Opinion: Hot issue - Should the private sector give more to charity?

Figures published in the NCVO's latest biennial almanac reveal that donations from businesses make up 1 per cent of the voluntary sector's total income. This compares with 38 per cent from the public sector.


But in asking for more, charities must give more evidence that they are good investment prospects. In CAF's Getty Lecture last week, Sir Digby Jones set out his view of the harsh realities of survival in the corporate world. Success is hard won, and companies will judge others - including charities - by their ability to deliver.

Sadly, the new NCVO Almanac reports a fall in average charity incomes across the board, something that might discourage demanding investors such as companies. This needs to be explained, particularly in light of the almanac's other, more encouraging evidence that the sector is growing healthily, with a robust 40 per cent increase in the number of charities in the past decade.

Presumably, any fall in average income can be explained as much by the vast number of small start-ups as by any fall in existing incomes.

Of course, companies could afford to give more. In 2004, CAF's top 500 company donors reported combined pre-tax profits of £103.3bn, just under £1bn of which went to charities. More corporate support for the sector's small new entrants - many of which are local, community-based and entrepreneurial - would have a real impact.


Business must shout about its good work in communities more than it does.

Perception is reality and business, facing prejudice and suspicion, starts behind the game.

Business does understand its responsibility to society. When engaging in CSR, it is often suspected of having an eye solely on profits.

Often, however, the motivation is simply that it is the right thing to do.

Good employers are quality corporate citizens, deeply engaged in improving the communities in which they operate - not the evil-doers they are currently made out to be.

If there is to be a significant increase in charitable giving, however, the right conditions need to be in place.

We all know the tale of the good Samaritan, but he was only able to lend a hand because he had a few bob. Government must be mindful that if business tax is hiked ever higher, there simply won't be the funds available to allow firms to give more back to their communities.

Companies are willing to go further in supporting charitable concerns.

But this can only happen if charities make themselves more approachable, and if government provides the right climate.


There is great potential for corporate giving to benefit businesses and the communities in which they work, and the majority could be doing more.

The challenge for charities is to ensure that private sector organisations - small, medium and large - realise the benefits of giving and of promoting a culture of giving in the workplace.

Private sector organisations can make a difference by donating money or goods, or by actively promoting workplace giving and volunteering.

Government has enacted generous tax relief on corporate donations with a view to increasing support from UK businesses. All profitable businesses should aim to donate some of their profits in this way.

There are some excellent examples of businesses that are committed to supporting the voluntary sector and their local communities, but they are few and far between. For the large majority, there is still much to do.

The primary concern of the private sector remains its shareholders, but worthwhile business benefits can be gained by supporting charities.

If the voluntary sector can support employee volunteering and payroll giving in the workplace so effectively, surely the private sector can do the same?


Although companies should give to charity, it should be up to the shareholders.

They have lent money to the company to have it earn them profits, not so directors can feel good by giving it away. They should decide upon levels of giving that not only maximise their investments, but also allow their companies to grow. They would then be making the company attractive to other investors and to its customers.

Customers buy products based on their own choices and those of the company - if they approve of a company's giving policy, they can choose to buy its products.

The Government should be as far removed as possible from charitable giving undertaken by the private sector. It already reduces the amount of money available for redistribution through its overbearing regulation and high taxation, and should not be surprised that the levels of charitable giving have fallen over recent times.

It should neither direct private giving, nor covertly coerce public opinion, towards favourable projects that serve to reinforce its own values. You cannot be generous with someone else's money.

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