New Zealanders give slightly more of their incomes to charity than Australians do, but much less than Americans.
The first comprehensive study of giving in this country, prepared by Berl economists for Philanthropy New Zealand, has found that New Zealanders gave 0.81 per cent of their national income to charitable causes in 2005-06.
Australians gave 0.68 per cent, but Americans gave 2.2 per cent.
New Zealanders' $1.27 billion in donations was a little less than the $1.6 billion they spent on alcohol in 2003-04, much less than the $16.9 billion they spent on rent or servicing a mortgage, and less again than the $28.1 billion they paid in personal income taxes.
The study found that charitable giving in New Zealand was much less personal than in America, where 83 per cent came from personal donations and bequests. Here it was only 35 per cent.
In New Zealand, 48 per cent of charitable giving came from trusts that were legally required to donate their money - gaming machine societies, energy trusts created after the privatisation of electric power boards in the 1980s and 90s, community trusts stemming from privatisation of the regional trustee savings banks, and the Lottery Grants Board, funded by Lotto.
Berl economist Adrian Slack said that although these trusts were created or regulated by the state, they were effectively part of the charitable sector.
"If you look at just individual donations, New Zealand comes out quite poorly," he said. "Australians give one and a half times as much as us per person in individual donations.
"If you look at the US, in the absence of a lot of state-based giving and statutory organisations, they have a very high rate of individual giving.
"That may mean that Americans are more generous. Or it could be that in New Zealand individual giving is displaced by these statutory organisations.
"I'm thinking particularly of sports clubs where they have pokies so the members don't have to put their hands in their pockets. If you took that away, I don't think you would see the collapse of those organisations."
The biggest community trust, Auckland's ASB Community Trust, was also the country's biggest private donor, giving $56.6 million last year.
The ASB trust alone accounted for almost 80 per cent of all the money given out in Auckland.
But the highest levels of region-specific giving per head were in Southland ($84 a head), where the Community Trust of Southland gave 98.5 per cent of all grants to the region, and in Gisborne, where grants averaged $107 a head.
Business gave a slightly higher proportion of total gifts in New Zealand (7 per cent) than in the US (5 per cent).
Figures from a sample of 293 mainly large businesses were extrapolated to estimate that business gave $254.1 million to charities in 2005-06, including sponsorships.
The other donors were family and individual trusts such as the Fletcher Trust and the Tindall Foundation (9 per cent), university-associated trusts which provide scholarships (1 per cent) and liquor licensing trusts (0.5 per cent).
Just over half of all grants went to culture, sports and recreation (26.6 per cent) and education and research (24.2 per cent).
Sport received the biggest share (45.1 per cent) of grants from gaming machine societies.
Social services received 15.8 per cent of grants, health 10.3 per cent, housing and development 7.8 per cent and the environment 6.6 per cent.
New Zealanders gave much less than other nations to religion - only 0.9 per cent of all grants here compared with 16 per cent in Britain and 45 per cent of individual giving in Canada.
The report will be available from tomorrow at www.giving.org.nz.