OPINION: Cheques without any fanfare

Peter Stanford, a writer and broadcaster. He chaired the trustees of the national disability charity Aspire and now sits on various trustee boards

We Brits need to be more flamboyant about our charitable giving.

That, at least, is the view of the newly established Beacon Fellowship Charitable Trust. It aims to learn from the US and draw in more donors by giving them a higher profile. The aim is laudable, but the method is wrong.

First, there is the principled objection. People should give because they want to - because they wish to use their good fortune to improve the lot of others, not because they want us all to think how generous they are. Wanting a fanfare to accompany cheques is rather like buying your peerage in the House of Lords by giving to a political party and then pretending you've got there on merit.

We do not, of course, live in a principled world. But in practical terms too, this idea is muddle-headed. It may work with high-profile, public-friendly causes, but when it comes to the tougher, less palatable ones - mental health, prison reform, rehabilitation of paedophiles - which would-be public philanthropist is going to want to see his or her name up in lights with those of the most despised individuals in our society?

Most of my own fundraising activities have centred around disability.

It sits somewhere in the middle of the beauty parade of charitable causes.

Yet the most generous donors, the people who will give most when you are starting up a project with no guarantee of success, are the ones who want no plaque commemorating their generosity. Those who want those trimmings as part of the deal are much more likely to come in when the project is up and running and all risk is removed. Lauding the big names is a recipe for charities to confine themselves to proven schemes, rather than those exhilarating, seat-of-the-bum ones that just might change the world.

If we want to find practical methods to encourage more donors, let's increase the fiscal incentives. But the idea of creating a whole new category of charity celebrities, whose wallets will win them a spread in Heat magazine alongside the reality-TV survivors, will debase us all.

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