2 June 2020

In episode 77 we talk to Jon Dean, Senior Lecturer in Politics and Sociology at Sheffield Hallam University, about his new book The Good Glow: Charity and the Symbolic Power of Doing Good. Including:

  • What role does the way in which our charitable actions are viewed by others play in shaping our giving?
  • Is the 'warm glow' of giving always dependent on one’s acts being visible to others, or can it be entirely personal?
  • Does the symbolic power of giving diminish if others are aware of how this functions? (i.e. once we suspect that charity is motivated partly a desire for social status, does that reduce our willingness to play along?)
  • To what extent has the halo effect of philanthropy been deliberately used by the wealthy to preclude or offset wider criticism (e.g. of their tax affairs, business practices etc.)?

the good glow book cover
  • What happens if critiques of philanthropy undermine its symbolic value to the donor? (i.e. if people’s default mode is scepticism or cynicism, does this lessen the appeal to the donor of making public gifts?)
  • Does the desire for anonymity among some donors run counter to the idea that a desire for social status is a crucial part of the motivation for giving? (Or is it merely important that the 'right' people know you gave?)
  • What happens when the social rewards/warm glow of giving become temporally dissociated from the actual transfer of money (as with the tendency to make “pledges” rather than outright gifts)?
  • What about when this is taken to its extreme conclusion (as with Donald Trump’s appropriation of the trappings of philanthropy without actually giving any money)?
  • How has social media changed things when it comes to using charity to present ourselves positively to others?
  • Does a focus on the outcomes/impact of giving, rather than the act or intention, potentially lessen the importance of the social symbolism of charity (an extreme case being that of Effective Altruism)?
  • Do charities rely too much on the authority that comes from their “symbolic power”? In a future where the options for doing good are likely to be far wider (e.g. crowdfunding, online movements, corporate purpose etc.) and charities are not the only game in town, will they have a rude awakening?
  • How do the themes in the book relate to the current context of charity during the covid-19 pandemic? Have charities come to rely on the enormous symbolic power of the NHS? Have views on the responsibilities of the state vs charity shifted in ways that will affect the perception of charitable acts in future?
Rhodri Davies

Rhodri Davies

Head of Policy

Rhodri leads Giving Thought, our in-house think tank focusing on current and future issues affecting philanthropy and civil society. Rhodri has spent nearly a decade specialising in public policy around philanthropy and the work of charities, and has researched, written and presented on a wide range of topics. He has a first-class degree in Mathematics and Philosophy from the University of Oxford.   Read more about Rhodri



About the Giving Thought podcast

The Giving Thought podcast is an exploration of trends in global philanthropy and civil society. Launched in 2017 it is recognised as an insightful and influential source of philanthropic debate.  Rhodri Davies director of our Giving Thought Think Tank hosts the podcast, discussing contemporary issues and interviewing sector experts. Episodes are also available free on iTunes and Libsyn.

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