Back in his first ministerial speech in May, the culture secretary Jeremy Hunt emphasised the important role of private donors in supporting the arts. And with arts institutions facing predicted cuts of up to 40% following the spending review, it seems that donors have sat up and taken notice.

Last week saw the biggest donation to the arts for more than 20 years, with a £25 million gift to the British Museum from the Sainbury’s family. The Independent described Lord Sainsbury as a ‘figurehead for a wave of modern-day “austerity philanthropists”’—donors supporting the charitable and cultural institutions that have been put at risk as a result of the recession.

But this donation should not make the government think that it can sit back and leave philanthropists to plug the gaps left by cuts. A report by the Centre for Charitable Giving and Philanthropy earlier this year showed that donors are not keen on their money replacing, rather than reinforcing, government donations. Many will want the public sector to take the first step in showing its commitment to preserving the art and charity sector. For example, it is reported that Lord Sainsbury only pledged his donation after the government had already pledged its support of the British Museum project.

The government needs to take the initiative in developing more partnerships with philanthropists. The Social Impact Bonds (discussed in an earlier blog here) are a good place to start. If this happens, then hopefully we might see more donors taking inspiration from Lord Sainsbury and digging deeper to help charities survive.

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