The Government’s White Paper on Giving comprises a key part of its ‘Big Society’ programme. The broader Big Society policy aims to return to the people control of their community and individual social requirements and to reduce their reliance on the state. The Government aims to facilitate this by empowering local communities, opening up public services to competition and encouraging social action and greater giving. Government policy on social action is set forth in the White Paper. Its aim is to ‘catalyse a culture shift that makes social action a social norm’, it is not intended to be definitive and ‘marks the beginning of a process of engagement on giving, not the end of one’.
The White Paper recognises that opportunities to give may be eased by the removal of the bureaucratic red tape which so often restricts it. This is particularly the case in relation to the development of volunteering networks and fundraising activities. The Minister of Civil Society has considered this aspect to be sufficiently important to establish a separate Civil Society Red Tape Task Force under the leadership of Lord Hodgson, whose report was published in May 2011. Various recommendations are made, including law reform, the elimination of regulatory duplication, and the provision of clear, standard guidance. The Cabinet Office will be working with the Better Regulation Executive to address the recommendations and a further update is expected in May 2012.
The White Paper also suggests that greater giving might be encouraged by increased reward and recognition for established givers of time and money. This is achievable both through the honours system and by affording greater publicity to alternative awards. Higher level celebration of those who give will incentivise others to follow in their footsteps and pursue their own rewards. Awareness can also be enhanced by publicising and promoting giving related activities at national and local level.
The encouragement of innovation through the development of new methods of fundraising by social media and other new technologies is to be welcomed. The same is true of the further promotion of payroll giving with a view to its becoming the norm. Matched funding initiatives and increased transparency from the charity sector, so that donors can more easily see how their money is applied, will also promote greater giving.
Overall, better access to information about how to give most efficiently, supported by effective public research across the philanthropic sector, will provide further stimulation to giving across the board.
There is a fine line between the Government introducing measures that encourage social giving and stepping in to enforce particular behaviour. It is not for Government to manipulate the giving market actively. The Government has therefore, rightly, declined this suggestion in the White Paper (e.g. the Green Paper had suggested that grant giving foundations ought to be obliged to pay out minimum percentages of their income). However, as previously noted, the policy is designed as the first step in a process, and Government intervention may well creep in. For example, the White Paper suggests that organisations ought to be required to demonstrate their social impact (notwithstanding the fact that there is unlikely to be any uniform method of assessment). This would not only be a Government imposed requirement; It would also conflict with the stated policy to reduce red tape.
Transactional giving is advocated in the White Paper as a means of promoting social giving policy, i.e. the giver receives something in return. There is however a danger that, if social giving becomes too transactional, it will cease to be voluntary. Any reciprocity should be incidental rather than a requirement.
It is widely accepted by professional advisors working within the philanthropy sector that financial breaks are likely to prove a key tool in encouraging giving and unlocking further resources. The Giving Green Paper failed to make any suggestions in this regard. Whilst the White Paper has addressed this point to a certain degree, notably by highlighting the reduction of inheritance tax for estates leaving more than 10% to charity, introduced in the 2011 Budget, it has failed to take the opportunity to make any further, substantive changes.
Incentives may not provide the primary motivation for giving; they would, however, enable those inclined to be generous to give more of their money and more often. In particular, there has been much lobbying recently for ‘lifetime legacy’ incentives (allowing donors to make an irrevocable gift to charity during their lifetime, but retaining the benefit of the income or use of the gift during their lives) and for income tax relief to be extended to outright gifts of chattels, mirroring the reliefs currently available for gifts of quoted securities and land.
As regards gifts of art, the White Paper suggests that inheritance tax relief should remain available only for ‘pre-eminent’ works, which sets the bar for assessment too high since too few items would fall within the definition to attract donors in sufficiently significant numbers. A better option would involve applying the tried and tested former ‘museum quality’ test, involving a lower threshold and therefore a broader scope, leading to greater impact for the sector.
A consolidation of the reliefs that are currently available and some balancing of the inconsistencies that exist in current government policies would also prove useful to potential donors.
The White Paper admits to being unconventional in nature, as it is written from a variety of perspectives and incorporates suggestions for implementing its policy coming from outside government as well as within it. The fact that the Government is seeking to engage with and promote the sector should be welcomed, but the scattergun approach means that it does not quite work as a cohesive whole. Whilst the glaring gaps in relation to tax incentives temper any initial optimism, the flexible interaction between Government and the sector promised in the paper does hold out the potential for positive future developments.