Philanthropy should be more accountable and transparent, says Centre for Charitable Giving report

Cathy Pharoah, one of the authors of Philanthropy and a Better Society, says spending should be directed to where it is most needed

Cathy Pharoah
Cathy Pharoah

Philanthropic giving often fails to reach the causes that need it most, according to a new report from Cass Business School.

Philanthropy and a Better Society, published by the Centre for Charitable Giving and Philanthropy at Cass, examines research findings about the nature of philanthropy and how it relates to the needs and ideals of the big society.

It says philanthropy plays a vital part in empowering society and communities, but its impact "is circumscribed by the values and passions of private donors." If philanthropy is to take on a greater role in creating strong, inclusive and active communities, it says, government must honour commitments to remove barriers to giving.

"But policies are unlikely to be successful unless government, policymakers and charities nudge or persuade donors not just to give more, but to give in ways which lead to greater inclusion, diversity and social justice," it says.

The Giving White Paper identified most of the important levers for encouraging giving, the report goes on: "These will not help to create the big society, however, unless they are explicitly mobilised in ways which direct philanthropy to where it is needed, and are driven by clear values.

"An era of successful global capitalism has seen huge resources now flowing through philanthropy. As the numbers of new philanthropic 'world-makers' increase... we will need to find ways of ensuring responsible governance of such resources. The need for accountability and transparency in philanthropic decision-making will continue to grow in importance so that the public and see, debate and influence the direction of private philanthropy."

In his foreword to the report, Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, says: "The uneven distribution of philanthropic resources suggests that as a society we may not be placing those resources where they are most needed but, instead, where they are most effectively asked for."

He says that changes to the regulatory and taxation framework for philanthropy, such as the ‘fit and proper person’ test or legislation on tainted donations, are a "real deterrent to enabling a broader and deeper philanthropy".

Cathy Pharoah, professor of charitable giving at Cass, co-director of the CGAP and one of the report’s authors, said: "Philanthropy is increasingly vital to people at the sharp end of the current economic and social upheaval. Our work shows that we need to rethink how to direct our help to where it is most needed."

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