Sector needs a new vision of philanthropy, says Sir Stuart Etherington

The chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, speaking at the 30th annual lecture of the Attlee Foundation, says altruism should be celebrated

Sir Stuart Etherington
Sir Stuart Etherington

The voluntary sector must develop a clearer vision of philanthropy and the difference it makes, according to Sir Stuart Etherington, the chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations.

Speaking on "Philanthropy, Fairness and Democracy" in London last night, Etherington defended philanthropy and addressed the criticisms often levelled at it – that it is outdated, does not work and is inherently undemocratic and unfair. He argued that its "weaknesses are outweighed by its benefits".

But he said that there was a need for a "stronger narrative for philanthropy that reasserts its moral underpinnings and accentuates the positive achievements that giving time and money can make".

"If philanthropy is truly to be at the heart of society – working with organisations from other sectors, blending them and adding to them – we need a vision for what a democratic, effective and substantive philanthropy looks like in the decade ahead," he said.

Etherington was delivering the 30th annual lecture of the Attlee Foundation, set up to help people disadvantaged by poverty or lack of opportunity and, in so doing, commemorate the life and achievements of the former Labour Prime Minister Clement Attlee.

Etherington called for a celebration of altruism and a defence of what is special about charity. He said there was a need for a debate about rights and responsibilities in society. That debate should recognise that "those with the broadest shoulders need to do more", he added, but at the same time that it is necessary "to stop bashing the rich".

Etherington said the clearer narrative also needed to "make a better case for where and why philanthropy makes the most difference".

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