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The top of the barrel and the bottom scrapers

The World Giving Index, commissioned by the Charities Aid Foundation, is the biggest study to take a global snapshot of how people give their time to organizations, donate money to charities and extend a helping hand to a stranger in need. They ranked 153 countries (which represents about 95 per cent of the population) using survey data from an ongoing international Gallup survey, and found that if you take actions into account as well as financial donations, the world is quite a giving place. Canada, which has tied with Ireland, has a ranking of 56 per cent on the World Giving Index. That translates to 64 per cent of survey respondents saying they gave money in the last month (the time frame of the survey), 35 per cent gave time and 68 per cent said they helped a stranger. That said, the most frequent givers are the folks down under, the index reports. Australia and New Zealand topped the list with a score of 57 per cent. That means about 70 per cent of Aussies and Kiwis gave money, about 40 per cent gave time and about 64 per cent said they helped a stranger. Bottoming out the list was Burundi and Madagascar with a 12 per cent ranking.

The definition of 'giving' depends on where you are

The report reveals the many ways people give, authors of the World Giving Index report. "An act that is considered charitable in one country may be seen as a regular, everyday activity in another." Giving money to charity is the lowest in Lithuania at 4 per cent and the highest in Malta at 83 per cent. Cambodia has the lowest rate of volunteering with 2 per cent, far down the spectrum from Turkmenistan's 61 per cent. North America had the highest number of helping behaviour with an average of 67 per cent having helped a stranger. While only 6 per cent of Armenian respondents say they gave money in the past month, they're the most likely country in the Central and Eastern Europe region to help a stranger, with a ranking of 51 per cent.

Forget stranger danger: Most people help those they don't know

In total, more than 20 per cent of the world population volunteered their time before they answered the Gallup survey. About 30 per cent had given to charity and 45 per cent overall helped a stranger - making it the most common form of giving in the world. This is where sub-Saharan African countries, Liberia and Sierra Leone, excel, the report says.

If you're happy and you know it, help someone

The authors also measured life satisfaction in respondents to see whether happiness motivates people to give. They found that the link between giving money and being happy is stronger than the link between giving money and being wealthy as a nation. "It would be reasonable to conclude that giving is more an emotional act than a rational one," the authors write. The Gallup survey of well-being, which asked respondents how happy they were, was correlated with the data on giving. There is a 0.69 correlation between the countries that are most satisfied in their lives and the percentage of those giving to charity in that nation, the report found.

It's not just about the money

"When 'generosity' is assessed in broader terms than money alone, the countries to come to the fore are not necessarily the same ones who are most commonly thought to be the most 'philanthropic,'" the index authors write. The study offers some fairly unexpected results in that area, they noted. The top 20 givers by country include Guinea, Guyana and Turkmenistan - countries with lower-ranking GDPs. But Niels Veldhuis, the vice-president of research at the Fraser Institute, which puts out an annual study on charitable giving that looks at monetary donations, questions how one is able to measure giving outside of tracking cash. "There certainly is a merit as far as figuring out which countries give more. But you have to have reliable data, and this to me doesn't seem to be reliable data," he said. "Ultimately, what you really want to get at is what causes people to give."

The Top 10 rankings for the most charitable countries in the world, and their score out of 100 on the Giving Index

1. Australia, New Zealand, 57

2. Canada, Ireland, 56

3. Switzerland, USA, 55

4. Netherlands, 54

5. United Kingdom, Sri Lanka, 53

6. Austria, 52

7. Laos, Sierra Leone, 50

8. Malta, 48

9. Iceland, Turkmenistan, 47

10. Guyana, Qatar, 45

And the Bottom 5

149. Cambodia, Pakistan, Romania, Rwanda, 16

150. Bangladesh, 15

151. China, Lithuania, Greece, 14

152 Serbia, Ukraine, 13

153. Burundi, Madagascar, 12

Source: Charities Aid Foundation

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