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Over the summer, I wrote about a new philanthropy initiative to encourage the very wealthy in the UK to give more and quoted research that found that those earning more than £10m gave an average of just £240 a year to charity. The figures were so surprising that the newsdesk at the FT asked if I’d maybe missed out a zero or two.

We decided to ask readers not only what they gave to charity, but whether they felt they gave enough. Of the 109 respondents, only a little more than half were happy with what they donated. Saving for a house was a common reason for not giving more, which is understandable.

Some people on incomes at the lower end of the scale were donating a surprisingly large amount. More than a third of those earning less than £50,000 gave at least a thousand pounds a year to charity. As you would expect — or at least hope — those earning more than a quarter of a million were the most likely to give more than £25,000 a year. But a handful of that group gave less than £250 a year. One said that once he’d achieved his personal financial goals, he’d be happy to give more. Another was hoping to give it away on their death.

43%

of people think they don’t give enough

Anecdotally, many wealth managers I have chatted to are not surprised the wealthy give so little to charity. The super-rich tend to have an abundance of advice and are more likely to have a family foundation or some sort of stated philanthropic mission. But for the next level down — those whose wealth is in the millions, even the tens of millions — there seems to be a giving gap. One respondent said he worked in wealth management and had seen many people earning multiple hundreds of thousands who had direct debits of just £20 a month to charity.

Chart showing donations to charitable causes per year
Chart showing annual donations by income bracket

“Many high-earners seem to see philanthropy as the preserve of billionaires only and should think more in terms of a percentage of their income, rather than 20/30/40 pounds a month being the big number it was when they started work,” he said. He himself gave 1 per cent of his pre-tax salary.

57%

of people plan to do most of their charitable giving during their life, while 13% intend to give after they die and 13% will do half and half

Often this high-net worth but not super-high-net worth bracket consists of people who are busy building up their businesses. I put this to Peter Flavel, chief executive of Coutts, who said that entrepreneurs have often spent so long intensely focused on their business that they don’t give charity much thought until they have a “liquidity event”. (That’s not a night out on the town, but industry-speak for the sale of one’s business). That is when the teams of philanthropy advisers swoop, as people finally have both the wealth and the time to decide how to give properly.

But, as shown by our readers, you can give to charity at any level of wealth. One main reason people said they weren’t giving more was that they wanted to do proper research on the best causes before committing to a charity. Carving out time to make decisions takes up head space in itself — as I can attest from my feeling of achievement by just writing a to do list. But all of us, as well as wealth advisers, should all be making it happen.

Vox pop: charitable giving

  • “Ideally governments would operate efficiently so we wouldn’t need to give to charities.”
  • “Charity organisations need to be responsible with their expenditure.”
  • “There are genuine concerns about the efficacy of giving.”
  • “Personal connections with charities can be hugely enriching relationships.”
  • “It’s a moral obligation to share something with those in need.”
  • “I think there needs to be more genuine philanthropy with donors engaged with real projects.”

Alice Ross is editor of the FT Wealth magazine and Financial Times Wealth Correspondent

@aliceemross

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