Government urged to appoint a ‘philanthropy champion’

The government should appoint a philanthropy champion in Whitehall to co-ordinate efforts to increase charitable giving, experts have said.

The Law Family Commission for Civil Society, a two-year initiative launched by the think tank Pro Bono Economics in December 2020 to examine how the potential of civil society could be unleashed in the UK, argues in a new report that the government has not committed enough resources to improve giving, saying that it dedicates just one-third of a single civil servant’s time to philanthropy policy.

The report says the government has “a number of powerful levers” for improving philanthropy and that the charity sector could receive an extra £5bn each year if public giving in Britain matched levels in other parts of the world.

It says a philanthropy champion would help the government provide the “co-ordination, resource and expertise” needed to grow charitable giving and would complement the work already done by the Charity Commission and Fundraising Regulator.

The role could be modelled on public-philanthropic partnerships in the US, which involve civil servants being placed in federal departments and local legislatures to promote giving, the report says.

Pro Bono Economics, which prepared the new paper, first made the proposals to the Chancellor of the Exchequer last year.

Referring to comparative research by the Charities Aid Foundation, the report says: “The UK population is estimated to give 0.54 per cent of national income to charity, which is significant. Yet the US, Canadian and New Zealand public give a notably higher proportion.

“If the British population gave a similar share of their wealth to charity as the New Zealand or Canadian populations, this would generate an additional £5bn in annual donations for charity.”

Sir Gus O’Donnell, the former head of the Civil Service who chairs the Law Commission, said: “At a time when all [government] departments are facing calls to reduce their numbers, it makes sense to ensure that the Civil Service is making the most of the opportunities provided by philanthropy.

“The appointment of a philanthropy champion in Whitehall to co-ordinate a philanthropy strategy across departments and in partnership with sector organisations is the necessary first step towards unlocking the full potential of giving in the UK.

“This would benefit charities, government and the public alike.”

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