (Venezuela), and a complete ban on cross-border gifts (Saudi Arabia).
  • Canada was the only G7 country to score below the global average for cross-border philanthropic outflows, and the only G7 country to score below the global average on the ease of operating a philanthropic organization. The rules required of charitable organizations engaged in cross-border philanthropy in Canada are onerous and require significant resources in order to meet all requirements, which creates a barrier to giving. However, Canada has a highly favorable (5.0) environment for tax incentives for receiving and making charitable contributions. Both philanthropic organizations and registered charities are largely exempt from taxes on their revenue, including donations as well as income earned from other sources. 
  • The pandemic also opened opportunities for innovative approaches to giving, driven in large part by a shift toward grassroots leadership and increased collaboration at the local level. Millions were donated to private funds to support COVID-19 prevention and response activities in 2020 (Chile, Myanmar). The pandemic led to increased awareness and generosity toward vulnerable groups (India, Nigeria). Technology innovations led to online giving and virtual volunteering opportunities that connected people and organizations around the world to support people in need.
  • Country experts report that the philanthropic infrastructure globally is also becoming more institutionalized, even as donors increasingly embrace long-standing practices such as mutual aid or other forms of direct giving. The newly created Caribbean Philanthropic Alliance is bolstering philanthropy in the region, while the joint DAFNE-EFC Philanthropy Advocacy Initiative and Philea – Philanthropy Europe Association is working to shape the regulatory operating environment for philanthropy across Europe.
  • Philanthropic organizations play a crucial role in addressing social and economic inequality and advocating for universal human rights. While philanthropic organizations have been uniquely active in addressing educational inequality (United Kingdom), economic empowerment (Nigeria), social exclusion in rural areas (Italy), social equity (Ghana, South Korea), organizations active on these issues also face disproportionate scrutiny and face obstacles that restrict or prohibit their ability to operate (Eswatini, Hungary, Kenya and Myanmar).

Read more: https://philanthropy.iupui.edu/research/globalindices.html