The face of giving in the UK is changed today with the commitment of £100m by Tom Hunter, the Scottish retail entrepreneur, to his eponymous charitable foundation.
Hunter’s gift — equivalent to one-fifth of his wealth — is an open-ended one, a commitment to pay funds as and when needed by the Hunter Foundation. It is one of the largest ever charitable donations and will boost the role of his foundation, established six years ago to invest in enterprise and education initiatives largely aimed at children.
Lord Joffe, chairman of the Giving Campaign, which is working to boost levels of giving in the UK, said of Hunter’s gift: “This is enormously important, a major step towards an American culture of giving. What’s important is that one person is willing to have the gift publicised as an inducement to others.”
Hunter — whose total giving in the past year exceeds £105m — is modest about the donation, anxious not to appear “holier than thou”, although he admits he hopes his actions will challenge others to do something similar. “It works for me,” he says. “Some people wait until they die to hand on their legacy, but the whole point of dying a very wealthy man must be wrong.”
The evidence from our survey of charitable giving suggests Hunter need not worry. Many in the list were willing to provide details of their charitable activities. The table opposite shows their generosity.
From business — Hunter, John Lancaster, Sir Peter Vardy — to show business — Sir Elton John (the second most generous giver, according to our table) — many of the wealthiest in Britain have stumped up for charity at home and abroad.
The beneficiaries are as diverse as the motives for giving. Children’s, medical and educational groups remain the most popular. The arts also do well. The £20m given last November by businessman Donald Gordon to the Royal Opera House and the Wales Millennium Centre will help underwrite their activities for the next five years.
Not everyone was comfortable with our survey. Some are genuinely modest, while others perhaps have levels of giving rather lower than their wealth might justify. The latest figures on giving in the UK show we still lag behind America, a situation that will not change while the richest 20% give 0.7% of their household expenditure to charity and the poorest 20% give up to 3%.
Joffe says: “The people at the bottom can empathise with suffering and poverty and are more generous consequently than the wealthy, who often have no understanding of what poverty or disadvantage is — and behave accordingly.”
Hunter’s donation is the most eye-catching and as with many self-made millionaires rooted deeply in his background and upbringing in an Ayrshire mining town.
His style of “venture philanthropy” seeks partners for projects to match his own funding, adopts a business approach with clearly defined goals and an exit point, and expects pilot projects to be rolled out on a national scale once their success has been proven.
Working with the Scottish executive, the foundation has ploughed millions into the Schools Enterprise Programme since 2001 — delivering enterprise education to all pupils aged five upwards — making it available in every primary school in Scotland. They are working on introducing it across all secondary schools.
The work funded by the Rausing family, the fourth biggest givers in this year’s Rich List, has a more international flavour. Giving close to £30m in the past year (and more than £100m since 1994) the family appears in 30th place in our giving index only because its generosity is set against its huge wealth (£4,950m).
Levels of corporate giving lag well behind the generosity of individuals, although this is not true in the case of Mike Gooley’s Trailfinders travel company, which has given an astounding 19% of post-tax profits to charity on average each year over the past eight. Between his Trailfinders Charity and his company, Gooley (£225m, 192=) has given away more than £21m since 1995.
The Hodge family (£48m, 834=) also has a long track record of philanthropy chiefly through the Jane Hodge Foundation. While more than £16m has been given away in all, £1.1m was gifted last year, mainly to causes for the advancement of medical science, education and religion.
Last year’s most charitable family, headed by John Lancaster (£97m, 415=), slips to fifth place this year in our giving index. The £5m donations of the family trust continue to be targeted on community and social projects, together with medical and religious charities.
Sir Elton John targets much of his charitable work on supporting his Aids foundations in Britain and America. Almost all of the £11m raised and distributed by the foundations comes from the star’s performances and charity functions he hosts.