Philanthropy Inc. in the cross-hairs

Driven by photos of hungry children and fuzzy animals, charity has become a huge industry.

Even a cursory glance at the list of the largest charitable donations ever made clearly illustrates the magnitude of this industry: just consider American investment ‘guru’ Warren Buffett. He has personally donated over 30 billion dollars (€24 bn) to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which fights poverty and life-threatening diseases (like malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS). A staggering figure, greater than the GDP of many countries.

Yet Buffett’s donations are merely the tip of the iceberg. While he, the Gates’ and fellow billionaires donate substantial chunks of their fortunes to humanitarian causes, the real support for non-profit organisations (NGOs) actually comes from the countless ordinary working people who donate part of their annual income towards alleviating the world’s problems.

According to research conducted by The Chronicle of Philanthropy magazine, which publishes an annual ranking of the 50 biggest global benefactors and the top 400 NGOs in America, in 2012 the rich (those with annual incomes of more than $100,000 [€80,000]) only donated a 4.2% share of their annual earnings to charity. This is much lower than the 7.6% share given by the middle classes (earning between $50,000 and $75,000 [€40,000-€60,000]). But the total amount is sizeable: in the United States alone, the figures for 2011 and 2012 were 300 and 330 billion dollars [€240 and €260 bn] respectively, 73% of which came from private donors and only 1% from companies.

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