Richer Lives: Why rich people give

Dr Beth Breeze worked as a fundraiser and charity manager for ten years before completing a PhD on contemporary UK philanthropy. She is now director of the Centre for Philanthropy at the University of Kent where she undertakes a range of research projects and teaches courses on fundraising, philanthropy and volunteering.

Together with Dr Eddy Hogg, she presented ‘Philanthropic journeys: a life-course approach to understanding high-income donors’ at our 2013 Research Conference.

Theresa Lloyd is a philanthropy expert and leading consultant in strategic planning, fundraising and governance in the non-profit sector. Following a career in the City, she spent a decade in international development before setting up her consultancy in 1995. She was the Founder Director of Philanthropy UK (2001-04), and wrote the first edition of A Guide to Giving (2003), Why Rich People Give (2004) and Cultural Giving (2006).

Despite long-standing and widespread concerns in Britain about the role rich donors can and should play in the UK charity sector, philanthropy is becoming a more commonplace and commented upon activity. Two Brits have now given away more than £1 billion (David Sainsbury and Chris Hohn), there is more media coverage of major donors and there is a political consensus that philanthropy has an important role to play, despite hiccups around charity tax reliefs recently revived by the NAO report.

Filling the information gap

Despite this heightened awareness of philanthropy and the growing prominence of individual philanthropists, there is very little robust UK data on giving by the wealthiest people. NCVO’s annual ‘UK Giving’ survey is an invaluable source of trend data on giving by the majority of the population, but the authors have noted that their ability to capture credible data on high level philanthropy “is patchy at best” due to its methodology – a representative sample of 3,000 people is unlikely to catch many mega-donors in its net.

We have recently published a book, Richer Lives: Why rich people give,  that aims to help fill this gap in our knowledge about the richest donors, by building on a study conducted by one of us in 2002 (Why Rich People Give by Theresa Lloyd, published in 2004). In this new, entirely updated study, we revisit 40 of the rich donors interviewed a decade ago, and add a new cohort of 42 ‘emerging’ donors, totalling 82 very wealthy donors in all. They have an average net worth of £10 million and typically make annual donations totalling c. £300,000. We also surveyed 30 people who work in and around the philanthropy sector, such as wealth advisers, policymakers, fundraisers and senior people in philanthropy infrastructure bodies.

NCVO’s Chief Executive, Sir Stuart Etherington, has endorsed the book and written a superb foreword, in which he notes that developing a better understanding of philanthropy remains critical to strengthening voluntary activity in the UK.

We plan to revisit the topic by re-interviewing and refreshing our sample of donors in 2022, 2032 and every decade from now on, making this a unique study of contemporary UK philanthropy, and  an invaluable addition to the bookshelves of everyone with an interest in fundraising and philanthropy.

Rich people give because it enriches their own life

Our key finding is that rich people give, and continue to give, because the experience enriches their own life. This need not mean it makes them deliriously happy (although this can be the case), but rather that giving brings a feeling of satisfaction at doing something worthwhile, or enjoyment due to the experiences it involves, or a renewed sense of meaning in life – particularly once children are grown up and businesses have been sold.

As one interviewee puts it:

“I always say that philanthropy makes you feel good, and I don’t mean goody-goody-two shoes, righteously good, but it just makes you feel good inside. You get a buzz.”

Motivations explored in the book include:

  • philanthropy as the right use of surplus money
  • the complementary roles of government and philanthropic spending
  • transmitting values to the next generation alongside a monetary inheritance
  • the right kind of recognition that occurs when fundraisers and charities understand how best to show thanks for major donations.

We also explore the concerns expressed by donors, and what charities could to better to encourage and retain their wealthiest supporters. For example, we recommend that charities invest more resources in prospect research and donor stewardship, we note that everyone involved in charity leadership (including trustees) must help to build long-term, satisfying relationships with major donors, and we suggest that existing major donors be encouraged to get involved in asking as well as giving, because their peers will be more receptive to requests coming from someone they know and trust.


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