Opinion: A virtuous penury is of minimal benefit

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

Here's an American publication demonstrating the US approach to business philanthropy: "What are they really looking for in a non-profit grantee? How do you fit into their goals? Do you have to be a sexy cause to get corporate dollars?"

On this side of the Atlantic, there has been more decorum and caution about which businesses a charity will do business with. UK companies' contributions to good causes are generally feeble; the tsunami donations were almost certainly an exception to the rule - unless the voluntary sector as a whole seizes that precedent to foster new thinking in the boardroom.

Add to this the business world's apparent resistance to payroll giving, which need not cost companies a penny. The question, then, is this - should the Brits sex up their approach to corporate cash, lower their standards and fit firms' goals?

Although some in the corporate world believe that no public company should donate to charity - they say individuals should spend their own income - UK firms seem to suffer no excess of principles, just a lack of generosity. Or are charities being far too high-minded when they need to be getting both down and very dirty so the firm sees a return and responds well to the ask?

Since a key function of charities in capitalism is to smooth the system's rough edges - a little like the role of the church in keeping people happy with their lot in previous eras - and charities surely believe they can make better use of the money than the average executive, perhaps campaigns for corporate social responsibility should be put on hold while fundraisers find shorter spoons to sup with businesses good, bad and ugly.

Given the amount that governments do every day without a hint of shame, from starting wars and denying human rights to letting asylum seekers beg on the streets, it does seem to smack of double standards to be unwilling to take cash from a corrupt arms company, polluting mining concern or cancerous tobacco firm, until the state has laundered their tax payments into a welfare service contract or Futurebuilders grant.

Vice or virtue, profits or penury? Perhaps charities hesitating about whether to take the money or run should recall what armed robber Willie Sutton allegedly said - a reporter made up the quote, of course - when asked why he chose to raid banks: "Because that's where the money is."

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