Opinion: How to persuade the rich to give it away

Nick Cater, a consultant and writer: catercharity@yahoo.co.uk

Leaving aside Gordon Brown's failure to return VAT to non-profit organisations, the voluntary sector's lacklustre fundraising growth from bequests and much else, and companies' tough resistance to payroll giving, what is the biggest gap in charity income?

Yes, it's those growing numbers of pesky rich Brits again, darn it, managing to keep all or most of their wealth by not giving much away, unlike the Yanks, with their grand charity tax breaks and an aristocracy of affluence that relies on conspicuous consumption and generous donation.

So how should charities inspire the wealthy, from the latest entrepreneurs to the landed gentry, to share their luck (and shell out their fair share)? And was that not one of the principal purposes of the carefully named Beacon Awards? Apparently not.

In its mission to "encourage individual contributions" and "showcase best practice in giving", Beacon has put back this year's nomination deadline by a week to 8 November, not because of falling entries - 2003 attracted 765, 2004 attracted 400 - but because, it says, of the time essential to scrutinise the many nominations for this year's six prize categories.

The categories include family philanthropy for the first time, which is a useful addition to an overlong list of awards and winners - 18 last time - that ranges far wider than the key challenge of getting those wallowing in the stuff to hand over more than a pittance.

Yes, the names include Goldsmith, Shirley, Hunter and Rausing by way of Bob Geldof and Jamie Oliver, but for the most part the winners are eminently worthy and less than rich. Yet, since the shortage is wealthiness not worthiness, Beacon seems unlikely to inspire many millionaires to take up philanthropy.

Having myself struggled to secure media coverage for a $1m prize rather than Beacon's top whack £20,000, I suspect awards are an inadequate tool for redirecting a culture towards giving.

To that end, one useful US practice is private seminars organised by a philanthropic multimillionaire in discreet locations at which the seriously rich can discuss among themselves and away from any publicity the why and how of big gifts without advisers or intermediaries getting in the way.

Perhaps what the rich really need is less a leading light and more a little shade.

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