Charity begins at home- do we need millionaires to encourage us to give?

Perhaps it’s because I have a mild dislike for Tory boy Gary Barlow and his use of tax sheltering schemes that contrasts nicely with his tireless charity efforts as a multi millionaire to part much poorer individuals from their hard earned money, but I’m getting a bit fed up of celebrity endorsement for charity work.

Whilst no doubt Mr Barlow does give generously from his own pocket to charity, his list of charitable achievements on Wikipedia is a veritable list of activities he’s selflessly thrown his time and contacts into in order to get proles like me to give to whichever cause it is he’s supporting this time round. Lets be fair though and not pick on our Gary, because I know there are plenty of Gary lovers out there who will brook no criticism of their portly musical God.

Interestingly I was thumbing through the University of Kent’s Centre for Charitable Giving and Philanthropy’s report (here) on major charitable giving in the 21st century. Some of the numbers are mind blowing- a rise on the number of £1m+ donations is astonishing, which probably lets Mr Barlow and co. off the hook- but should be taken in the context of the enormous gains in personal wealth of the top members of society. Yes, the proportion of income that the mega rich give has gone up but then giving a slightly larger single digit percentage of a fortune in the hundreds of millions every year still leaves you with a fortune in the hundreds of millions. And that’s before we consider the amount of tax avoidance going on. Guilty conscience? Does it even matter?

Looking at the studies prepared by the Charities Aid Foundation, it’s equally telling that even down in the lower socio economic groups, around 50% of people still donate to charity. This probably ties in quite well with over 60% of charity donations still being made by cash or cheque (which will include debit card giving), rather than through direct debits or gift aid schemes.

Last December I attended a Children and Family finance workshop run by on behalf of my lady wife who couldn’t make it. She’s blogged about the results of their survey here. One of the things I said about charitable giving was we talk about it as a family. We find out what interests the kids have and what they would like to see the money we give go to and act accordingly with some of our giving. We also have charities that are close to our heart like the RSPB, our local Church and The Lymphoma Association. Aside from the Royal British Legion and their poppy collection, we don’t give to street collectors or doorstep collectors and we certainly wont give to telethons presented by millionaires.

However given that the 2013 broadcast total for Children in Need (for example) was the highest yet, it seems perhaps disingenuous to say that as a socirty we don’t need public figures to encourage us to give. True, there have been some interesting attempts to do something different, whether it’s Comic Relief with Team Honk or local to us in Hertfordshire an organisation called Dragons Apprentice teaming up local 6th formers, businesses and charities to raise over £80,000 in the last few years, the days of the big celeb telethon don’t appear to be numbered yet.

It’s a shame in a way because fund raising in the community connects people to the community in a way that texting £5 to Comic Relief or calling and and pledging to Children in Need doesn’t. That’s not to say national charities don’t need money, as they do. I have written on charity boards executive pay before and don’t feel the need to revisit that but the likes of Children in Need and Comic Relief act as bodies that issue grants to other charities, and to that end, every donation you make is effectively going through an additional tier of administration expense that wouldn’t be present if you did the slightly less glamorous activity of just giving to that local charity directly.

What do you think? And not just about Mr Barlow..