THE BLOG

Grassroots Philanthropy

06/03/2013 17:47 GMT | Updated 05/05/2013 10:12 BST

We may only be a few months into 2013, but the year is already looking bright for philanthropy as 12 more billionaires sign up to the Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates Giving Pledge. Some of the world's richest people have already committed to give half of their wealth to philanthropy. The pledge had previously only been signed by US based billionaires but Richard Branson is one of the latest signatories, bringing the pledge to our shores.

Of course each signatory has billions, so it is easy to feel completely removed from this. It isn't something most of us would ever be in a position to do. But just because we can't afford to give away half of our money, it doesn't mean that we can't all be philanthropists: grassroots philanthropists, giving a little when we can. Who knows, one day maybe one or two grassroots philanthropists, like us, might graduate to full-fledged members of the Giving Pledge.

With the Giving Pledge gaining momentum, 2013 feels the right time to be promoting philanthropy to the wider public too. Giving has always been part of the British culture, but are we doing enough to make it easy and affordable for young people to join in?

There are lots of schemes engaging with and encouraging the youth but less so in philanthropy. For example it is becoming far more common for teenagers to think entrepreneurially. Mentoring and schemes for like Young Enterprise are becoming increasingly popular and TV shows like Dragon's Den and The Young Apprentice bring to our living rooms the opportunities to build your own business.

But should we be looking at more ways to capture these potential philanthropists in a similar way? Are we doing enough to encourage them to get into the routine of giving a little when they can? It is our responsibility in the voluntary sector to help develop the giving culture and one of the ways we can do this is by making it easy for them to make micro-donations. If we encourage this from a young age these small donations will not only add up to making a meaningful difference right now but they may also encourage a habit of giving, unlocking more significant philanthropists in the future.

I remember as a child dropping a little of my pocket money into the head of a guide dog charity box, and hearing from my family how that penny would help a blind person get their very own guide dog. Memories like this have stuck with me, and I believe helped grow my interest in giving back and philanthropy. In reality those charity boxes are disappearing and we carry less cash. Therefore, the sector needs to be more creative in nurturing today's grassroots philanthropists. We must ensure that the micro-giving culture doesn't get lost along with our coins and the charity boxes.

From my perspective it feels like the sector is becoming more creative in its approach to fundraising. Innovation in giving is a growing field. A number of organisations both independent and government backed are looking for ways to grow giving in different ways.

Here at Pennies we can see this starting to happen. Charities are now regularly approaching us to explore how we can help them through our electronic charity box. Some have their own shops into which they have introduced Pennies, whilst others wish to explore current and new corporate partners who may support them. They vary in size, objectives and approach but all share one thing; they are interested in embracing new ways to make it easy for people to give.

In two years Pennies has demonstrated that if you give the public the opportunity to give a little they do. We are still quite small, with relatively few retailers offering Pennies but wherever it is introduced millions of people choose to give. In fact 2013 couldn't have started better for us as we reached a landmark figure of raising our first million pounds. That money is already benefitting 60 charities. As the donations begin to ramp up I am confident that this is only the first of many millions of pounds of new funds for charities.

It is worth noting that each donation is just a few pennies and many as little as 1p. Our first million pounds was raised from more than 4 million individual donations, proving that we can engage today's grassroots philanthropists: we just have to provide them with the opportunity to give.

I think collectively the voluntary sector needs to continue the trend of innovation in fundraising to attract those new grassroots philanthropists. It is time to look forward to 2013 and beyond with the aim to innovate and adapt our fundraising efforts to engage and fit into prospective donors' lives. We must never forget that charities depend on the generosity of the British public to keep their services running. And whilst we can't all give away billions like Branson, we can all be philanthropists...of the grassroots variety.