20 years of The Giving List

The editor of The Sunday Times Giving List, Alastair McCall, looks at the generosity of UK philanthropists over the past 20 years.

When we published our first Giving List in 2002 it was with the intention of stimulating philanthropy, of shining a light on the good that flowed from wealth generation. We shared the aim of the late Lord Joffe, chairman of our founding partner the Giving Campaign: “We want to raise the level of giving to charities, so individuals who do not give will begin, and those who already do will give more".

Our initiative did not meet with universal approval. Some accused us of “impertinence” when we asked how much they had given; others threatened to report us to the police for making such a “vulgar” inquiry. Fortunately many embraced the idea. While hard figures are often available from the Charity Commission, Companies House and the Scottish Charity Regulator, philanthropists provide us with additional insights. We are grateful for their support.

Significant philanthropy has been captured across the past two decades, amounting to more than £21 billion among just the 30 names in our table of serial donors. The list of 30 is intended to be illustrative rather than exhaustive, and many of the names could be substituted for others who have given equally generously in that time.

No UK-based philanthropist will be able match the £4.2 billion gifted by the Russian mining tycoon Alisher Usmanov over the past 20 years, however, although the monies generated for and distributed by the Sainsbury family charities (£3.625 billion) and the Weston family (£1.661 billion) come close. The latter has £7.463 billion at its disposal for future charitable works.

It is hard not to be moved by individual generosity. Sir Elton John has gifted £395 million over 20 years - £20 million more than he is worth today - chiefly to his Aids Foundations in the UK and US.

The soon-to-retire rock star has a deep personal motivation behind his giving, a common thread among many of those who have captured our headlines since 2002. “He regards himself as extremely fortunate not to have been a victim of Aids,” his then manager, Frank Presland, told us some years ago, and extremely fortunate to have had such a long career, to be an iconic figure, “He thinks he is very lucky, and he shares that luck.”

Some philanthropists have built up large war chests of charitable assets in the past two decades: the Denise Coates Foundation, for instance, has accumulated £385 million since 2012, for future spending.

Others are engaged on a daily basis right now in developing their philanthropy. Most of the highly active philanthropists are those who have made their own money, rather than inheriting it. They often set challenging targets for the organisations they work with, seeking to extract value from their giving and applying the business principles that made them so successful in the charitable sphere. “A hand up, not a hand out,” as Sir Tom Hunter is wont to say.

A summary by Hunter — who said in 2007 that he wanted to give away £1 billion in his lifetime — of his philanthropic credo applies equally to our objectives with the Giving List. “We are trying to bring about positive change by listening to those who know what they are talking about, those who would not normally get a platform,” he says.

The Giving List has for 20 years highlighted the good that can come from wealth, and offered a platform for those engaged in giving back to society. We hope it has encouraged some to join in that civic engagement who might not have done so otherwise. Our partnership with the Charities Aid Foundation will ensure that initiative continues into a third decade.

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The Sunday Times Giving List 2021

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Discover the top 200 philanthropists in the UK and the leading Giving List donors of the past 20 years.

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