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Growing Giving in South Africa: New study reveals that middle-class South Africans charitably give away 35% of their monthly income

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Middle class South Africans give away one Rand in three to family, community or charity, says ground-breaking research.

The sheer scale of giving by middle class South Africans is revealed by a comprehensive new study of charitable giving published today.

Research commissioned by the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) in partnership with CAF Southern Africa (CAFSA), the Aga Khan Foundation, the CS Mott Foundation and the UK National Lottery Community Fund shows that people give away 35% of their monthly income to individuals or charitable organisations.

But although the ideology of ubuntu drives a thriving culture of generosity and a willingness to help both family and strangers alike, there is also a clear need for organised charities to raise their profile and prove that they are putting donations to good use.

The survey found that charitable giving – to both individuals and charities – is widespread.

The study built on previous research by CAF into the potential for charitable giving by the estimated 2.4 billion people set to join the world’s middle classes by 2030. Estimates suggest that were members of the growing middle classes to give just over 0.5% of their spending, as much as $319 billion could be raised worldwide to support charities and strengthen organisations that speak up on behalf of society’s most vulnerable.

CAF Southern Africa Chief Executive Gill Bates said:

“It’s truly humbling that we South Africans give more than a third of our income to family, friends, members of our communities or to charities.

“This report could not be timelier. While South Africa might be the second strongest economy on the African continent, challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment remain. We need robust and trusted civil society organisations and advocates who can run with the baton and ensure South Africa’s poorest – our most vulnerable – have a voice in our society.

“To get there, we need to earn the trust of the growing number of people who are in a position to donate a portion of their hard-earned money to the non-profit sector. Our strong foundation of ubuntu unifies us all and this report reminds us of our deep-rooted willingness to give to our families, friends and – perhaps most importantly – to strangers in their time of need.”

The report also found:

  • Awareness of active formal charitable organisations was high at 75% and 61% of those surveyed said they had supported a charity in the past 12 months.
    • Giving money is the most common way of providing support to charitable organisations, with 74% of participants who had supported a charity in the last 12 months having done this.
    • After money, the second most common form of support among those who gave to charitable organisations was giving food or goods in kind (70%), and over half (57%) had volunteered or given time to a charitable organisation.
    • Most agreed that charitable organisations in South Africa are effective in solving existing problems in society (85%), that donating to charitable organisations makes an important difference in society (84%), and that they have a strong influence over their area of work (83%).
    • The tax benefits of giving to charity were not well known, with around two-thirds of people surveyed (64%) saying they were not aware of whether tax incentives exist or not, and 21% said that tax breaks were not available in the country.
    • Of the 14% who said that tax incentives are available (22% among white participants and 11% among black participants), 69% had not used them in the past.
    • Established charities and key voices in public debates, such as workers’ rights advocates, need to increase their public profile and be more transparent in their work if they are to overcome issues of public trust and attract more donations.
    • Focus group participants told researchers these charitable organisations need to do more to tell people about those that their work benefits and why they need money and other assistance to deliver.

CAF Head of Research, Susan Pinkney, who led the research, said of the findings:

“This research has provided us with valuable insight into how South Africa’s growing middle class views charity and how we can work to strengthen local giving and see organisations at both a community and national level take a bigger leadership role in order to not just increase giving, but to strengthen the country’s democratic pillars.”

The CAF World Giving Index 10th anniversary report, released in October 2019, found that three of the top 10 most improved countries for charitable giving over the course of the study were in Africa; Kenya came second, South Africa sixth and Rwanda eighth. South Africa and neighbouring countries posted world-leading numbers of people reporting that they had helped a stranger in the last four weeks – one of three key measures of a country’s generosity.

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