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The Secretary of State for Culture, Lucy Frazer, has called for an attitude shift towards philanthropy to boost arts funding. But that view, writes Caroline McCormick, fails to recognise the huge contribution of the 99%.

Graphic showing aerial view of people holding hands in concentric circles


Lucy Frazer’s speech to launch the Giving Back Better report last week (26 January 2024) is unwittingly revealing of her position on philanthropy. 

In the bizarre story she told, two men are confronted with a lion. One dons his running shoes - not to outrun the lion but to ensure he outruns his friend. In choosing such a narrative she reveals more about the psychology of this government than perhaps she intends. 

The report goes on to introduce a distinction between those who are accorded the title of philanthropist and the rest of us who are simply giving to charity. Apparently, unless you earn £170k per annum or inherit significant wealth, philanthropy is a distinction for which you cannot qualify. 

Unfortunately, the 1% have let Lucy and the government down by not doing their bit and now up to 20% of charities, which have been forced to take on so much of the burden of the state, are facing bankruptcy. 

The poorest give twice as much

The problem is that buried among the data is the stark truth that this is not a new trend and that even the poorest 10% give proportionately twice as much of their disposable income than the 1%. 

The elephant in the room is the fact that wealth is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few and that is aggravating the problem. This is the legacy the Tories have created and solutions - such as making Gift Aid easier to navigate - are not going to address it.

Despite the fact that the report was commissioned by DCMS, who should understand the cultural sector, a distinction is drawn between the sector and other charities. Cultural charities are still charities and talking about them as though they are different from the rest of the charitable sector confuses public understanding of the issue. 

And while we all want the 1% to give more, we also know that their giving goes almost exclusively to what Arts Council England (Private Investment in Culture Survey 2022) refers to as the ‘50 top brands’. There is no trickle-down effect in cultural philanthropy any more than in society as a whole.

No philanthropy without equality

As the President of the Ford Foundation, Darren Walker, emphasised in his recent thought leadership event for the Cultural Philanthropy Foundation, there is no philanthropy without equality. And an approach that makes philanthropy the preserve of the 1% brings neither equity nor creates the appeal we need in reclaiming this critical idea that underpins all healthy societies, informed as it is by empathy.

At Achates, the cultural sector consultancy company I founded ten years ago, we give at least 10% of our profit to culture each year. The fact that the Achates team is committed to this pledge I think makes every one of them a philanthropist. 

Over the years, it has amounted to more than £250,000 in cash support and £450,000 in kind. The public nature of our commitment means the team wears the distinction with pride and fight for it, even in challenging times. Diminishing such a commitment to philanthropy brings no benefit; it only reveals a view of society that we are all poorer for.

We are a nation of philanthropists. It is the 1% who have not, on the whole, earned the title. And the idea of a Philanthropy Champion, who would inevitably be drawn from the ranks of the 1%, is an insult to the rest of us. Culture belongs to us all.

Caroline McCormick is Chair of the Cultural Philanthropy Foundation and Director of Achates.
 culturalphilanthropyfoundation.co.uk/ | achates.org.uk/

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Headshot of Caroline McCormick