The ‘Giving Green Paper’ was launched during the good will period between Christmas and New Year and achieved some media coverage as a result, but interestingly not much response from the charity sector.
The paper’s aim is to suggest ways to inspire and increase participation in giving and volunteering in the UK to help produce the Big Society’s social action plan (more on that later, I’m sure). The overall theme is a drive towards a culture change to replicate US levels of contributions (where the UK ranks 2nd) and volunteering (UK a disappointing 29th place). It even uses a handy acronym GIVES – Great opportunities (creative channels for giving money or time), Information, Visibility (using peer pressure to encourage giving), Exchange and reciprocity (giving is good for you), and Support (the infrastructure required).
To give you a taster, suggestions include being asked to donate as you withdraw money from an ATM or holding a weekly celebration of lottery winners who have donated money.
While it would be churlish not to agree that encouraging a more participatory charity culture is a good thing, the tone of the paper feels naïve. The paper is founded on the concept that all giving is good, regardless of cause, amount of time or donation, and the suggestions for increasing involvement are mostly about “rounding up to the pound” pain-free donations. It’s also disappointing that there is a lack of emphasis in the paper on the role of wealthy donors. There is plenty of research which echoes the “widow’s mite” story – that those with less give proportionately more – but we are not going to see net growth in donated income with pennies.
The collaborative approach of the paper is all very well but canvassing opinion rather than giving concrete examples ignores the wealth of ideas already being discussed in the sector.
So let’s be clear on what the government can do to promote civil engagement and encourage more and better giving from affluent people:
Government should promote the development and take-up of good quality philanthropy advice. One practical step is to work with intermediaries who are in an ideal position to discuss philanthropy with wealthy clients. The government has yet to acknowledge and support the Philanthropy Advice Steering Group. This group, made up of private client and specialist philanthropy advisers, is developing initiatives to inspire other advisers to discuss philanthropy with clients, and is keen to establish best practice standards for advice and instigate widespread philanthropy training for philanthropy advisers.
Government should support the provision of good quality information to help donors focus on effectiveness. There is still a lack of good information available to help donors make informed decisions about how to spend their money. The government needs to support initiatives that encourage transparency on the impact of philanthropy. They need only to look to the US where projects like the Glasspockets initiative are encouraging greater openness among private foundations.
Government should demonstrate their belief in establishing ‘social norms’ of charitable giving through ideas such as continuing to support a Philanthropy Ambassador or the Beacon Fellowship awards for exceptional charitable contributions. Encouraging peer motivation will help ensure philanthropy is on the agenda whenever wealthy people meet.
The forthcoming white paper needs to focus more attention on how to encourage the wealthier members of society to give more of their money, time and support to charitable causes. At such a critical time for charities, with many struggling to survive, it will be a shame to miss this opportunity.
Plum Lomax is Senior Consultant at New Philanthropy Capital. Email PLomax@philanthropycapital.org
For more information
See NPC’s Manifesto for Social Impact published in March 2010 for more details on these and other proposals: http://www.philanthropycapital.org/about_npc%5Cabout_us%5Csocial_impact_manifes…