Posts Tagged ‘charity’

Where next for Pro Bono OR?

May 25, 2016


In view of the success of the UK Operational Research Society’s Pro Bono Scheme, which links OR professionals with charities to their mutual benefit, participants in the upcoming European OR Conference will be keen to learn which of their countries it can most easily be expanded to.

In an attempt to answer this question, the chart above shows a measure of the penetration of Operational Research in each country (the number of members of the national OR Society per million population) against a measure of the importance of the charitable sector in that country (the percentage of the population claiming to have given money to charity over the past four weeks), for those European countries where both data items are available.  Clearly one would be looking for countries with a large charitable sector and a high penetration of Operational Research.

The UK is in the lead on both indicators, followed at a respectful distance by the normal suspects in North-Western Europe together with Croatia and Slovenia.  The fact that Norway/Sweden, Germany/Austria/Switzerland and Hungary/Czech Republic are all very close to each other gives us some hope that we are actually measuring something real here.

Whether one can implement such a scheme successfully probably depends on having some central body that can make it happen, and it is nor clear that other European countries have an infrastructure comparable to the UK Operational Research Society.  Even more importantly perhaps, one needs a driving force who is determined to make the thing happen in the first place.

With regard to the variables employed, membership of national OR societies is probably a reasonable measure of the penetration of OR in particular countries, and it would be hard to find anything else without a great deal of effort.  As ever in international comparisons, the size of the charity sector is subject to definitional problems, for example where you have churches funded out of taxes (as in Germany) or charities contracted on a large scale to carry out what would otherwise be functions of the State (as in the US or the UK).

Data on OR Society membership comes from the EURO website, while that on population is from Wikipedia.  Data on donations comes from the CAF World Giving Index 2015.


80/20: An ‘iron law’ of religious giving?

May 11, 2014


In his excellent book ‘Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD’, Peter Brown says:

Hence the double aspect of the Christianity that had emerged in the Latin West in the crucial period between 370 and 400 AD. A new institution had become prominent in a society that knew what it was to give. Its upper classes had always valued the exhilarating “rush” associated with giving to an esteemed public cause, of which civic euergetism was the most spectacular and the most certain of acclaim. Great opportunities for giving now opened up in the relatively new Christian churches . But how would these traditions of highly personalized display impinge on a group that had hitherto been notable for its capacity for collective action? This was a real dilemma. Ideally, giving was open to all Christians. But this was a myth. It was no more true in the fourth century than was the nineteenth-century myth that the great Catholic Cathedral of Saint Patrick’s in Manhattan was built “through the pennies of Irish chambermaids.” (In reality, the first building of Saint Patrick’s was made possible through a campaign by which the bishop approached a hundred leading figures for $ 1,000 each.)   Furthermore, what sociologists of modern religion call “skewness” appears to be an iron law in religious giving: 20 percent of the congregation usually contribute 80 percent of the funds of the religious community that they support.

This looks far too pat. The 80/20 factoid is derived from the Pareto distribution, which reflects wealth distribution in ‘modern’ societies. It will have been far more skewed in pre-modern settings, such as the Late Roman Empire. In addition, skewness is skewness and needs no support from ‘sociologists of modern religion’.

Brown quotes a paper by Iannaccone [Skewness Explained: A Rational Choice Model of Religious Giving, Laurence R. Iannaccone Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Vol. 36, No. 2 (Jun., 1997), pp. 141-157.] which says:

Whereas the rest may apply to all aspects of religious participation, skewness is truly a distinctive feature of giving. Professional fund-raisers consider skewness “a bedrock rule of thumb” relevant to virtuallyevery setting, large or small, religious and nonreligious (Hoge 1994: 103). In practice, it means that 20% of a congregation’s members provide more than 80% of the giving. Inevitably, these people also exercise substantial power, for who can afford to alienate the few families that keep the church afloat?

Well, that’s much more sensible, though having correctly stated that this skewness is a straightforward consequence of the properties of the statistical distributions that might plausibly be involved, Iannaccone then drags the regrettable and moth-eaten Chicago School stuff out of the store-cupboard and proceeds to make up lots of parameters, just for fun probably…but I don’t think you can dispute that the giving is at least as skewed as 80/20.