The U.S. and Switzerland rank fifth in a new review of the state of giving in 153 countries released by Charities Aid Foundation America (CAFAmerica) on Wednesday, September 8. The “World Giving Index 2010” is the first survey on a large scale to capture information about charitable behavior in countries representing 95% of the globe’s population, including some that have not been included in previous surveys on giving, according to a statement from CAFAmerica.

The index, compiled from data in an ongoing international Gallup survey, ranked countries in three categories:

? Percentage of the population that donated to a charity. Malta ranked first with 83%.

? Percentage of the population that volunteered time to an organization. Turkmenistan was first with 61%.

? Percentage of the population that helped a complete stranger or someone they did not know who needed help. Liberia ranked first with 76%.

In the three categories, 60% in the U.S. gave to an organization, 39% volunteered time and 65% were willing to help a complete stranger.

The overall index score for each country was calculated by adding the percentages of all three charitable acts together and dividing by three. Very few countries demonstrated low scores in all three charitable behaviors covered by the survey, the statement said. The index ranked Australia and New Zealand as the most charitable nations in the world overall, followed by Ireland and Canada in third and fourth place, respectively.

“When it comes to philanthropy, Americans do a lot–and can always do more,” Janet Boyd, CAFAmerica’s president, said in the statement. “This survey highlights the need to engage workers in volunteering via the corporate sector, young people by new social media channels, and older Americans by means that are both comfortable and familiar

to them. In my view, no one should take a critical view of the U.S. fifth place rank in his report for a variety of reasons, but that also does not mean that we should be complacent as a nation when there is so much more that can be done.”

In its statement, CAFAmerica suggested ways in which interested Americans can become first-time or more-active givers:

? Focus on a charity that makes sense for you. Charities have an obligation to provide detailed information to interested donors. Never give to a charity you know nothing about. One way to get started is by using the CAFAmerica Web tool, which allows you to search more than 1,500 charities by nation, region, focus (religion, education, social services, health and medical research, the environment) and other key factors.

? Consider giving more to fewer charities. “It is generally true that a few large gifts will generate a bigger impact than several small gifts.”

? Do your homework and donate safely. There is no substitute for due diligence when it comes to charitable giving.

? Focus on sustainability, not “one shot” giving. If you are considering a larger donation, it’s important to think about what happens after your money is spent by a charity. Think about the long term but ask the charity how they spent your gift and what was achieved by it.

? Review your giving plan regularly. It’s important to avoid the “check off the box” syndrome of charitable giving, where you simply go back each holiday season to the same charities and write them the same check as the previous year.

CAFAmerica was founded in 1992, and is a member organization of the U.K.-based Charities Aid Foundation international network of offices. Together with its U.K. subsidiary for dual U.S./U.K. taxpayers, the CAF American Donor Fund, CAFAmerica makes more than $40 million in grants to charities in 76 countries around the world.

Michael S. Fischer (msf7@columbia.edu) is a New York-based financial writer and editor and a frequent contributor to WealthManagerWeb.com.