Calls for UK to mimic US charitable culture

Calls for UK to mimic US charitable culture

Calls for UK to mimic US charitable culture 5

Fundraising | Vibeka Mair | 19 Jan 2011

Thomas Hughes-Hallett, chair of the Philanthropy Review, has told MPs at a Public Administration Select Committee meeting on increasing giving this week that the UK needs to mimic the USA in being more proud and vocal about charitable giving.

Hughes-Hallett, who is chief executive at Marie Curie Cancer Care, related a story where friends called him a ‘show-off’ in jest, for donating £100,000 to a charity, saying that in the USA it was absolutely ‘standard’ to be proud of charitable giving:

“I want to see a culture where charitable giving is talked about around the water cooler,” he said.
Earlier in the meeting, Hughes-Hallett also said that national recognition of charitable giving was not sufficient, complaining, to the astonishment of MPs, that the honours system had no specific category for philanthropy.

During the meeting Hughes-Hallett also convinced MPs to consider including the Treasury in talks on incentivising and encouraging philanthropy and individual giving.

He said it was notable that the government’s recent Giving Green Paper contained no mention of a commitment from the Treasury on giving, saying tax reform was essential to incentivise giving:

“If an individual wants to donate a painting they must pay capital gains tax, although the painting is just sitting there not earning money, therefore most will choose not to donate. Fiscal reform is necessary.”

Hughes-Hallett urged the committee to also press the Treasury on the issue of lifetime legacies.

PASC chair Bernard Jenkins and a number of MPs at the meeting said the committee would strongly consider inviting the Treasury minister, as well as the minister for the Cabinet Office, to further discussions on charitable giving.

Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of NCVO, who also gave evidence at the meeting, added that slow progress on gift aid reforms was hindering giving:

“The gift aid system is still cumbersome and paper-based. We’ve asked HMRC if it can be done electronically but it says it can’t afford to do it.”

PASC chair Bernard Jenkins suggested asking all credit card companies to store individuals' National Insurance numbers with their card details and extract it for gift aid when a donation is made.

The group also debated whether assumptions about what the state provided affected giving. Etherington said that it could be true that the expectation that one already paid for services through tax could discourage some charitable giving.

IT support
18 Aug 2012

I guess that to receive the home loans from banks you ought to have a firm reason. However, one time I've received a auto loan, because I was willing to buy a car.

Mark Astarita
Director of fundraising
British Red Cross
20 Jan 2011

Comparisons of the cultural and actual giving differences between giving in the USA and the UK can often be unhelpful.
While there are many differences like for instance a very different banking system in the USA which means monthly regular giving is a minor feature over there unlike over here.

On the other hand the culture of giving and having to give is wonderfully powerful in the USA and even a bit of that over here would be nice to have. That said there are also three big differences between us that I suspect add up to most of the difference in real charitable income. If we are to look for examples of good stuff from the USA let us try to understand the differences and not look to make changes based on a hunch.

In the US religious causes receive the largest proportion of total contributions to charity. In 1995, 44% of all charity donations went to religious organisations according to the Heritage Foundation. I expect it remains pretty much the same now.

A quick internet search suggests 44% of American citizens attend church each week. More than half of Americans (53%) said religion was "very important" to them, a view expressed by only 16% of all British respondents in a recent survey.

The National Council for Voluntary Organisation's figures for religious giving in the UK show that around 10% of the UK population gives to religious organisations. US religious activity, it appears, is three or four times greater than in Britain.

The Heritage Foundation research shows that in the US the more you go to church, the more you give. Donors attending weekly church services give an average of 3.3% of their income to charity while those attending monthly only give 1.4% and those attending only once or twice a year averaging just 1%.

Non-church attendees in the US give at around the same level as the total UK population gives to charity.
Could it be that if we wish to get the UK giving at US levels then what really needs to happen is get people going to church again?

Another aspect of fundraising in the US, which distorts the figures, is alumni fundraising for universities and colleges - the second highest beneficiaries after churches. This is a much less developed area of fundraising in the UK.

So where as cancer and children always win in UK charity stakes in the USA it is church first and education second.
Again, research by the Heritage Foundation points very clearly to the fact that the better off tend to favour what might be described as middle class causes. Upper income individuals in the US are more likely to give to the arts and humanities, environmental causes and educational institutions while lower income individuals tend to give to religious congregations and human service groups.

The average income for donors to the arts and humanities in the US (1993) was $56,535 while the average income of donors to religious organisations was $40,923. If you're poorer you'll give to your church and if you're richer you'll give to your university or opera house.

Put another way, an individual donor in the US earning over $60,000 per year is seven times more likely to contribute to the arts and humanities than a donor earning less than $20,000 per year; donations to educational institutions are 4.3 times more likely to come from wealthier individuals;" says the Heritage Foundation.

The other big difference is the sheer level of asking in the USA. Everyone asks and asks often. You will be phoned by your favourite charity monthly or even more. You certainly will be mailed every month and everyone you know will be asking you as well. Having just returned from Florida every shop I went into had a collection going on and every checkout girl asked me to give to it as you paid your bill. Even I a seasoned fundraiser thought it a bit over the top!
So if you want more giving we need more and more asking.

20 Jan 2011
Response to [mark astarita]

Interestingly, I am working on State of the Sector Report in one of the Outer East London boroughs and I have collected information about registered charities (only, excluding unregistered community groups) which shows that within last 5 years number of religious organisations (mostly churches, a couple of mosques) has increased to 45% of all charities and in 2009 their share of overall charitable income in this borough exceeded 43%. I suppose that churches are simply better at asking for money and in fact they ask often and stubbornly. In this borough nobody else asks, literally. Once every 3 months you can find a single poor soul with a bucket (usually kids' cause) and every 4 months some big charity of your type send chuggers but apart from that - nothing. In this sense I'd agree that we could borrow some of this American-style robustness and courage in asking.
I donate to 3 favourite charities but they have never asked me for direct debit or anything of sorts so I won't beg them. If asked I'd seriously consider committed giving but if not then no. Am I evil?

Mark Astarita
Director of Fundraising
British Red Cross
21 Jan 2011
Response to [Barbara]

Dear Barbara,

You most certainly are not evil far from it and if you would allow me 5 mins of your time I for one would love to encourage you to give what ever you can on a regular basis. You could find my contact details easily on the Red Cross website.

As a hackney boy I too see the rise in all sorts of congregations and I suspect the community as a whole is richer for it.

I often say what I sell is heaven on earth but clearly the added value of eternal salvation would not hurt ones offer.

Matt Scott
20 Jan 2011

The idea that the UK should mimic US charitable culture is already well embedded. We borrow so much of their terminology that we are very much the 51st state

The deeper issue is not so much that we should 'carry on mimicing' but that we should question whether this is a 'good thing'.

I'm one of those who think it isn't.

America is one of the most unequal and divided (over)developed countries on the planet - see the spirit level for further issues that arise from strcutral long term income inequality and how it corrodes society

Also (if you have time) have a look at Polly Toynbee's book on 'unjust rewards'

Where in the final chapetrs she describes the abject way in which charities have to special plead to super rich philnathropists, that they are the deserving poor - it is extremely unwholsome, this bragging about giving money made off the back of primarily irresponsible financial trading and tax avoidance

Etherington and Hughes Hallet probably wouldn't consider this an issue as it may suit their ideological predilection for big business but for the rest of society this is not the panacea for cuts that government would have us believe. It has the potential for limited public good, but by limited I mean drop in the ocean in comaparision with the cuts in the public sector and VCS AND it also has the tendency to be incredibly insensitive and patronising

In his book 'just another emperor' micheal edwards explodes some of these myths about philanthrocapitalism and calls for a critical and honest debate.

This is what we need. Not platitudes from the great and the good in the VCS, Govt and Private Sectors whilst the community sector gets quietly wiped out due to disproportionate cuts

For the kind of community sector and new funding settlement CSC would like to see, have a look at:


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