THE likes of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have helped boost the profile of philanthropy among the UK’s richest people, according to a leading researcher, who says that success is now defined not just by how much they have in their bank account, but by how much they are giving to good causes.
Dr Beth Breeze, who has returned to her home city of Leeds this week to give a keynote address, co-authored the book, Richer Lives: why rich people give, and directs the Centre for Philanthropy at the University of Kent.
Speaking about the findings of her latest book, she said: “The good news is that people are more interested in philanthropy. The rich people that do it are feeling a greater personal commitment. They feel that over the last decade that has grown.”
Dr Breeze’s interviews with 82 philanthropists found that 78 per cent said the profile of philanthropy in the UK has improved.
Meanwhile, a third said they believe that better recognition of donors has contributed to the improved profile of philanthropy in the UK.
“In America, people are proud to be philanthropists. Over here, it’s a little bit more ambivalent: quite a lot of suspicion about why people do it and so on.
“But the people we spoke to felt that was changing and it was changing for the better; that it was becoming something to aspire to,” said Dr Breeze.
The profile of philanthropy “fell off a cliff” in the middle of the last century, she said, with the perception being that it was “something the Victorians did”.
“It took the current generation of IT entrepreneurs to say actually it isn’t just something from the past. It’s relevant today”, said Dr Breeze.
Dr Breeze was responsible for researching and writing the annual Coutts Million Pound Donors Report from 2008 to 2012.
According to the latest report, the total value of charitable donations in the UK worth £1m or more rose nine per cent to £1.35bn in 2012 from £1.24bn in 2010/11, reaching its highest level since the financial crisis hit in 2008/09.
Meanwhile, the total amount of giving tracked from 231 people in this year’s Sunday Times Rich List was up more than 21 per cent from £1,715m to £2,081m.
The amount of giving among the rich is going up, said Dr Breeze, though this likely to be in part due to the “reveal effect”, in other words more people talking about their philanthropic endeavours.
But there is still a “problem of undergiving” among the rich”, according to Dr Breeze.
The latest Forbes list of 1,645 global billionaires, which is topped by Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who has a $76bn fortune, includes just 122 who have signed the The Giving Pledge.
The Giving Pledge is an initiative begun in 2010 by Bill Gates and fellow billionaire business magnate Warren Buffett, which asks billionaires to make a public commitment to give away at least half of their wealth during their lifetime or in their will. Both Gates and Buffett are well-known philanthropists themselves.
“Everyone we met and surveyed (for the book) said they would agree their lives have been enriched by giving,” said Dr Breeze.
Nowadays, philanthropists are more involved in the charities they support, she said, marking “the end of the armchair philanthropist”.
Dr Breeze said the reasons that the rich don’t give can include a feeling of financial insecurity, a concern that they don’t know what the future holds, which may come as a surprise to many in view of their wealth.
Others have a lack of awareness of the needs that exist or lack empathy with those in need.
“There are also some rich people who would give – or would give more – if they had more confidence that charities would spend the money well.
“So charities have to do more to demonstrate their effectiveness and impact,” added Dr Breeze.