The richest people in the UK are the meanest when it comes to giving to charity. According to statistics from Charities Aid Foundation, less well-off people give an average of 3 per cent of their income, but the most wealthy donate only a measly 1 per cent. Fundraisers frequently look enviously at the US where giving to charity is a great status symbol and it seems every wealthy businessman has a charity he supports.
The question is, why doesn't this happen here? It is possible that the wealthy feel that they have made their contribution to society through their higher rate tax payments and that the Government should be using that money to look after those less fortunate than themselves. But there is also an argument that there just isn't such a culture of giving in this country.
Apart from a few celebrities, such as Sir Elton John and Sir Bob Geldof, the charitable contributions of the rich are not publicly recognised.
A new charity, the Beacon Fellowship Trust, has just been set up by a wealthy businessman with money to spare and will award six annual prizes to big givers who have put a large amount of money or time into a voluntary organisation. Although the idea of patting wealthy people on the back for their generosity may seem a bit distasteful, it could encourage more people to give.
It will be interesting to see how many philanthropists will be interested in coming forward for these awards. The British, more bashful by nature than the Americans, may find the idea of being publicly congratulated for their generosity rather embarrassing. They will also worry about the avalanche of begging letters that will arrive as soon as their charitable nature is made public.
However, the success of this scheme could rely on the fundraisers looking for wealthy supporters showing some restraint and thinking hard before firing off a string of letters asking for money.