Newsmaker: Lord Joffe, Former chairman, The Giving Campaign - Robin Hood thwarted

John Plummer

Three years ago, the Giving Campaign was launched to make giving to charity as much a part of British life as overpriced fuel and wet bank holiday weekends. The campaign, chaired by Lord Joffe, was wound up in June when its funding expired. Amid much back-slapping and talk of other organisations taking on its good work, one fact went largely overlooked – a group solely committed to promoting giving in the UK no longer existed.

But if the campaign’s passing was sad, the cause of its demise was alarming.

It ended because charities were not prepared to pay for it to continue. Some 60 voluntary organisations, most notably the Charities Aid Foundation and umbrella body the NCVO, plus the Government, agreed to fund the Giving Campaign from its inception in 2001 to its third birthday. After that, the Government said it would stump up cash if the voluntary sector matched it, but charities charged with fostering a spirit of altruism among the public failed to show the same generosity themselves. Joffe, a former chairman of Oxfam and a human-rights lawyer who most famously represented Nelson Mandela, is clearly disappointed by the collective apathy. “The voluntary sector was terribly effusive in its praise of the campaign, but it wasn’t prepared to put the money in,” he says.

He accuses charities of suffering from collective myopia, which he warns could come back to haunt them.

“The voluntary sector is not accustomed to working together for its general good,” he says. “Organisations prefer to concentrate on specific interests or fundraising.

“They have started working together on campaigns in areas such as debt and education, very successfully. I hope that in time they will come to realise they need to do this for funding the sector as well. More funding means more campaigning.”

As the Giving Campaign drew its final breath, Joffe delivered a speech in the House of Lords revealing that individual giving had declined from 1.2 per cent of GDP in 1992 to 0.9 per cent in 2002. He blamed the lack of a philanthropic spirit among the rich and, picking up on the themes raised in A Blueprint for Giving, the campaign’s final publication, called for donations to double in a decade.

But given that the trend is down, and the Giving Campaign is gone, are charities up to the challenge? Baroness Pitkeathley, former chair of the New Opportunities Fund, suggested not when she responded to Joffe’s speech by accusing charities of being reluctant to change and “constantly complaining about how much more money they need”.

Joffe is more coded in his criticism but he certainly thinks the sector needs to raise its game. “With the growth in wealth and income, the additional tax relief and all of the other positive developments, the charity sector should have done much better. Charities have to become much more transparent and cost effective and they must be able to persuade donors they are worth investing in,” he says.

"Hang on, everyone talks about transparency these days – isn’t that one nettle voluntary organisations are already grasping? They would say they are but they don’t present it in a way that’s persuasive to the public," he says. “We need performance indicators of success. We need to be able to establish charities’ impact. It’s difficult for charities to show they have provided value for money, but they need to.” He cites taking major donors to projects they support as an example of demonstrating value for money. Rich givers – or rather the lack of them – weigh heavily on Joffe’s mind. Giving Campaign research discovered council house tenants give more of their wealth than high earners, and that Sunderland is Britain’s most generous city and London its least.

Joffe says charities need to cultivate a US-style culture of philanthropy, where it’s natural for successful businessmen to support a cause. He praises the Sunday Times for taking the lead by publishing a giving index of Britain’s most generous donors alongside its annual rich list. Joffe is also a fan of benchmarking, where people are asked to contribute a percentage of their wealth to good causes. It’s similar to the church’s tithes but instead of 10 per cent, Joffe suggests a meeker 1.5 per cent.

He feels that those organisations that want to stave off mergers must be bolder about fundraising and marketing. “Commercial organisations spend a great deal on their brands and marketing,” he says. “Nothing happens without marketing. But trustees are reluctant to recognise this.”

He now firmly believes charities need to do more than relieve suffering and have to take a political perspective on issues. “When we started campaigning at Oxfam, people began to understand that giving drought victims money helps for a short time, but that charities need to get to the roots of poverty and influence governments and organisations like the World Bank to take action,” he says.

He suggests the Chancellor’s spending review would have allocated less money to overseas aid had charities not campaigned together on the issue. Had they taken such a collective stance on promoting giving, he might still now be chairman of the Giving Campaign.

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