Visible Giving – are award shows the answer?

22 February 2011

February is the season for televised award shows: the British Comedy Awards, the National Television Awards, the BAFTAs and ultimately the Oscars. As the glitterati assemble once more in their dinner jackets and Julien Macdonald frocks for yet another evening of self-congratulatory back-slapping, I can’t help but wonder how many annual award ceremonies the TV industry might consider to be “enough”.

The Office for Civil Society clearly thinks there is room for one more, and that it can be used to encourage more people to give. In the recent Giving Green Paper, the OCS stated “We know that people underestimate how much other people give in terms of time and money. By making what people actually give more visible to others, and doing so in engaging and creative ways, we can create a peer effect that leads to giving spreading and growing.” Their suggestions to achieve this include an annual award show for giving or an extra weekly televised show about lottery winners who give.

But would an awards show really encourage more giving, particularly from the very wealthy? TV shows such as Comic Relief, Children in Need and Sport Relief have succeeded in encouraging the masses to give. But, as Martin Brookes has pointed out many times, the percentage of people giving is actually decreasing at a time when these shows are becoming better quality, mechanisms for giving are becoming easier, and the tax regime is more friendly towards donations. And giving amongst the wealthiest groups of society is particularly low.

The TV programme that has done the most to encourage rich people to give must be The Secret Millionaire, and all of us who work in fundraising (none of whom were consulted for the Giving Green Paper) will recognise why: because it allows the potential donor to understand fully the difficulties and obstacles facing a particular community and to have hands-on interaction with the people trying to solve the problem. Thus observing firsthand that a solution works leads to a large gift and joyful tears all round.

What we need is the opportunity to build links with wealthy people and allow donors to understand fully the problems we’re trying to address, the activities we carry out to address them, and the impact we are having. The excellent Beacon Fellowship awards (other voluntary award schemes are available) already runs an annual event where the audience can be inspired by philanthropists and practitioners; The Funding Network allows potential donors to discuss and debate the issues with each other and possible recipients; NPC’s research and publications work on trying to improve the way charities measure and present their impact.

If the government wants to inspire people to give more, it should support existing activities which focus on the impact charities are having, rather than another evening of vainglorious slebs crowing about their work for “charidee”.