Breaking the giving taboo

Religion, sex, politics and money – the four topics you should avoid in polite conversation. The last of these, and particularly how much we earn, is still a taboo subject, and it seems charitable giving is tarnished with the same brush. Donors, no matter how much they give, are often reluctant to discuss the charities they support for fear of being perceived as showing off or putting their moral values onto others. And yet, when specifically asked to share their giving experiences, particularly in a ‘safe’ environment, we find donors are very forthcoming.

A few recent examples spring to mind. First, we held an afternoon workshop for the Wealth and Investment Division,  Barclays, for a small group of their clients to help them think about their priorities, find good charities and understand the difference their money is making. We’ve run many of these workshops over the years, and I’m always delighted by the openness of participants—their  willingness to share the difficulties they face but also the joys they experience through giving. At this particular workshop, some of the common challenges included: how to cater for different family members’ charitable interests; how to say “no” to requests; and how to approach the subject of charities’ spending on admin costs.

But the positives always outweigh these concerns. Donors spoke about sponsoring kids in rural Africa through school and seeing them reach college, about funding  a tiny organisation from the outset and watching it grow into an incredible conservation charity, and of visiting organisations to see first-hand the work an organisation does.

On a separate occasion, I recently accompanied a friend, the chair of a large family trust, to the Royal Academy of Music to see a wonderful performance by a cellist that the trust had sponsored. On meeting the cellist afterwards, my friend was so overwhelmed by the experience, that she burst into tears. She later told me what an incredible privilege it was to be able to combine her passion for music with the ability to progress someone’s talent through the trust’s funding.

And finally, the joys of giving have again been brought to my attention in a collection of interviews called My philanthropy. These were conducted by NPC over the past eight years with celebrities including Jeremy Irons, Martha Lane Fox, Ian Hislop, Darcey Bussell and many more. Each individual discusses the charity (or charities) they feel most passionate about, how and why they got involved, and what their giving means to them. They are a fascinating insight into the pleasure that can be gained from supporting charities. The more we can do to break the taboo not to talk about giving to charity, the better for everyone. So we hope that reading these stories will inspire others to think about how they might use their resources—whether that’s time or money—to change lives for the better. And on that note, we’ll be putting together some advice for first-time and experienced donors alike, which will help answer some of the questions funders face along the way—look out for it later this month.