Find out why we're proud supporters of City Giving Day

By David Stead, Director of Philanthropy.

It's the Lord Mayor’s City Giving Day 2016. We have been a supporter of the campaign since its inception in 2014 and view it as a valuable opportunity to celebrate and promote the contribution the City has on philanthropy both in the UK and globally. It is also an opportunity for employers to engage theirDavid Stead employees in their community investment programmes, payroll giving, matching schemes and volunteering opportunities available to them.

The City of London is becoming established as a global hub for philanthropy. It has the reputation, infrastructure and expertise required to support donors and CSR teams with all types of philanthropy and social investment in the UK and around the world. The City offers a fascinating microcosm within the broader history of philanthropy and can tell us a great deal about how it has evolved. One of my colleagues at Charities Aid Foundation (CAF), Rhodri Davies, recently launched a book on the role of philanthropy in UK society entitled ‘Public Good By Private Means’, which reflected on the factors that shaped philanthropy in the UK and the particular role the City of London has played. 

One of the key ideas in Rhodri’s book that struck a chord for me was the link between philanthropy and the awareness of need, particularly when reading it in the context of the City.

When [wealthy individuals of the 16th century] were faced with evidence of suffering, there was a strong religious and social imperative to do something about it; so greater awareness of need gave rise to greater philanthropic activity.’

Rhodri discusses how financial success creates a supply side for philanthropy; there is only a demand side if people have a reason to think about giving. And in the past the most important pull factor (in London at least) was that the grinding poverty in which many of the capital’s inhabitants lived was so obvious to all. 

This acute awareness of suffering is a key factor in the stories of many of our most famous City philanthropists. The former sea captain Thomas Coram, for instance, who latterly worked in the City and became famous for his role in the creation of the Foundling Hospital, was reportedly driven to act when he was on his way to work one day and he saw a young mother literally in the act of abandoning her child in the street.  He decided then that he could no longer ignore the problem and dedicated the rest of his life to helping abandoned children.

Of course, if most City workers today saw the same thing I don’t doubt for a second that their response would be similar to that of Coram. In fact in the last year alone we have received over £75m in donations paid into CAF from our top 100 City based corporate clients, a valuable part of the total donations through CAF of around £500 million.

One difference between now and Victorian times, is that many people are never brought face to face with this kind of evidence of the suffering of others. Thankfully it is no longer part of City life in the way it once was. City workers, like myself (CAF is based in the City), tend to either live in commuter suburbs or wealthier areas of London; we travel to work, work long hours, and travel back again, without seeing the other side of life in a much bigger London.

There is plenty we can learn from looking at the history of philanthropy, both in terms of things we can do to encourage giving and the pitfalls to avoid, as long as we interpret them from a modern context. Many aspects of philanthropy policy and practice would benefit greatly from taking the long view. Philanthropists have a long history of highly ambitious, innovative schemes to deliver social good, taking on more risk and doing things in a way the Government cannot.

So with that in mind, good luck to all the City companies and employees, including many of our clients, who are engaging with City Giving Day this year. We look forward to helping you plan, deliver and celebrate your charitable contributions and continuing to support you in achieving long lasting social impact in the UK and internationally.

You can order Public Good by Private Means by Rhodri Davies here.

For information on how we can support both your individual and corporate philanthropy needs call us on 03000 123 000 or visit our corporate philanthropy web pages.

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