What does philanthropy mean to you?

Julie Hutchison
hands stacked on top of each other in a circle

At a glance

  • Beyond money, philanthropic activities include sharing your time, skills and your network ties.
  • The Charities Aid Foundation reports 75% of people did something charitable in the last 12 months.
  • The causes receiving most financial support in the UK are religious organisations, followed by children and young people, animal welfare, and food banks.

Looking at the meaning of philanthropy, its roots lie in the Greek for ‘love of humanity’. That might go some way to explaining the ‘why’ which motivates some individuals to give, although the drivers are usually very personal and can vary. 

There can be an important social or collaborative dynamic to philanthropy. This aspect is evident in the more recent development of collective philanthropy where a group of individuals pool their donations and participate together in the decision-making about how funds are distributed. The concept of ‘Giving Circles’ is better known at the moment in America,1 with elements which go beyond the donation of money and include volunteering your time or becoming a board member in support of the activities of the Giving Circle.

Back here in the UK, the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) recently published its annual UK Giving Report,2 which reviews current trends in how people have donated money, given goods, fundraised, volunteered or provided sponsorship support.

On these measures, 75% of people did something charitable in the past 12 months, which CAF equates to more than 40 million people active across the UK. 

CAF has also mapped the generosity of people in different places across the UK. Looking at estimated annual donations as a proportion of household income, Belfast is the most generous at 2.5%, followed by Cardiff, Edinburgh and lastly London, at 1.3%. Looking at the UK’s favourite causes, religious organisations come top of the list, followed by children and young people, animal welfare and food banks. It has often been said that the UK is a nation of animal lovers and this is borne out in the report, showing £1.25bn received by animal charities. However, in a sharp reminder of the recent impact of inflation, CAF also highlights that a donation of £20 in 2017 would have needed to increase to more than £25 this year for a charity to buy the same amount of goods and services; something for donors to reflect on, if they have the means to do so.

A further dimension is when individuals or families decide to take a more strategic approach to their philanthropy.  This involves being more reflective, developing a plan, and often looking upstream to tackle problems at source, rather than provide funding to alleviate the consequences of a problem. This type of conversation about the future often emerges at moments of change: when a family business is about to be sold, or someone is planning how they wish to pass on their wealth. The dialogue at these moments involves individuals or families reflecting on their motivations, values and goals. The end result can still involve the donation of money, time, skills or network ties, but the how is different since it is not a short-term reaction to a charity’s fundraising campaign, and instead comes with longer term and broader intent.

However you think about this area, and whether you prefer the label of philanthropy or charity, what matters most is the help you can give through whichever way you choose to contribute, whether that’s your time, skills, network or something financial. 



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