India has a long-celebrated tradition of philanthropic giving, mostly to support spiritual and religious causes. Alms giving has a special place in the major religions of the land, both in Hinduism and Islam. Most religious philanthropy is private and informal and usually takes place within the extended family or community where more affluent individuals try to help those who are less fortunate. Because of its informal nature, it is very common for this type of giving to go unreported. India’s Central Statistics Office discloses that the non-profit sector receives almost 70 percent of its income from private donations, offerings, and grants.
The history of India’s institutional philanthropy is much shorter and can be traced back to the Tata Group, founded in 1868 by Jamsetji Tata. The group established one of India’s first philanthropic trusts known as the JN Tata Endowment, in 1892. Since then, Tata Group has developed more than 10 philanthropic initiatives focused on institutions, NGOs, and individuals. The largest shift can be seen in the mid-20th century as India earned its independence. A large number of foundations and trusts were established during this time, and a significant portion of the total amount donated went to building institutions like universities, research centers, and hospitals. The movement, however, slowed down soon after this period, only to regain its momentum about a decade ago. India’s high net-worth individuals (HNWIs) are presently giving more, and most are using formal channels. As of May 2018, four Indian billionaires had joined the Giving Pledge, led by Warren Buffet and Bill and Melinda Gates.
Another significant aspect is the rise of giving by India’s growing middle class – thanks to a flourishing Indian economy. According to an estimate by Bain and Company, India has added more than 100 million donors between 2009 and 2013. While many of these donors use traditional informal channels, a large portion has started to use formal and innovative channels to funnel their contributions. Retail giving – crowdsourcing philanthropic funds from ordinary citizens – is becoming popular and supports some of India’s largest NGOs.
Corporate contributions also play an important role in the sector. India is the first country in the world to make corporate giving mandatory. Following a change in company law in April 2014, any company with a net worth of $90 million or more, a turnover of $180 or more, or a net profit of $900,000 or more within a fiscal year must give away 2 percent of its net profit to charity. These companies can invest this money on issues that are selected by the government. The total spending by companies has been increasing steadily since the law came into effect. Over the last several years, CSR spending by the top 100 Indian companies has exceeded $3 billion and is expected to keep growing.