We have a problem with the word 'philanthropist', says academic

Beth Breeze says people who give large donations are celebrated in the US, but people in the UK are uncomfortable with the concept

Beth Breeze
Beth Breeze

British culture has a problem with the idea of a "philanthropist", the fundraising academic Beth Breeze has said.

Speaking at the Institute of Fundraising’s major donors conference in central London today, Breeze, who is director of the Centre for Philanthropy at the University of Kent, said that in the US large donations from very wealthy people were celebrated and seen as something to aspire to.

"There’s a very distinct culture of philanthropy in the US, one where they’re pretty positive and encouraging about the use of private wealth to advance the public good," she said.

Despite the UK’s long tradition of charitable giving, she said, British people seemed to be a lot more comfortable celebrating smaller donors.

"If you stick a few zeroes on the end of a donation, people get a bit uncomfortable and unsure how to react," she said.

"We don’t like the word ‘philanthropist’ in this country. We reject it. Major donors will often say ‘I’m not a philanthropist, I’m just generous, I’m just doing what I like’."

She said this problem was often played out in newspapers, which made snide comments about the large-scale giving of billionaire Bill Gates.

"He could keep the money to himself, order a mega-yacht and enjoy his life without all the sniping," Breeze said.

"Conspicuous consumption doesn’t lead to the type of criticism in this country that those trying to do good seem to get."

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