Charity Law

Cross-Border Philanthropy: An Exploratory Study of International Giving in the United Kingdom, United States, Germany and Japan


The International Journal
of Not-for-Profit Law

Volume 3, Issue 1, September 2000

By Helmut K. Anheier and Regina List Editors
Reviewed by ICNL Staff

This new book, a co-publication of the Johns Hopkins University for Civil Society Studies, the Centre for Civil Society at the London School of Economics, and the Charities Aid Foundation, begins the process of exploring the data and information available with respect to cross-border philanthropic flows. It is a very significant and welcome addition to the literature, and the information it contains helps begin a process toward greater understanding of the globalization of philanthropic culture.

In each of the book’s country studies, local authors analyze a variety of issues about cross-border giving. The local authors include Stefan Nahrlich and Annette Zimmer for Germany, Naoto Yamauchi and Motoko Mekata for Japan, Jeremy Kendall, Adleina Comas-Herrera, and Andrew Passey for the United Kingdom, and Regina List for the United States. Special summaries are provided by the editors, and a chart showing legal constraints is also included.

As indicated by the compilation of the information into a chart, one of the issues considered by the authors and editors is whether legal provisions may exist in each country that constrain international giving. With respect to gifts by private donors, only the United States has legal restrictions on giving per se, which the book correctly suggests are bound up with security concerns. However, the tax laws of all four countries constrain private giving across borders because they do not allow tax deductions for charitable gifts to donees outside the jurisdiction (whether by corporations or individuals). As a result, cross-border giving is generally done through entities such as domestic NGOs with international objectives or through foundations engaged in international grantmaking. These are also constrained by legal rules that inhibit their grantmaking, most particularly private foundations in the United States (some efforts to make US private foundation giving easier are profiled elsewhere in this issue).

The book’s approach is to cast the net fairly broadly, and thus the discussions it contains involve not only private giving but also overseas development assistance (ODA) programs. This is important, because it includes government expenditures that are not normally thought of as being “philanthropic.” Although it is clear that it is sometimes difficult to discern whether a particular grantmaker is transferring money that comes from private sources or from public sources (e.g., NOVIB, a Dutch GONGO, which transfers a good deal of Dutch ODA to NGOs internationally, also raises money from the general public and transfers that as well), the inclusion of ODA in the discussion may be confusing to some who see its expenditure as driven by political and strategic motives not ordinarily associated with private philanthropy.

A useful exercise following on this book might be for lawyers and legal policy makers working to provide greater flexibility within domestic tax restrictive regimes to begin systematically exploring new ways to encourage more cross-border private philanthropy. While some efforts are being made along those lines (see the discussion of the Europhil conference in Barbados in this issue), the problems remain. With the global integration of the economic world increasing and with the development of what some are calling “global civil society,” it seems appropriate that more attention should be paid to methods that would assist the globalization of philanthropy. Whether that means breaking down existing domestic borders or developing common charitable zones (as with NAFTA in North America), it seems clear that work remains to be done in this field.