Analysis: Giving Green Paper

Sophie Hudson looks at the main themes in the consultation document and asks experts and commentators if the government is on the right lines

Giving Green Paper
Giving Green Paper

The introduction to the Giving Green Paper asserts that one of its main aims is to "increase levels of giving and mutual support in our society and catalyse a culture shift that makes social action a social norm".

A constant theme in the paper is the need for a shift that would bring a culture of giving to the UK that is more familiar in the US, where giving is more expected, more visible and more celebrated.

"In the UK, we've transferred too much power and responsibility to the government - we need to reverse that," says Nick Hurd, the Minister for Civil Society. "We're not talking about something that is going to happen overnight.

"We're not an ungenerous country, but our starting point is setting out evidence that, when you drill down into the data, there's a lot of potential to give more."

According to Hurd, if we can create an environment in which giving is more normal and visible, people will be influenced by that.

But how is such a shift achieved? The green paper cites behavioural science as proof that increasing the visibility of giving will encourage more people to follow suit.

"By making what people actually give more visible to others, and doing so in engaging and creative ways, we can create a peer effect that leads to giving spreading and growing," it says.

Sally Hibbert, associate professor in marketing at the Nottingham University Business School, agrees that extensive social influences on people are well established.

"In a number of spheres, behavioural economists have proved that if you tell participants in an experiment others are doing x, y or z, it reliably influences what the individuals themselves choose to do," she says.

Hibbert adds, however, that it is difficult to create a new social norm. "You can't flick a switch and do that," she says. "It's a good aspiration, but it's ambitious and will depend on the level of resources put into it."

Cathy Pharoah, director of the Centre for Charitable Giving and Philanthropy, believes that returning to a culture in which, for example, membership of churches and clubs is more common would encourage more giving. "Habits are harder to create without structures in place," she says. "Membership is something that could have been highlighted in the paper."

Maya Prabhu, head of UK philanthropy at the bank Coutts, agrees that gradually creating a more visible approach to philanthropy in the UK would encourage more people to give in the long run.

"In this country, if we see someone making a very public donation there tends to be a bit of cynicism about it," she says.

"If there's greater celebration of people coming forward, I think that will help change the culture and encourage others to come forward and do the same." But she says the choice to be visible must remain with the individual, because some people prefer to remain private in their giving.

Musa Okwonga, director for press at the Institute for Philanthropy, says that he has already started to notice this shift among UK philanthropists.

"In the past few years we've seen donors who were once very reticent about doing media work doing things like Secret Millionaire," he says. This is a Channel 4 reality television show in which millionaires go incognito into impoverished communities and agree to give away money to worthy causes under the pretence of filming a documentary.

"I think it's a great time to have this debate," Okwonga adds. "The time is ripe for it with the development over the past five years of people being more public and innovative with their giving."

Read further analysis of the Giving Green Paper:

An interview with Andrew Watt, an expert on giving cultures

The role of new technology

A guide to the main themes

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