Opinion: Hot Issue - Would a recognised benchmark increase giving among the rich?

Last week, Giving Campaign chair Lord Joffe proposed a national benchmark for giving, set at 1.5 per cent of income. He argues that an official target would encourage wealthy donors to give more.


Over the past three years, the Giving Campaign has established a positive platform for increasing giving and it is now up to all of us to respond.

One of the aims of the campaign was to try to influence the culture of giving so that more funds are given by existing donors, and that people who hadn't previously, start giving to charity.

One of the issues was how to encourage the better off to give more. If you look at the giving patterns of the wealthy, it is clear that peer pressure has more effect than general campaigning. Equally, the world of the wealthy business leaders is dominated by benchmarks and performance targets. It seems to me to be perfectly sensible to both establish a benchmark - increasing the percentage of national income devoted to charitable giving from 0.9 per cent to 1.5 per cent - and challenge the very well off to give a particular percentage of their income.

Benchmarks tend to concentrate the mind. Taking an annual income of £100,000 and establishing a target for giving at that level will make people think about what they can afford to do and what is meant by "generosity". These cannot be iron rules. They are a way to enthuse people to give more in line with their ability to donate.


Abstract targets alone are less likely to work than encouragement from respected contacts or role models. Knowing they are making a real difference and enjoying relationships with senior staff, other donors and, sometimes, beneficiaries can make giving fun and relevant.

Practice among our interviewees varied: some give very little; one gives 25 per cent of their income; another put 40 per cent of the funds from the sale of a business into a charitable trust. Many didn't feel secure enough to make donations of capital. They need to be helped to understand the real level of their wealth and what they could afford - sometimes a benchmark of 2 per cent would be too low. However, major employers could be encouraged to set this kind of target for highly paid staff.

The challenge is to reach those who live different lives from the rest of society with projects which capture their imagination, and involve them in a way which respects their expertise. Even where tithing is traditional, few reach the target. People do not just 'give' - they give because of a passion for a cause, and because they feel good about it. 'Naming and shaming' and setting targets are less likely to encourage a culture of giving.


While every fundraiser would love to see the day when philanthropy is embedded throughout the British culture, encouraging giving by using a recognised benchmark seems a sad reflection on today's target driven society.

Such a move is not the way to encourage genuine altruism, which should be brought about by a process of education and enlightenment about the work that charities carry out.

Peer education by those wealthy members of the population who do give would encourage people to think about the areas of charitable work that interest them, as would visiting - 'seeing is believing' - the work that is carried out on the ground. This would give people an understanding of the real impact that financial or other support can make, and would be a more valuable and lasting approach.

The best thing about the voluntary sector is that it can still be motivated, to a certain extent, by idealism. It is this idealism that it should seek to perpetuate, rather than giving people a philanthropic seal of approval once they become members of the '1.5 per cent' club.


Setting a sector benchmark such as 1.5 per cent of annual income as Lord Joffe suggests could act as a barrier to giving and would not necessarily be motivational to donors. A whole raft of personal issues influence how, when, why and at what level an individual chooses to support a particular charity.

Clarity about need and the impact a large donation can make are motivating factors for a donor. The key to securing large gifts from individuals is to develop an understanding of their motivation and respond to that - ideally developing a relationship close enough where you can talk openly about their long-term plans, levels of giving and the impact of their gift.

There are more creative and less crude ways of encouraging support and incentivising giving than simply creating a dogmatic statement about our expectations of levels of support. At the trust we invest a lot in getting to know our donors. That way, we try to create individual 'benchmarks' based on their giving patterns and areas of interest.

The issue is developing the ask most appropriate to the donor at the time, be it 1 per cent, 5 per cent or beyond.

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