We gave $2.7b in 2011 - about double that of five years earlier.

Kiwis have been opening their wallets over the past fortnight for the Vanuatu relief effort.

I'd been thinking about charitable giving after being roped in by a friend to run for the Fred Hollows Foundation in Auckland's Round the Bays event. Events such as this, which people put a lot of effort into, are lucrative for charities, and friends and family of those involved may give to a cause that they may not otherwise have thought to support.

Vanuatu has been the focus of fundraising for the past few weeks and Kiwis have given a six-figure sum to World Vision, Unicef, Save the Children, Oxfam, Red Cross and others.

Unicef executive director Vivien Maidaborn said by this Tuesday her organisation had received about $700,000, raised in 10 days. That compared to $300,000 for its Ebola campaign over four to five months.

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We are a giving lot. Since 2010, New Zealand has been annually ranked in the top five countries in the World Giving Index, according to the Department of Internal Affairs. Last year New Zealand was ranked fifth for proportion of people who volunteer time. That's pretty impressive.

Philanthropy New Zealand says Kiwis gave $2.7 billion to charitable and community causes in 2011, which was about double of what we did in its survey in 2006.

The Vanuatu campaign highlights some of the different approaches Kiwis take to giving. Some donors give only when there are emergencies such as Ebola, the Syrian civil war and Cyclone Pam.

Unicef calls these people "emergency champions", marketing to them when a crisis hits. Other people prefer to give a regular monthly amount to their charity of choice.

I'd presumed regular givers would be the people who gave the most. However, Maidaborn says the emergency champions will sometimes give $500 or $1000 in one hit, which may surpass some of the regular givers.

AUT masters graduate Ngan Huynh (Ella) Nguyen commented in her thesis that marketing techniques have an important role in helping non-profit organisations gain the financial support they need.

People who give in an ad hoc way are a bit of a problem for charities. It costs a lot of money to get those donations. If they can be recruited as regular givers their money goes further.

A chance conversation in the Fred Hollows tent after Round the Bays got me thinking about why we give, and even more importantly, why we don't give. The friend who recruited me to the cause has very poor eyesight and can identify with the foundation's work.

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A North American study found that we give for one of three reasons: perfect altruism, the warm glow and prestige.

Maidaborn says people who don't give fall into a number of groups. One of those is people who prefer to support their family rather than charities. There is another group that believes charities waste money and won't give for that reason. Then there are the people who will give to New Zealand-based causes such as child poverty, but never to international causes.

Some people prefer to offer time or other resources instead of money. They may give many hours to a local school or charity but hate being asked for $5 here or there.

Statistics New Zealand figures suggest we were doing less voluntary work in 2012 than in 2008.

Cultural differences come into play as well. Statistically, says Maidaborn, Maori are more likely than Pakeha to give time (often to their local hapu, iwi, or marae), but less likely to give cash to international causes. According to Statistics New Zealand figures, Pacific people give even more time than Maori or Pakeha.

Often people have an organisation they prefer to volunteer for. Or they may have time and go looking for opportunities through websites such as Seek Volunteer.

When it comes to money, people with a spiritual affiliations often give more, says Carolyn Cordery, who researches the not-for-profit sector at Victoria University.

That spiritual belief is key in many people's giving, adds Pushpa Wood, director of Massey University's financial education and research centre.

But perfect altruism isn't the only reason we give. Often we give because we or a friend or relative might or has benefited. Someone whose relative has died of cancer might be disposed to give to the local hospice and benefit from the warm-glow effect. Likewise, New Zealand's Pasifika population has been digging deep for Vanuatu. "It is about connection," says Cordery.

That connection came through in Nguyen's thesis. She found that women strongly believe caring and helping others is the most important value in life and that led them to give, in the example she studied, to children's charities. "In particular the altruistic motive is mostly derived from women's desire for nurturing children; religious and family values in giving.

"Those women who do have children state that raising and looking after their own children has touched their compassionate side for underprivileged children. Therefore, they are willing to pursue the cause with direct benefit to themselves."

There are people who feel morally obliged to give to others. Wood speculates that philanthropist Gareth Morgan fits into this category. He has, she says, been fortunate enough to earn more than enough money in his lifetime to meet his personal needs and wants to share the excess with a worthy cause. Morgan has promised to match dollar for dollar donations to Unicef's Vanuatu appeal up to $1 million.

Whether we give or not is often tied up with how we were brought up. Maidaborn cites her great-nephew who must save some of his pocket money to give to charity. The 7-year-old had $30 in the charity kitty when Cyclone Pam hit Vanuatu and decided he should give it to Unicef because Morgan had promised to match his donation. The enterprising young fellow then asked both his mother and great-aunt to match his $30 with money from their pockets.

Fundraising is changing rapidly, says Maidaborn. Her Hong Kong colleague has seen a complete turnaround in a year from 80 per cent fundraising from traditional channels to 80 per cent online. She expects to see that here shortly.

Likewise five years ago Maidaborn worried that young Kiwis didn't give. That has turned around with the advent of crowdfunding sites such as Givealittle. They can give with ease to anything from an individual in Africa to a project from someone in their class at school.

The social media effect has heightened the prestige response to giving. That is that we like to be seen to give. When you sponsor XYZ charity through these events your name is listed beside the donation and often your friends will thank you in their social media feed, so others see what you have done. "People do it for the social status," says Cordery.

This is the modern equivalent of the wealthy benefactor who likes to see his or her name associated publicly with good deeds. Social media also heightens the connection that encourages us to give, says Cordery. Parents who see a social media fundraising page for a child with leukaemia, for example, may feel some of the emotional pain the sick child's parents are experiencing.

We can track how much Kiwis give to charity in part through tax rebates paid out by the Inland Revenue Department. Rebates were introduced by the Holyoake government in the 1960s. In 2005, says Codery, Kiwis received $119 million in rebates, and $203 million in 2011.

In part the increase was due to the Government changing the cap of the maximum total of donations from $1890 to up to the amount of an individual's taxable income.