Why giving is good—for all of us

This guest post comes from Josh Spero, editor of Spear’s. Before Spear’s, he worked at The Independent and has written for publications including The Guardian, The Times, The Sunday Times, The Economist and the National Theatre. He is a regular guest on CNBC and has appeared on the BBC World Service and radio and TV stations around the world to talk about everything from finance to art. He is a co-founder of theartsdesk.com, Britain’s first critic-run arts review website, and can be found on twitter @joshspero. Here, he talks about Spear’s campaign to boost philanthropy.

In contrast to our uniformly miserable economic news, we can at least look to philanthropy for some cheer—but only some. Are & Business report that philanthropic donations to the arts by companies have fallen—but those by individuals have risen.

Sectors have been variously dis/encouraged too: heritage and museums are both up, theatre and community arts are down. Total philanthropy was up £28.5m to £686m.

So is the message that high-net-worths should give (whether you frame that as obligation or responsibility) getting through? It seems so, but not fast enough. We are starting from a low base, with the government’s figures that the wealthy give 1.1% of their annual income to charity but everyone else 3.8%. It will take freer discussion of philanthropy—its good and bad sides—and exemplary leadership from philanthropists to move this figure significantly higher.

That is why Spear’s has launched our 1 per cent campaign, to encourage our readers to participate in philanthropy; not just by giving money, but time and expertise too. Wealthy entrepreneurs often feel like charities are only after them for cheques, but if there are spaces for them to help out with their experience and accumulated knowledge, then so much the better.

It might seem like everyone is talking about philanthropy right now, so any additional efforts risk tipping over into tedium. Our campaign—I hope—combats this by showing the enjoyable side of philanthropy along with the good it can do. As Dame Stephanie Shirley, our former National Ambassador for Philanthropy, says in this video, giving activates the brain’s pleasure centres.

The rewards that existing philanthropists talk about are numerous: the good you do, the pleasure you feel, the difference you make to a society you may not even realise you are a part of.

But philanthropy isn’t all ice-cream sundaes—sometimes it’s bran flakes—and we recognise that too. Giving should stem from passions and beliefs, and sometimes it requires a little emotional excavation to work out what those are. Giving takes time: you need a strategy to make it sustainable, research into charities to make sure they have an effective plan, relationships with charities’ CEOs.

And you need to keep your eye on all your donations: if cheques disappear into a black hole, it is as much the fault of the donor for not following up as the charity for keeping quiet.

If all this seems too simple—well, it is simple. That’s the point of the 1 Per Cent Campaign: philanthropy doesn’t need to be taxing (and indeed tax can be less taxing if you’re philanthropic). Forget ‘greed is good’—that’s so 20th-century: giving is good—for all of us.