If you’ve been on twitter or seen the news in the last couple of days, you can’t have escaped the controversy surrounding Michael Gove’s royal yacht proposal. David Cameron has been quick to quash rumours that the yacht would be paid for from the public purse, clarifying that it would in fact be paid for by private donations. These include £10m from financial leaders in Canada and £5m from an unnamed private donor.

One thing that strikes me about this story is how quickly two major donors have stepped up to the mark and offered vast sums of money towards the cost of the yacht—the plan for which was only revealed over the weekend.

I find this particularly interesting in the context of Coutts’ recently published Million Pound Donor Report, researched and written by Dr Beth Breeze at the University of Kent. The most recent report looks at gifts made in 2009/10 over £1m, the really high end of UK philanthropists. The report finds that the number of these million-pound-plus sums being given to charity has dropped, which is hardly surprising in a difficult economic climate. In the previous year, 201 donations were given, to a total value of £1.548bn, while in 2009/10 there were 174, with a total value of £1.312bn. But it also struck me how the number of large donations is relatively small anyway, and equally how focused it is on particular causes—with higher education (43 million-pound donors), international development (25) and arts and culture (21) far more popular than, say, human services and welfare (5).

Perhaps we should be heartened by the fact that high-net worth donors can still afford to dig deep and stump up millions for what they consider to be a good cause. Or perhaps this is another chance to debate the morality of charitable giving, and whether some causes are more worthy or ‘better’ than others. It’s a thorny issue, as no one likes to be told where to give their money. But I can think of a long list of causes which I would consider more ‘worthy’ to donate to than a royal yacht.

The guardian have responded to the yacht saga with a great interactive graphic showing what you could buy for the price of a royal yacht, mainly focused on public services. More than 3,000 ambulance staff, over 51,000 free travel passes… the list goes on. Another way to look at it is this: it costs Samaritans £1500 per hour to run its service across the UK and Ireland. £60m would keep them going for 40,000 hours—that’s 1,666 days, or 4.5 years.

I’d be interested to know, if any of our readers have figures to hand, what impact your charity could make with that £60m? Answers in the comments please!

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