OPINION: Inspiring our future JP Gettys

Lisa Harker, deputy director of the Institute for Public Policy Research

Recent tributes to the late Sir John Paul Getty II provided a rare opportunity to acknowledge a modern-day philanthropist. Because of the level of his wealth, his donations were on an exceptional scale: in excess of £150 million.

But had it not been for his giving, Getty's life would have been remembered for being beset by personal tragedy. If you needed to be reminded that philanthropy benefits the soul as well as society, Getty's epitaph certainly did that.

Few names of modern philanthropists seep into the public consciousness.

We are more likely to recall givers of bygone eras. Search online for 'British philanthropist' and you are more likely to get details of 19th-century social reformers than contemporary givers.

But our failure to publicise and celebrate the benefits of giving discourages the development of a culture of philanthropy in Britain. It is extraordinary that in the 21st century we need an award scheme simply to publicise philanthropic acts. The Beacon Fellowship Charitable Trust has recently established a series of annual awards to recognise the financial (and non-financial) contribution that individuals can make to charity. Its founders acknowledge that until the act of giving becomes more publicly recognised, others will not be inspired to make their own contribution.

The award scheme is a good idea but there are others who could do more to increase public awareness of philanthropy in the UK. Top of my list would be charitable trusts and foundations. Collectively, they give nearly £2 billion to charities each year, equivalent to the amount that the Government allocates in grants to the sector. Through donations, they make a substantial contribution to social change. And yet, their work is practically unknown to outsiders.

Such foundations can be publicity-shy, fearing floods of grant applications.

Yet unless the public is more aware of their activities, we are unlikely to see a new generation of givers emerging. How many of today's business people aspire to set up foundations? We should be trying to inspire the Fairbairns and Rowntrees of the future.

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