Philanthropists’ wishes do not necessarily match Big Society needs, says Professor
Professor Cathy Pharoah, of the Centre for Charitable Gving and Philanthropy addressed how philanthropists might engage with Big Society at the Southwark Forum on 23rd June based on her paper Private Giving and Philanthropy - their place in Big Society.
Professor Pharoah argues that little thought has been given to how the psyche of philanthropists works with the Big Society concept. She says: “Analysis of voluntary sector funding in the UK often treats giving as no more than one ‘income stream’ amongst others, rarely focussing on the highly personal and often complex nature of donor choices and motivation.”
She argues that giving is driven by personal agendas, reflecting personal, corporate or family interests rather than society’s needs.
She says: “Government has clearly identified an increase in giving and philanthropy as part of its Big Society thinking, but there has been little appraisal of whether this is feasible, and what it might mean or achieve in terms of reconciling private and public needs.”
There is also a large discrepancy between the amount given and the amount needed. Currently, private giving from individuals, companies and charitable trusts is worth over £18bn per year and represents about a third of the income of charities and other voluntary organisations.
Pharoah also points out that while giving provides around a third of the funding of voluntary organisations and activities, it is equal to just 2.7% of current government spending.
Having conducted an analysis of the distribution of statutory funding and private donations across causes in the top 500 fundraising charities, Pharoah found that the preferences of philanthropic and statutory donors are very different. She says: “An increase in charitable giving on these trends would not necessarily bring help to the causes which are most at risk from statutory spending cuts.”
Using libraries as an example, which suffered early government cuts, Pharoah says that philanthropists do not necessarily have sufficient resources or the desire to meet the demands of building a ‘Big Society’, where donors step in to fill funding gaps.
She concludes: “An expansion in the scale of charitable giving and philanthropy may not lead to an expansion in the diversity of causes met or in local engagement unless the willingness to give is strongly aligned with a sense of responsibility towards emerging public need.”