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US pips Europe and Asia as leader in philanthropy

By Jessica Tasman-Jones

Despite fewer tax incentives and more social services, European and Asian high net worth individuals are almost on par with their US counterparts when it comes to philanthropy, according to new research.

The second annual BNP Paribas Individual Philanthropy Index, released today, ranked the US first across all four categories assessed, which included: their current and projected level of giving as a percentage of total wealth; promotion of philanthropic activities; and innovation.

Produced along with Forbes Insights, the index tracks philanthropy in the US, Europe, the Middle East and Asia, surveying more than 400 individuals with at least $5 million (€3.7 million) in investible assets.

The environment was the most pressing cause according to respondents in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, whereas in the US it was health.

This year was the first that the US was included in the index – which measured commitment to philanthropy with a score out of 100.

The US scored 53.2 points, compared to Europe with 46.3, Asia with 42.4 and the Middle East with 29.4.

Kasia Moreno, editorial director at Forbes Insights, says she was surprised to see Europe and Asia were ranked so closely behind, given the US has such an established philanthropy sector.

Moreno says they believe promotion of one’s philanthropic causes – either by traditional or social media, or as a spokesperson – was the lowest scoring category because people are concerned promotion of their philanthropic activities will be perceived as promotion of themselves.

She adds that she though this reluctance to publicise one's giving was disproportionately affecting the Middle East's score, saying,"Religion is so deeply ingrained in the region that people don't think it's proper."

But, she says this reticence was true even in the US, where there a number of high-profile, large-scale philanthropy initiatives such as the Giving Pledge, which has more than 100 ultra-high-net-worth signatories. "We think it's partly modesty, partly religion and partly the Old World approach to charity."

This was an issue that was highlighted in last year’s report, which said the progress of philanthropy would only accelerate once donors become more open about their philanthropy and promote their causes more.

Moreno says: "In different countries we also see a difference about how the state of your wealth influences your giving and the way people perceive their wealth.”

She added: “We find people in the US who have made their first million are already thinking about giving. There's this ever-lasting American optimism that even if they lose it all they think it's okay 'I will always make more'. Then there are people in Europe who have 60 or 70 million and they still don't feel secure about their financial future."