Philanthropy's Greatest Achievements blames modern media for fuelling public pessimism by constantly reporting new and unmet needs. The report argues that philanthropists, far from being ineffective, are able to use their private wealth to good effect quickly, and are prepared to take risks because, unlike governments, they are unencumbered by concerns about public opinion.
Beth Breeze, the author of the report, said: "Philanthropy is not the only thing that makes such achievements happen, but it's a major source of funds."
The report asked 1,000 academics, charity professionals and other experts to list up to three "greatest achievements" of British philanthropy before 1900 and a further three since 1900.
Their pre-1900 choices included the provision of welfare services before the foundation of the welfare state, the abolition of the slave trade, and provision of education and leisure for ordinary people. The greatest achievements since 1900 were named as international aid, health research and health services, and campaigning for legislative and social change.
The report follows an announcement that the Conservative party is developing proposals to stimulate private giving. Tory party leader David Cameron used a speech at the NCVO to promise more details in the New Year.
Breeze said: "I'm not surprised by Cameron's comment, but it will be interesting to see what is proposed because there is not a lot of space left in terms of tax breaks on giving or raising the profile of causes generally."