Richer lives - why rich people give

Improving the giving climate

Last week saw the launch of Richer Lives: why rich people give, the follow-up study by Theresa Lloyd and Beth Breeze on the motivations and giving practices of wealthy individuals in the UK. It’s a great read, full of insightful quotes from those included in Theresa’s first book on the subject published 10 years ago, as well as a new cohort of donors.

The book also provides a useful and comprehensive guide to changes in the world of UK philanthropy over the past ten years, which offers a great resource, particularly for newcomers to the sector.

Many of the findings echo what we have seen in our 2013 research, Money for good UK, which includes a survey of 3,000 high-income and mainstream donors across the UK. Both studies emphasise that donors feel a duty or responsibility to give, support causes they care about, are concerned about impact and use giving as a way to use their time well. What Richer Lives does so well to highlight is the rewarding nature of giving—in the words of one of their donors: ‘Well I do it because it’s such fun, it’s selfish, I get such enjoyment. I am privileged to be able to do it.’

A really encouraging finding is that an overwhelming majority of interviewees in Richer Lives think that the giving climate has improved in the UK over the past ten years. 80% of donors have increased their commitment to philanthropy over that time, while 67% of donors feel that public opinion is more positive than in 2002 due to people talking more openly about their giving, increased media coverage and greater awareness of the role of philanthropists.

Another noticeable change between the original study and Richer Lives is a desire by donors to become more strategic, engaged and open about their giving, and to focus on underlying problems rather than symptoms. It is for many of these reasons that individuals and families come to NPC for support – to help them set a clear plan for their giving, focus on areas of need that fit with their passions and interests, understand the impact of their giving, and, increasingly, to fund collaboratively with others and build partnerships. NPC has also seen a step-change in the number of corporates approaching us in order to learn how to transform ad-hoc giving into a focused programme, better engage their employees, and communicate the impact of their giving. A good example is the impact report that we have produced for J.P. Morgan’s EMEA philanthropy team for the past three years.

However, it’s not all positive. Richer Lives found that only just over half (57%) of all donors think that fundraisers have become more professional over the past ten years, with comments such as ‘I sent £10,000 to the [x charity] and they sent a pro forma thank you letter. It still rankles 10 years later.’ And more than half of respondents (53%) believe that charities are inefficient in managing donations. ‘A lot of charities are run by good-hearted people, and that’s wonderful, but they’re not necessarily efficient of good at getting value for money.’ But Richer Lives makes some good recommendations for different audiences to further improve the giving landscape, including suggestions that charities should improve their efforts in asking and after-care, as well as implementing more rigorous management processes to address donors’ lack of confidence in the competency and efficiency of charities. 

This was one of the main motivations behind Money for good UK. We wanted to combine data on charitable giving with information about donor motivations to give charities an insight into the preferences of their donors and to develop more effective fundraising relationships. This work is on-going, and we are soon to start piloting a tool, based on the research, which fundraising charities can use to refine their approaches. 

Among their recommendations, Richer Lives also calls for philanthropists themselves to help the charities they support with fundraising, acting as ambassadors and encouraging their peers to donate. At NPC we see this more regularly, and it’s proving an effective strategy.

While Richer Lives complements other studies into giving in the sector, what really stands out is its longitudinal approach; they aim to repeat the study every ten years. The two changes that we’d really like to see by 2022 is a significant improvement in  perceptions about the effectiveness of the charitable sector, and an increasing number of partnerships between donors, improving the impact that their joint funding achieves.