The University of Kent

01/17/2020 | News release | Distributed by Public on 01/17/2020 09:27

Expert Comment: Closing the gap between richer and charity-deprived areas

'We welcome the reminder from New Philanthropy Capital that charitable activity and charitable organisations are distributed very unevenly and that the presence or absence of charitable resources is closely related to economic conditions. As John Stuart Mill famously argued in 1848, charity 'almost always does too much or too little: it lavishes its bounty in one place and leaves people to stare in another'.

In the Centre for Philanthropy at the University of Kent we have been studying the logic of charity and philanthropy for over a decade. Our research highlights the historical evidence that these variations are long-standing, and illustrates that charity is driven more by the supply of donors and the work of fundraisers, than by the demand of those needing their help.

So what can be done to close the gap between richer and poorer areas? As voluntary action is - by definition - in the hands of people rather than politicians, the options open to central government are limited. To date, policies have largely pursued 'nudge' and 'place-based initiatives' to encourage donors to give to areas beyond their personal experience. For example, the strategy to promote 'place-based philanthropy' provided matched funding, often via local community foundations, to encourage donors to learn about and support 'hidden poverty' in their backyard. Another way to help 'charity-deprived areas' is better targeting of funding for the local infrastructures that support voluntary action, such as Volunteer Centres and Councils for Voluntary Services, which help connect volunteers and causes, and provide support and training to both professional and volunteer fundraisers.

The bigger picture that this issue raises is a reminder that, while charity can provide many benefits and enrich our society in many ways, its redistributive potential is limited. The 'logic of charity' means that it cannot 'fill the gaps' in a systematic or evenly-distributed way, and is best viewed as a complement, rather than a substitute for public support and initiatives.'

Dr Beth Breeze is the Director of the Centre for Philanthropy at the School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research. Dr Breeze's research interests focus on philanthropy, fundraising, charitable giving and the charity sector. She is the co-author of The Logic of Charity: Great expectations in hard times, published by Palgrave Macmillan.

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