Government needs to appoint a ‘philanthropy champion’ to boost giving, says think tank

A senior civil servant should be appointed to champion philanthropy across government and “help unlock billions in extra giving”, according to a think tank.

The newly created ‘philanthropy champion’ role would be able to act as a “gateway between Whitehall and the charity sector” and be responsible for coordinating the “measurement, regulation, guidance and taxation of philanthropy”, said Pro Bono Economics’ Law Family Commission on Civil Society, which has developed the proposal.

It warns that currently just one civil servant is dedicated to supporting philanthropy, for just a third of their time. Meanwhile, Whitehall only has a “handful of civil servants” responsible for charity tax issues.

“As a result, the government does not have the coordination, resource and expertise needed to make the most of philanthropy nationally, says the think tank in its Seizing the philanthropic prize” report.

Also being called for is a drive to share good practice in philanthropy among civil servants to ensure “they understand the opportunities presented by philanthropy” including match funding.

The Commission is urging ministers to adopt a US style system of partnership working between the not-for-profit sector and government. In the US ‘public-philanthropic partnerships’ are increasingly in place at all levels of government to encourage collaboration, said the think tank.

“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,” said Commission chair Gus O’Donnell.

“This would benefit charities, government and the public alike.”

He added: “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 creation of a philanthropy champion role is backed by Charities Aid Foundation chief executive Neil Heslop.

“By creating a philanthropy champion, government has the opportunity to nurture philanthropy and encourage billions of pounds more charitable investment,” he said.

“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.”

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