Commission calls for ‘Philanthropy Champion’ within Whitehall to help unlock billions in extra giving

A senior civil servant dedicated to boosting philanthropy in the UK should be appointed by the government as part of a Whitehall drive to unlock the full potential of giving, according to a new report. 

The Law Family Commission on Civil Society has recommended the appointment of a ‘Philanthropy Champion’ within government to act as a “gateway” between Whitehall and the philanthropy sector. 

As part of the role, the Philanthropy Champion would also be responsible for co-ordinating action across government departments on measurement, regulation, guidance and taxation of philanthropy. 

Currently, the UK government has only one-third of a single civil servant’s time dedicated to philanthropy policy, alongside a handful of civil servants responsible for relevant taxation. As a result, the government does not have the “coordination, resource and expertise” needed to make the most of philanthropy nationally, according to the report. 

The Commission also recommends that the civil service starts a “’leveraging philanthropy’ best practice drive” in partnership with philanthropy sector organisations. This is to ensure civil servants understand the opportunities presented by philanthropy, including innovative financing models such as match-funding, as a basic standard of civil service training. 

The recommendations in the report, titled Seizing the philanthropic prize: The role of the UK government in growing philanthropy, have been widely backed among prominent philanthropy sector organisations, including the Beacon Collaborative and the Charities Aid Foundation. 

As part of both recommendations, there is a focus on collaboration between government and the philanthropy sector. The sector is encouraged to “respond constructively and actively” were a Philanthropy Champion to be appointed. Similarly, as part of a best practice drive in Whitehall, the philanthropy sector would be encouraged to organise “lunch and learns” between philanthropists and civil servants to exchange perspectives. 

On a financial level, the UK trails the US, Canada and New Zealand in terms of philanthropy. If the British population gave a similar share of their wealth to charity as the New Zealand and Canadian populations, this would generate an extra £5 billion annually for charities, equivalent to a 10% increase in charity sector income. 

By unlocking the full potential of philanthropy in the UK, the report argues that the public, charities and government all stand to gain. 

According to the report, with greater investment in charities, the sector will have more capacity to deliver vital services to the communities it serves and will be able to bolster its own resilience. The report also points out that a strengthened charity sector will benefit the government in better delivering on shared objectives, such as boosting living standards and empowering communities. Additionally, the report notes that government can gain insights into how policies can be improved by working closely with the philanthropy sector. 

The new report points to the US government as leading the world in “seizing the philanthropic prize”. In the US, ‘Public-Philanthropic Partnerships’ are increasing and operate in two main forms at every level of government. At federal level, there are over 40 ‘Federal Liaisons’, civil servants embedded into government departments, who are dedicated to philanthropy. On a local level, a growing number of cities and states have ‘Offices of Strategic Partnership’ which work to establish partnerships and collaboration with the philanthropy sector. 

Furthermore, the report notes that Metro Mayors in England could gain applicable insights from success stories at Offices of Strategic Partnership in US states and cities, such as New York’s success in leveraging $400 million in philanthropic funds to date and LA County’s work in raising $23.5m for health and child welfare since July 2021. 

The report is the latest paper published as part of the Law Family Commission on Civil Society, a two-year programme of groundbreaking research carried out by Pro Bono Economics, exploring how to unleash the potential of civil society in the 2020s. 

Lord Gus O’Donnell, Chair of the Law Family Commission on Civil Society and Pro Bono Economics, said: 

“Supporting charities and good causes is central to who we are as a nation and public giving is a significant part of the UK economy, totalling nearly £20 billion each year. 

“With this is in mind, the fact we have just one civil servant in government dedicating only a third of their time to philanthropy policy is a real missed opportunity. 

“At a time when all departments are facing calls to reduce their numbers it makes sense to ensure that the civil service is making the most of the opportunities provided by philanthropy. 

“The appointment of a ‘Philanthropy Champion’ in Whitehall to coordinate a philanthropy strategy across departments and in partnership with sector organisations is the necessary first step towards unlocking the full potential of giving in the UK. This would benefit charities, government and the public alike.” 

Cath Dovey, Co-founder of the Beacon Collaborative, said: 

“The UK is a generous nation, but we haven’t reached our full potential for engaging private wealth in support of civil society. Philanthropy is no longer about benevolence; it is about having an impact on the complex problems that face the next generation. 

“Tackling these challenges needs a collective effort that will mobilise all the resources at our disposal, including private giving and social investment. Government can help to make this happen, but it requires a joined-up understanding across Whitehall and Westminster of the role that philanthropy can play to reach the people, places and issues that big government can’t always reach. 

“We need a partner in government to help build the infrastructure and incentives that will encourage more people to give and invest to build thriving communities, to support the most vulnerable, and to have an impact on the challenging issues that face our country and our planet.

Neil Heslop, Chief Executive of the Charities Aid Foundation, said:  

“In the UK, we tend to be modest in nature about our charitable giving. But we have seen first-hand, especially over the past two years, the power of philanthropy to deliver real impact.  

“By creating a Philanthropy Champion, government has the opportunity to nurture philanthropy and encourage billions of pounds more charitable investment.  

“In the context of the Levelling Up agenda, a Philanthropy Champion is ideally positioned to drive forward local investment and help to empower communities to meet the needs of local areas.” 

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.