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Are we doing enough to promote philanthropy?

By Eleanor Shaw - Posted on 30 May 2013

Professor Eleanor Shaw, from Strathclyde Business School’s Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship, discusses the state of philanthropy in the UK…

For a small island in the North Atlantic, on first impressions, the UK would appear to punch above its weight when it comes to philanthropy. From Andrew Carnegie to Robert Owen, our history is full of business leaders who - through charitable acts - have made a real impact and created positive societal changes.

In more recent years, names like Sir Tom Hunter, Lord Sainsbury and Sir Richard Branson have become synonymous with high profile philanthropic acts.

As part of the Centre for Charitable Giving and Philanthropy (CGAP), my colleagues and I have been working to establish an accurate picture of wealthy people’s charitable giving and in particular, we’ve been researching the link between entrepreneurs and philanthropy.

We’ve found that entrepreneurs, which is to say people who have created their own wealth through their own business ventures, are more likely to be involved in philanthropic activity than those who are employees.

Importantly, we’ve also observed that their charitable giving is not restricted to financial gifts. The most valuable resources many of these entrepreneurs are able to give to charitable ventures and social enterprise are in fact, their time, knowledge and their considerable personal networks.

All of which means they have the necessary resources and insight to find sustainable solutions to significant economic and social issues. What’s more, utilising these assets they are also able to encourage others to give finance, time, knowledge and access to their networks.

While we continue to feel the effects of austerity in the wake of an economic crisis, philanthropy will play an ever increasing role in addressing issues faced by society, at local, national and international levels.

So what can be done to promote philanthropy? Here are three things we need to do as a society;

  1. Celebrate it Philanthropy comes in many guises and it’s not just restricted to high-profile individuals. In local communities throughout the UK and beyond, every day, successful people help those less fortunate and improve their societies so let’s shout about it.
  2. Recognise it  - for what it is, a series of charitable acts, not a substitute for state investment. Governments should not assume they can direct these charitable individuals’ activities to plug gaps left by reductions in spending as they tighten the public purse-strings. Philanthropy, by its nature, is a democratic activity.
  3. Encourage – more potential philanthropists to engage with charitable giving. There are now a wealth of community foundations, such as Foundation Scotland working to match would-be charitable donors with community groups and worthwhile causes, so it’s never been easier to get involved in philanthropy.

Through our work at the CGAP and in The Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship, itself an organisation endowed by a philanthropist, we hope to find more ways to achieve the above ambitions and promote the value of modern philanthropy in our society. We have one heck of a reputation to live up to.

Have you been involved in philanthropy? Whats your experience and how can we do more to promote it? Let us know in the comments below.

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