Should we encourage donors to be less modest about their charitable giving?

By John Copps 29 November 2010 1 minute read

Nobody likes a show-off. Most of us can’t help thinking that there is something vulgar about obvious displays of wealth and love turning our noses up at people dressed in clothes that are more expensive than ours or who drive cars that we can’t afford.

But when it comes to public displays of giving, where do we stand?

The past few years have seen a host of very public donations to charity. These range from the likes of Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and the members of the Giving Pledge in the US to celebrities such as Elton John or Coldplay.

Although it is not as easy to criticise this sort of generosity, many of us still find a way.

In our defence, there are strong influences in our history that make us feel uncomfortable. For example, the Bible’s New Testament encourages us to give alms in secret. (I’m sure a biblical scholar could criticise me for a misreading of the bible but that is what I, and many others, learnt at school.)

I think we need to get over our squeamishness about public displays of generosity. Giving to charity is known to encourage more giving to charity, and that is a very good thing. We should be pragmatic and applaud such acts.

Modesty is a very attractive quality in many aspects of life, but not in giving to charity. It is up to all of us, but particularly the wealthy and famous, to set a public example.