Is there a North/South divide in English philanthropy?

By Hannah Kowszun 9 April 2021 3 minute read

With so many areas of life and society split across latitudes, we have been wondering if philanthropy is any different? NPC’s philanthropist and funder peer network recently came together to discuss this and to explore whether there is a North/South divide in philanthropy. You can watch a full recording of our event here.

There are several important caveats to this question. First is that at our event we were focused on England, rather than the further north that is Scotland and the west and further west that are Wales and Northern Ireland. There are more debates to be had about the differences in philanthropy between the different nations of the UK but in this session we were only considering the potential divides within England. For this conversation, we also did not include the Midlands in our definition of the North, as some tend to do.

The second caveat is that we defined philanthropy as any form of philanthropic giving: by individuals or through grant-making organisations. To set the scene, we had presentations from NPC’s Policy Manager, Tom Collinge, and Steph Taylor, Director of GiveBradford and Director of Programmes at Leeds Community Foundation.

The divide

So, is there a divide? In a word: ‘kinda’.

There is not enough data to comprehensively assess the differences in giving, or indeed receiving, between the North and the South of England. This is something NPC would be keen to improve and platforms like 360Giving are an excellent way to encourage more transparency in grant-making. Therefore, in many ways, the divide we are discussing in this blog is less about funding and more about relationships.

Among the top philanthropists in the UK, as identified by the Charities Aid Foundation, very few appear to have roots in the North of England. While this certainly does not preclude them from giving to organisations and causes based in the North, it could make it less likely.

Data from NPC’s Where are England’s charities? report shows the huge gathering of assets in London compared with the rest of the country. Most of the super-major charities—those with an annual income of over £100m—are based in London. Many of these organisations do of course work nationally, but it is impossible using publicly available data to drill down into how their activity breaks down regionally.

If you do look at how charitable funding available at the national level is allocated, northern regions of England receive less funding than London and the South, as the graph below illustrates (the graph shows income data in millions of pounds for 2017/2018. Source:

Graph of NCVO Almanac data showing how charitable funding available at the national level is allocated. Northern regions of England receive less funding than London and the South.

However, in the North of England, place-based funding has been prevalent long before it became a buzzword across the rest of England, with examples such as Jimi Heselden’s support for Leeds. Also, the largest local endowment in the country is in Tyne and Wear.

Levelling up the South

We have received anecdotal feedback from funders that they get fewer applications from northern charities. But have these funders considered the part they play in this?

I believe there is a tendency with charitable funding available at a national level to want to support models for social impact rather than to respond to specific local needs. Can the same interventions that are proven to work in rural Devon be applied to central Sheffield? Probably not, but if these interventions are the only ones that have robust evidence of impact, it is likely they will be replicated elsewhere, even when this is not the best course of action. Alternatively, funders may recognize that these interventions are not the best course of action for a particular area, say central Sheffield, and so instead decide to fund in a different area where their proven interventions will be a good fit.

What’s more, it can be very difficult for the Sheffield-based charity to make the case for a different, unproven intervention. Plus, if organisations from the North can see from the figures that they’re less likely to receive funding than those in the South, they may decide not to spend precious time writing applications.

Philanthropists have the flexibility to be less risk averse and there are some wonderful examples of northern philanthropists who have shaped the region, such as Jimi Heselden mentioned above. Deprivation is greater in the North than in the South, which suggests that funders and philanthropists based in the South should be turning their attention to the North. Turning their attention, but crucially, not their solutions to the North.

There are some fantastic examples of philanthropy that is working in the North (see above). The sector should be looking to learn from and to replicate these approaches.

You can watch the recording of this event here. The next philanthropist and funder peer network meeting is on 22 April. This event is ‘People of colour in grant-making: enduring, achieving, and reimagining the future’. It is for philanthropists, and staff and trustees from grant-making organisations. You can register here. 

Is there a North/South divide in philanthropy in England? This blog discusses the divide, existing philanthropy in the North, and what needs to change: Click To Tweet