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Commission calls for philanthropy champion in Whitehall


The Law Commission for Civil Society is calling for the appointment of a ‘Philanthropy Champion’ within the UK Civil Service to boost philanthropic causes and unlock the full potential of giving across the country.

The Commission’s report, titled Seizing the philanthropic prize: The role of the UK government in growing philanthropy states that, currently, the UK government has only one-third of a single civil servant’s time dedicated to philanthropy policy, alongside a handful of civil servants responsible for relevant taxation. This, it says, is insufficient to make the most of philanthropy nationally.

It wants to see a senior civil servant dedicated to boosting philanthropy in the UK appointed. This ‘Champion’ would provide a gateway between Whitehall and the sector, and co-ordinate action across government departments on measurement, regulation, guidance and taxation of philanthropy.

Lord Gus O’Donnell, Chair of the Law Family Commission on Civil Society and Pro Bono Economics, said:

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

The Commission also recommends that the civil service starts a ‘leveraging philanthropy’ best practice drive in partnership with philanthropy sector organisations so that civil servants better understand the opportunities presented by philanthropy.

By unlocking the full potential of philanthropy in the UK, the report argues that the public, charities and government all stand to gain. Greater investment in charities would mean more capacity in the sector to deliver vital services, and a stronger charity sector, which would benefit the government through better delivery on shared objectives.

How the UK compares with other countries

On a financial level, the report says, the UK trails the US, Canada and New Zealand in terms of philanthropy. If the British population gave a similar share of their wealth to charity as the New Zealand and Canadian populations, this would generate an extra £5 billion annually for charities, equivalent to a 10% increase in charity sector income.

In the US, the report highlights, ‘Public-Philanthropic Partnerships’ are increasing and operate in two main forms at every level of government. At federal level, there are over 40 ‘Federal Liaisons’, civil servants embedded into government departments, who are dedicated to philanthropy. On a local level, a growing number of cities and states have ‘Offices of Strategic Partnership’ which work to establish partnerships and collaboration with the philanthropy sector.

Sector backing

The recommendations in the report have been backed by philanthropy sector organisations including the Beacon Collaborative and the Charities Aid Foundation.

Cath Dovey, Co-founder of the Beacon Collaborative, commented:

“The UK is a generous nation, but we haven’t reached our full potential for engaging private wealth in support of civil society. Philanthropy is no longer about benevolence; it is about having an impact on the complex problems that face the next generation.


“Tackling these challenges needs a collective effort that will mobilise all the resources at our disposal, including private giving and social investment. Government can help to make this happen, but it requires a joined-up understanding across Whitehall and Westminster of the role that philanthropy can play to reach the people, places and issues that big government can’t always reach.


“We need a partner in government to help build the infrastructure and incentives that will encourage more people to give and invest to build thriving communities, to support the most vulnerable, and to have an impact on the challenging issues that face our country and our planet.”

Neil Heslop, Chief Executive of the Charities Aid Foundation, said: 

“In the UK, we tend to be modest in nature about our charitable giving. But we have seen first-hand, especially over the past two years, the power of philanthropy to deliver real impact.


“By creating a Philanthropy Champion, government has the opportunity to nurture philanthropy and encourage billions of pounds more charitable investment.


“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.”

The report is the latest paper published as part of the Law Family Commission on Civil Society, a two-year programme of research carried out by Pro Bono Economics, exploring how to unleash civil society’s potential in the 2020s.

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