Last week, I reported that the wealthy few who give are angry with the majority who do not. I interviewed fifty benefactors for my book Giving Is Good For You and asked them how we could persuade the rich to give more and encourage the rest of us to be more even more generous. This week, I reported my findings to a meeting of the Funding Network, Britain's first open giving circle, where charities present to a group of donors.
I intended to write a book to promote giving but the donors I spoke to are so engaged with tackling problems and determined to change life for the better, that they have given us a template for living as well as giving. These are people who are not daunted by difficulty and who demonstrate that it is possible to make a difference.
They are the heroes and heroines of our age, seeking solutions by supporting the most vulnerable, the homeless, the young unemployed, those denied human rights, advancing education for the most disadvantaged, pioneering medical research as well as investing in higher education and the arts.
Donors say giving leads to fulfilment. They include those funding a refuge and re-education for sex workers in Newcastle, giving a million pounds a year to support the young unemployed in Yorkshire or funding research into poverty, transforming prospects for slum dwellers in Bangladesh and the rural poor in Zimbabwe.
Our conclusions are these. The Big Society was a potentially good idea but the brand became toxic because it was politicized by Government and seen as a cover for philanthropy to compensate for lower public spending. However, the state is in retreat, we do need a stronger voluntary sector and we must find ways to encourage more giving and volunteering. The time is ripe. The private and public sectors are in trouble. The Financial Times calls for the reform of capitalism. We need a new social contract between the citizen and the state.
Politicians should understand what motivates those who give, stop implying that donors are motivated by self -interest, recognise that philanthropy will always be a matter of personal choice and do everything necessary to persuade the rich to turn their wealth into social capital rather than another yacht. We should have a national strategy for philanthropy and the voluntary sector endorsed by all the main parties.
In turn, charities should be more accountable and demonstrate that they are working in the public interest if they and their donors are to continue receiving tax relief. They and their trustees also need to improve fundraising by understanding what motivates donors and how best to engage their interest.
Government needs to encourage giving by extending tax relief to a wider range of assets and introducing life -time legacies as well as gifts on death. Business people must demonstrate charitable commitment and pay UK tax before they are eligible for national honours. Some donors advocate abolishing non dom status so that British citizens pay UK tax wherever they are domiciled. More people should be honoured for volunteering as well as giving.
However important it is for the rich to pay tax and to give, we should all think about our commitment to our civil society. We need to introduce a culture of giving in our country. The only way we can do this is by changing the way we educate our children, by teaching that, regardless of wealth, we all have a role to play in sustaining our civil society. Education without values is pointless. We have to learn what it means to belong to the human race. "Citizenship" and volunteering should be at the heart of the curriculum and the young should be encouraged to earn a national diploma recognized by higher education and employers as a commitment to their fellow men and women. This is how we escape from the race to the bottom, overcome our addiction to materialism, rediscover our humanity, strengthen our society and learn that giving, in every sense, is good for all of us.
John Nickson is the author of Giving Is Good For You. www.bitebackpublishing.com - the author's royalties will be donated to charities