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Most people support philanthropy but fewer feel positive towards philanthropists, research finds

Melanie May | 18 November 2020 | News

A research report written by Dr Beth Breeze of Kent’s Centre for Philanthropy and launched by Prism the Gift Fund has highlighted a paradox in regard to public attitudes and future prospects for planned giving in the UK.
Prism commissioned a survey by NatCen of 1,215 interviews with a random sample of the population across the UK to investigate attitudes to philanthropic giving. The findings reveal that while most people believe philanthropic donations positively impact society, support for philanthropists is less widespread.
While 69% overall feel that philanthropists are good for society, this view is held more strongly by those who are older and with a higher income, and only 53% of the lower income group surveyed agreed with this view. Overall, the report found over half of people do not trust donors to do what is right with their donations with women significantly more trusting than men, and those age 70+ the only age group where a majority express trust of donors.
When asked to define ‘philanthropist’, most suggestions were positive but a tenth associated the concept primarily with financial connotations, choosing definitions such as ‘Wealthy’, ‘Rich’, ‘Money, and ‘Affluent’. Notable minorities were either unable to answer the question, or offered negative definitions. Almost a fifth (18.2%) agreed that negative perceptions of philanthropists might deter people from giving more to charity.
The report, The Philanthropy Paradox: Public attitudes and future prospects for planned giving, also found that charitable giving is a very common but largely private matter in the UK.
Other findings include that awareness, and support for tax incentives to encourage charitable giving are highest amongst older and higher income people, while awareness of Donor Advised Funds is very low, but these funds appeal to many different types of donor.
With charities facing a £10bn funding shortfall as a result of Covid-19, the report argues that philanthropists can help to bridge the gap, because they can take more risks than large organisations, make decisions faster and deploy funds more flexibly. Public opinion and media coverage are vital to promoting a positive narrative around philanthropy to encourage those who have to give, and those who give to give more.
Centre for Philanthropy‘s Dr Breeze said:

‘This think piece concludes that we need to better understand and address the slippage between the widespread appreciation for what donations achieve and the more critical attitude towards those who make the donations. We also need to increase efforts to educate the public on the opportunities and benefits of giving, supported by the range of available tax reliefs and appropriate vehicles for making charitable donations, in order to continue building a stronger culture of giving in the UK.”

Managing Partner and Chair of Prism James Libson commented:


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 “Covid-19 has magnified divisions and thrown a legitimate spotlight on the response and responsibilities of those able to give. Suspicion about philanthropists and their motivation undermines the broad acceptance of the benefit of philanthropy. It is a matter for the philanthropy sector to address and we at Prism are committed to doing so.”