The Playgoer: Philanthropy Dependence, continued...

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Friday, January 12, 2007

Philanthropy Dependence, continued...

Even the Brits may be bailing on public subsidy for the arts. At least the rich ones.

Here's millionaire Christopher Ondaatje writing in the New Statesman, advocating a more "American" funding model:

There are enormous differences in culture, structure and attitude between Great Britain and the United States regarding philanthropy. If the government wishes to encourage a more active culture of giving in this country, it should study these differences - particularly as a new generation of wealthy donors in England is now seeking to leave its mark on the public sphere.

At a recent conference organised by the Institute for Philanthropy, the institute's director, Hilary Browne-Wilkinson, argued that Britain's strong tradition of Victorian philanthropy was replaced after the Second World War by the welfare state. The problem has been that, since 1979, voters have refused to countenance high taxation.

As she said, "With diminished government funding, we must turn to other means of supporting public purposes - philanthropy being one; another being the revenue creation of charity itself." She provided some helpful statistics: as a percen tage of GDP, individual charitable giving in the US is more than double that in the UK. In 2002, $183.7bn was given, which represented 1.75 per cent of GDP. Using the same measure for the same year, UK individual giving was £7.3bn, or 0.76 per cent of GDP.

So, why do Americans give more? Theirs is a country where people make money and realise that they have a responsibility to give money away in order to keep the system going. Giving money away helps them to feel part of the community, and this is reflected in the causes to which they give. Religion (including local charities) gets 45 per cent of donations: university and alumni giving only 1.4 per cent. In Britain, on the other hand, 13 per cent goes to religion, while 17 per cent goes to medical research, 14.4 per cent to children and 9.5 per cent to animals. Few UK donations are devoted to the community.

There are also enormous differences between how Americans and British people give: 77 per cent of all collection methods in the UK are spontaneous, looking for loose change. In the United States, there is a culture of "planned giving", which provides 61 per cent of the voluntary income of non-profit organisations.

Dear People of Great Britain: Unless you too want your mailboxes stuffed with junkmail every day from your favorite Arts Org's--not to mention dinnertime phone calls--begging you for money--turn back! Before it's too late. Believe me, you don't want any part of this "planned giving" culture.

(Catch that 45% of US philanthropy going to religion?)

By the way, as Britain and perhaps Europe as a whole weens off the welfare state, don't think the US government is going to get any more excited about arts funding.

Bad signs of things to come. Unless we find our own generation of Enlightened Patrons. Lke the Medicis! So, more rich murderous tyrannical thugs, that's the answer.

Correction. Sorry, I previously incorrectly referred to New Statesman as "conservative," but thanks to June (in Comments) for setting me straight.


June said...

One pedantic point: The New Statesman isn't a "conservative" publication. It was founded by Fabians and--despite various schismatic moments--is usually associated with the Labour Party and socialist causes.

Weirdly, the Spectator, a conservative weekly, is by far the livelier publication.

PeonInChief said...

What's interesting here is that the two figures actually diverge much less once you subtract the nearly half of the charitable giving that goes to religious charities. Subtracting the 45% that goes to religious charities leaves .80 of GDP for other charities. Reducing the British .76 figure by 13% leaves .67 of GDP for non-religious charities.

In addition charities in the US must fund projects that in Britain are still funded by the government (medical care being a major--and expensive--example).