Cathy Pharoah: Tale of two halves - The richest 10 per cent divide into givers and non-givers

If the non-donating half of the richest 10 per cent started giving it could be worth at least £1bn to charities, says our columnist

Cathy Pharoah
Cathy Pharoah

We all know how frustrating the other half can be. Do they pay any attention to what you are saying? Do they ever appreciate what you're doing? I'm not talking about partners or spouses here, but about the other half of wealthy households in the UK - the half of the top 10 per cent of households by income that, according to government figures, give nothing to charity.

Some wealthy families are committed to giving and philanthropy, and powerful examples are given in Family Foundation Giving 2011, which I co-authored. This inevitably raises questions about others who are not similarly committed. If some can give, why can't the others?

As social inequality widens through increasing unemployment and cuts in government spending, this question is becoming more urgent. There is not much research on those who don't donate, but explanations might be closer to home than we think. A striking common theme in the accounts given by founders of family trusts about the origins of their impulse to give is the huge influence of the example set by their families, communities and early contact with the work of charities and other needy causes.

Helen Hamlyn was sent by her mother to live in the Blackfriars Settlement when she was a student, there to learn about life in a deprived inner-city area. Sir Tom Hunter had early experience of his father helping people in the declining mining area where his family lived and worked. Maurice Wohl saw daily examples of his father's charitable activities, and followed his example as soon as he began to earn enough.

Several of today's major donors continue to highlight the importance of example, seeking to involve their own children in charitable activities, or on the board of their family foundations. It is both reassuring and discomfiting that the commitment of wealthy donors is often rooted in family, community and charitable backgrounds. It is reassuring because it shows that giving by people of high net worth does not have to be seen as something special that calls for approaches that are tailor-made for those who are highly successful in business or other careers.

What is worrying is the possibility that the reason many wealthy families do not give is that they lack connectedness with need, or the confidence that their contribution makes a difference. So simply asking them to give will not do the trick.

Highly visible experience and examples of philanthropy at work need to be presented and reinforced in all our important institutions and facilities - companies, universities, airports and galleries. We can't wait until initiatives in schools start to make up for the charitable deficit in families or households. If the non-donating half of the wealthiest 10 per cent of our households followed the example of the donating half, this could bring a minimum £1bn a year more to charities.

Cathy Pharoah is professor of charity funding at Cass Business School.

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