Book Review: The Palgrave Handbook of Global Philanthropy

by Sabine Schuller

You glance up from your work and then take a deep breath as a colleague walks towards your desk. You see the look in their eyes that telegraphs,“Have I a research challenge for you!” This time they’re contemplating expanding your organization’s fundraising efforts into a foreign country.

However, before they get in too deep, they want to understand that country’s philanthropic landscape.  Do people there give generously to non-profit organizations? Or does charity begin and end at home and the residents mostly focus on supporting their own relatives?

Sigh no more, there are resources that can help you find just this information. One such tool is The Palgrave Handbook of Global Philanthropy.

The Handbook is organized in three Parts further divided by chapters which address broad themes as well as delve into the philanthropy of specific countries. Sections within the chapters include detailed philanthropic history and information on the culture(s) that influence giving. Chapters in Parts One and Three introduce and expand on the idea that philanthropy is shaped by the local culture, history, and beliefs.

Specific Nations’ and Geographic Area’s Charitable Giving Preferences

Part Two is of most immediate interest to donor researchers. In Part Two, there are the 26 chapters outlining specific nations’ and geographic area’s charitable giving preferences.  Of those 26 chapters…

  • 11 are about Europe;
  • 8 Asia;
  • 4 North America/Caribbean; and
  • 3 from the Middle East.

However, no countries in Africa or Central/South America are included. Each chapter is by an author (or group of authors) who are either natives or experts in that region. The overwhelming majority of writers are academics and educators. A small handful are directors of research at NGOs and only one writer has direct experience with fundraising.

An unexpected benefit of the writers’ academic discipline is the plentiful footnotes and references at the end of each chapter and the experts they quote. Before reading the Handbook I didn’t know that Admical ( is a French NGO encouraging corporate giving. Leads like this could be a great jumping off point for those who want to dive deeper and explore primary sources. It can also be beneficial to hear an expert economist’s perspective, one that isn’t common in the fundraising community.

Countries with a deep philanthropic history and public information sharing have longer chapters. The chapter on the United Kingdom shares the country’s long evolution, even including the Poor Relief Act from 1601. In countries like Vietnam where non-profits have no legal definition, statistics are confusing, and the regulatory environment highly complex, the authors draw conclusions on the information available. In those cases, the summaries might not be very in-depth.  For those countries, you might absorb what’s available in the chapter and then find local or other experts to provide more detailed guidance.

Each section within the different country/region chapters has the same general outline. The first section provides context by sharing history, sector size, and government involvement. The second section is more data driven, sharing survey results and, where available, a data based analysis of that country’s philanthropic giving.

Other Relevant Characteristics

I think the Handbook especially shines in the subsection called “other relevant characteristics”. I would describe it as a collection of helpful perspectives that don’t neatly fit anywhere else in the Handbook’s set structure, but give an insight into factors that could influence your fundraising decision making.

For example, one author observes governmental giving reports for Hong Kong NGOs are likely to be lower than the true actual amount. That’s because donations less than HK$100 (approx. US$12.80) aren’t reported to the government, and the most popular way for NGOs to fundraise is soliciting those very small on-the-street donations (e.g. raffle tickets or selling small tokens). Without that tip, you might have the impression that Hong Kong annual giving level philanthropy is smaller than it actually is.

Should You Buy the Book?

The book is not inexpensive – US$239 hardcover, US$189 eBook. If you don’t have a strong need to have the entire planet’s take on philanthropy always at your fingertips, investigate whether a local public or academic library has a copy. Another alternative is to buy just the chapter(s) you need from the publisher for about US$30 each.

I think the Handbook can be useful in the donor research field as both a broad and precision tool. Organizations can use it when thinking of expanding to other countries or recalibrating their efforts, and is especially helpful if your organization doesn’t have much expertise in that geographical area. It’s a much more efficient and authoritative way to explore a new market than hiring a special consultant or making strategy decisions based on sparse anecdotes.

The Handbook provides a good starting place for answering many questions about several countries’ philanthropic points of view, although you will need to look elsewhere for information on Africa and most of Latin America. It collects hard to find, authoritative resources between two covers, saving you time and effort. Instead of trying to find solid philanthropic data in another language yourself, you can lean on someone else’s hard work and expertise.

About Guest Blogger

Sabine Schuller, MLIS works at The Rotary Foundation, a volunteer organization of professional and business leaders that initiates humanitarian projects worldwide. As a donor researcher, she identifies and analyzes donors around the globe. She was also a program officer for Rotary, coaching grant applicants in Latin America, Europe, and North America. Sabine’s first experience in the nonprofit world was at Northwestern University. She developed industry analyses for new commercial opportunities at an international business development center. Sabine is a proud member of the Illinois donor research chapter APRA-IL and also supports her local business librarian association, SLA-IL. Connect with her on LinkedIn.