THINKPIECE: Tax breaks are not the way to tempt donors

Commentators regularly report that on average people in the US give almost 2 per cent of their income to charity while the figure stubbornly remains at around one per cent in the UK.

The argument follows that if the UK is to boost charitable donations it needs to adopt US-style techniques to encourage giving. These include tax breaks for donors and the introduction of a variety of charity-linked financial products ranging from life insurance to savings products to boost charity income. The Giving Campaign, led by its director Amanda Delew, is a chief advocate of these.

However, it is not fundraising mechanisms but cultural differences that most influence charitable giving. One such difference is striking. In the US, religious organisations are the largest beneficiaries, taking 44 per cent of donations. However, there, 44 per cent of people attend church every week, compared to only 10 per cent in the UK.

Research from The Heritage Foundation in the US found that church attendance is the most important indicator in determining an individual's level of charitable giving. Donors attending weekly church services give an average of 3.3 per cent of their income to charity while those attending monthly only give 1.4 per cent. Non-church attendees in the US give at around the same level as the total UK population. If we wish to get the UK giving at US levels, should we be getting people to go to church again?

The second largest US beneficiaries, at 12.5 per cent, are education groups, mainly private colleges and universities. Fundraising for universities and colleges in the US is a huge activity. Fundraising among alumni sees colleges like Harvard and Yale raising hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

You can bet that as soon as these financial products, which benefit high taxpayers, become available in the UK, private schools and top universities will vigorously promote them to their various captive audiences just as they do in the US. We must ask if these tax-busting products will add value to all charities or become the preserve of the few.

Giving to charity is very much a human emotional response, more often than not prompted by asking. It is charities' own passion for their cause, not tax breaks, that can get Britain giving more.

MARK ASTARITA, deputy chief executive, The National Deaf Children's Society

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