OPINION: A nation of reluctant givers

LISA HARKER, deputy director of the Institute for Public Policy Research

Apparently my condition is quite normal. The symptoms are rarely openly acknowledged but, thanks to the work of academic Stan Cohen, they are now much better understood. I'm suffering from "implicatory denial".

It all started when I was approached by a well-known charity and asked to undertake a house-to-house collection in my street. No sooner had I agreed than I started to experience feelings of discomfort. It wasn't the worthiness of the cause that bothered me. Simply the thought of having to ask my neighbours for money brought me out in a cold sweat.

With the deadline looming, 50 empty fundraising envelopes are sitting on my kitchen table with little likelihood of being filled. Guilt may well drive me to make a modest donation to make up for my inadequacy.

But I continue to shirk my responsibilities and am resigned to the fact that door-to-door fundraising just isn't for me.

It seems I am not alone. We are a nation of shirkers when it comes to charitable giving. In fact, overall charitable giving is around 1 per cent of GDP - just half of that in the US. To cope with our meanness we employ elaborate strategies, as described in Cohen's book States of Denial.

It's easier to blame the approach to fundraising than face up to our meanness.

Implicatory denial ("It's not me, it's the way they ask for donations") is a common tactic.

While we happily go in search of new fundraising techniques - the latest being venture philanthropy - we overlook the fundamental problem: that we are simply not a nation of givers. Charitable giving is seen as a personal choice rather than a responsibility of every good citizen.

The Institute for Public Policy Research's findings about the attitude of the rich to charitable giving caused a stir by pointing out this unpalatable truth. But creating a culture of giving requires more than new fundraising techniques. It requires us to acknowledge that we are not the most generous of nations and, above all, to feel sufficiently uncomfortable about our meanness to want to do something about it.

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