6.Melinda Gates: Co-Founder and Co-Chairman, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Melinda Gates is the Co-Founder and Co-Chair, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. REUTERS

The people of the United States were ranked as the most generous in the world in terms of giving time and money to non-profits in 2011, up from fifth place in 2010, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Sixty-five percent of Americans said they donated money to charity, 43 percent volunteered their time and 73 percent helped a stranger. As far as giving money, Thailand is the most generous with 85 percent of their population donating money and in the United Kingdom 79 percent gave money.

But the British, and most of the rest of the world, are about half as likely to do volunteer work as Americans, which is how America regained its No. 1 ranking in 2011. The top-ranked U.S. was followed by Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and the UK.

The Center of Philanthropy at Indiana University reported that Americans overall contributed 2 percent of disposable personal income to philanthropic causes -- the percent that has remained consistent over the decades, through the boom times and recessions. This tells us that despite personal and economic hardships, Americans remain steadfastly committed to each other and their communities. Philanthropy is at the heart of who we are as a society.

We have always believed that our top 1 percent is the most generous in contributing to non-profit organizations. According to Philanthropy.com, the top 50 donors in 2011 contributed $10.4 billion -- $6 billion of which was donated by heiress Margaret Cargill, who died in 2006.

Interestingly, the top 50 group gives differently than the rest of the U.S. Thirty-six percent of their money went to higher education, 35 percent to foundations and 15 percent to hospitals, medical centers and medical research. No one in the top 50 gave a gift of $5 million or more to a social services group.

Many philanthropists don't see human service organizations as the best way to alleviate America's problems. Eli Broad, who ranked at No. 49 on the list, said he has some sympathy for the Occupy Wall Street protestors, but their message of inequality supports the diagnosis of what ails America: a poor education system and education will help solve many of our problems.

Of note, only two people within this top tier are among the 69 who signed the Warren Buffet and Bill and Melinda Gates Giving Pledge, which promises to commit at least half of their wealth to charities. According to Forbes, the 200 largest U.S. charities are only 0.002 of 1 percent of the country's 1.5 million tax-exempt organizations. Yet these top 200 received $41 billion in gifts, which is one-seventh of all charitable contributions.

The largest charity is The United Way. The Salvation Army is second and Feeding America comes in third place. In June 2011, 275,000 non-profit organizations lost their tax exempt status for failure to file legally required documents for three consecutive years. In fact, according to the IRS Tax Exempt Organizations Table 25, there are less tax exempt organizations in 2011 than in every year since 2003.

With this turmoil in non-profit organizations going in and out of business, it is no wonder that our largest donors tend to migrate to the non-profit organizations that have been around awhile and have a track record.

The rest of us 99 percent don't have the luxury of giving millions of dollars to our favorite charity. But we can give a little, even if it is the national average of 2 percent to support causes we believe will help change the world. Here is the link to give to the United Way. Here is the link to give to The Salvation Army. DollarDays, on its Facebook page, is now taking nominations for 18 non-profits to share in $5,000 of merchandise to help their causes. You should nominate your favorite non-profit. It is an act of kindness that costs you nothing. Lending a hand is easy, nominating your favorite non-profit is easier.

Or you might want to work with your favorite non-profit, whether it is a church or a rescue mission helping the poor. To get involved in the DollarDays non-profit Wishlist program, where donors send products directly to your favorite charity. This is another way to be a part of giving back so those in need don't give up.

Giving is as good for your own soul as it is for the people you help. If you don't have the cash, do what 43 percent of American's do -- volunteer to help a non-profit that helps others. This is an honorable way to be part of giving back, so those in need don't give up. Giving of your time or giving of your hard earned dollars has a rippling effect. A single act of kindness can change lives ... and statistics.

Marc Joseph is the author of The Secrets of Retailing, Or: How to Beat Wal-Mart! and the CEO/President and founder of DollarDays International Inc.