The Need To Give : A Crisis in Environmental Philanthropy

Nearly 2/3 of people in the UK earning over £250,000 gave nothing to charity last year (Source: HMRC, cited in The Times). Of those who did, the average donation was £1000. Total giving among this group was down 12% over 5 years. Depressing but unsurprising.

This isn’t a universal problem, of course. I know a small number of high net worth individuals who are incredibly generous. The impact they have on the causes they support – often small, specialist charities – is immeasurable.

I’ve heard too many reasons for not giving, though. The wealthy never seem to think they have enough money. They worry about a change in the tax regime. They worry about their pensions. They’ve lost confidence in charities’ governance.

Don’t get me wrong – I’ve got some sympathy with all this. The NGOs don’t help themselves sometimes either – they don’t know how to reach out to the right people.

Philanthropy is much less well developed here than it is in the U.S.. We’ve lost the habit over the last 100 years or so. It means there’s no peer pressure; giving isn’t the norm. I think it’s also true that society here feels less joined up than it used to. The rich are richer than they were, and the more money they have, the more disconnected they feel.

This is a problem which is becoming critical in the “ENGO” space – that’s environmental charities. In the absence of government money, philanthropic giving is really important. Not much giving from foundations – a good proxy for philanthropy generally – heads to the environment. It’s around 7% of ENGO total income. Only 10 foundations account for 60% of that (Source: greenfunders.org).

This is deeply ironic, of course, because the natural environment is precisely what you can’t live apart from, however rich you are. You can’t ignore it, and no amount of money can insulate you from it:

No man is an island entire of itself; every man

is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;

John Donne