Opinion: Deeds worth shouting about

Isn’t it time we British shed that oh-so-coy characteristic of being reticent about talking about money?

With embarrassingly low levels of philanthropy in Britain we desperately need to champion the work of the few who do put their money to good use.

Yet it is surprisingly difficult to publicise philanthropic activity. A recent book published by Philanthropy UK claims that more than half of rich donors prefer to give anonymously.

Their self-inflicted modesty appears to be partly motivated by selfishness (not wanting to be deluged with lots of requests for funding) and partly by selflessness (believing that talking about charity-giving is tantamount to flaunting their wealth). But with so many wanting to remain silent about their deeds, philanthropy is unlikely to become contagious.

Until we ditch the very British characteristic of being shy about talking about what we do with our money, it’s hard to imagine a culture of giving emerging. One of Philanthropy UK’s recommendations is that the media expose the charitable interests and commitments of the people they profile. But short of ‘outing’ philanthropists, this strategy seems doomed to fail as long as there are so few willing to share news of their giving habits.

Initiatives such as the annual prizes organised by the Beacon Fellowship are helpful in drawing attention to the art of giving. The fellowship has tried to vigorously promote the awards with help from major media outlets. But with such a small pool of publicity-hungry donors, the potential for promoting philanthropy is still somewhat restricted. Last year, the prizes attracted 765 nominations. In a country as wealthy as ours, shouldn’t we expect several thousand givers to be put in the frame for some recognition?

It all makes Anita Roddick’s approach to her £1m gift to Amnesty especially significant. Her readiness to publicise the donation, and to use it to encourage others to give, reflects a refreshingly upfront attitude to charitable giving. British philanthropists ought to take note. It’s time to ‘Roddickise’ our approach to talking about money.

Lisa Harker is chair of the Daycare Trust, but writes in a personal capacity

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