OPINION: Leap to different conclusions

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

Because 2004 is a leap year, there's an extra day squeezed into February.

This extension to our annual allocation, if only by 24 hours, is welcome.

If nothing else it is an opportunity to study the list of 'things I would do if only I had more time' and to reflect on how we timetable our lives.

The Giving Campaign is keen that we do not waste our extra day. It has launched an initiative called the 'Big Leap' to encourage employees to devote their additional day's earnings to charity. By asking people to pledge the equivalent of just two hours of earnings each month - a total of a day's pay over a 12- month period - the Big Leap aims to demonstrate that regular, modest donations can make a big difference. The Giving Campaign calculates that if 10 per cent of the UK workforce were to take part in the Big Leap, it could raise more than £300m.

The Big Leap will have been a success if it persuades some of the one in three people who do not regularly give to charity to do so. And by encouraging employees to give via the company payroll, the campaign may also increase the numbers using Gift Aid. Only one in four donors currently give through Gift Aid and the Giving Campaign recently calculated that charities are missing out on more than £900m a year as a result.

But the Big Leap also reinforces an inequality that is already very evident.

By only including large, high-profile charities on the list of potential beneficiaries, the initiative will encourage more resources to go to those that already benefit most.

When it comes to payroll giving, smaller, lesser-known charities are rarely given the opportunity to attract donations; pre-selected lists of well-known charities are usually all that is on offer to donors. Yet there is a clear need to redress an imbalance. Already a third of the sector's income goes to just 0.1 per cent of charities.

With the help of IT, there must be a way that donors could be given the opportunity to select beneficiaries by choosing charities that match their interests, concerns and even geographical area. Donors ought to be given a wide choice of charities, not only the usual suspects.

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