Return of the philanthropist as high rollers make charity hip

The post-millennium slump in sponsorship has come to an end and giving is back in fashion. Maxine Frith and Louise Jury report
Click to follow
The Independent Online

The spirit of philanthropy is again taking hold in Britain, with the current generation of super-rich emulating the virtue of their Victorian forebears by giving away vast swaths of their fortunes.

The spirit of philanthropy is again taking hold in Britain, with the current generation of super-rich emulating the virtue of their Victorian forebears by giving away vast swaths of their fortunes.

The clearest signs of the new altruism are in the arts, where the post-millennium slump in sponsorship is being reversed. Individual giving and business investment reached £376m last year, according to a report published today.

A new generation of big charity givers is emerging, with famous names setting up foundations or donating millions to favoured causes. They include football bosses, property developers and trust fund heirs who are keen to part with substantial sums of cash for causes such as galleries and the opera.

Now charity chiefs want to see Britain become as philanthropic a nation as the United States, with its own Guggenheims and Rockefellers sponsoring the arts.

While corporate charity has slumped in recent years, individual donations account for two-thirds of the £376m given to the arts, according to the report by the lobby group Arts and Business (A&B).

Museums, galleries, theatres and dance companies were alarmed when a surge of support for new buildings and projects as 2000 approached dropped off afterwards with a 3 per cent fall in 2002. But donations increased by 8 per cent last year, with a string of massive handouts from wealthy individuals.

Dance, theatre, music and photography attracted big increases in investment, with some of the largest donations in history.

John Madejski, chairman of Reading Football Club, gave £3m to the Royal Academy of Arts, enabling it to renovate its suite of 18th-century Fine Rooms.

In November last year, in one of the largest single arts donations in history, the property developer Donald Gordon donated £20m to be shared between the Royal Opera House and the Wales Millennium Centre.

Vernon Ellis, the international chairman of Accenture, donated £5m of shares to the English National Opera. Professor Sir Colin Wilson, the architect of the British Library, added to the 2003 arts windfall by donating his £5m collection of paintings to the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester.

Celebrities are also getting in on the act. The banking heir Matthew Mellon and his now estranged wife, Tamara, who is the managing director of the Jimmy Choo shoe empire, have paid substantial sums to sit on the council of the ultra-trendy Serpentine Gallery in London.

But it is not just the arts that are the beneficiaries of this new philanthropy.

The Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour last year made £4.5m from selling his London home and promptly gave the proceeds to the homeless charity Crisis.

The socialite Jemima Khan has donated some of her inheritance from the Goldsmith fortune to Unicef, the United Nations Children's Fund, while the novelist J K Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series, has happily parted with millions of pounds for the benefit of multiple sclerosis, one-parent families and Comic Relief.

The pop star Robbie Williams favours urban regeneration projects, while Elton John's Aids Foundation is one of the biggest charities of its kind in Britain.

Colin Tweedy, the chief executive of A&B, said there is a strong trend of wealthy individuals who would once have contributed to the arts through their businesses now making personal donations. Mr Tweedy said: "In the past, it was the plc, the corporate, that gave money out of their PR or marketing budget. But we have realised that more and more we're seeing individuals within those businesses engaging themselves, sometimes in huge ways.

"What the British have never done before is what the Americans do, planned giving as opposed to disaster giving. But that is beginning to change. If you look at somewhere like the Serpentine Gallery in London, more and more of its support is coming from urban, affluent yuppies - the new rich."

Buoyed by last year's surge in giving, A&B has now launched the Maecenas Initiative, aimed at encouraging more people in Britain to give to the arts.

Maecenas is acknowledged as civilisation's first philanthropist. A trusted adviser of the Roman emperor Augustus Caesar, he devoted his retirement - and his fortune - to supporting the arts, giving money and political backing to a literary circle which included Horace and Virgil.

The Maecenas Initiative aims to encourage "ordinary people" to support the arts through payroll giving and other means, as well as encouraging the super-rich to make multimillion-pound donations.

"There are huge amounts of money to be had from wealthy individuals who would like to support the arts," Mr Tweedy said. "It can be for tax reasons, it can be their legacy, can make them "great and good" or it can just make them feel good.

"While America has a long history of sustained, high-profile individual philanthropy to the arts, here this form of cash support is not nearly so developed. We can learn from the different culture of giving in the US."

Mr Tweedy aims to see the amount given to the arts by individuals rise from £256m last year to £385m by 2007 as a result of the initiative.

But it will require as much of a cultural as a financial shift for a country where big public charitable donations have been seen as vulgar rather than vital. The big philanthropists have traditionally been American: the Gettys, Guggenheims and Rockefellers. Americans give some $240bn (£130bn) to charity annually, more than 2 per cent of national income, with the richest donating a bigger proportion of their income than the poorest. But British philanthropic giving is the opposite; the richest 20 per cent of households give away less than 1 per cent of their incomes, while the poorest fifth donate 3 per cent.

Only 2 per cent of British workers work for companies where it is possible to donate money through payroll giving, compared with more than one-third of employees in the US.

Philanthropic giving to the arts is also bigger in the US than in Britain. In 2001, 5.7 per cent of all philanthropic giving in America went to the arts, compared with 3.4 per cent in Britain.

Mr Mellon, who was born in the US, said: "When I first came to London a few years ago, I couldn't believe how mean so many well-off Brits were when it came to philanthropy. It was almost like a dirty word. Now it's becoming almost hip to give."

American arts organisations have very sophisticated ways of courting big givers. The Museum of Modern Art in New York remembers your birthday and sends flowers for major anniversaries. The San Francisco Opera takes its wealthiest patrons on tours to opera houses in Europe or Latin America, routinely receiving gifts of $1m (£556,000) as a thank you.

"It's customer care of the most extraordinary nature and far more time-consuming than attracting corporate giving," Mr Tweedy said.

"Corporate money used to be easier. But most of the major national bodies are now trying to latch on to individuals. If it works, you get a loyal donor for life."

Loyal donors are going to be in ever greater demand over the next few years.

Record increases in government support for the arts since 1997 are thought unlikely to continue in the next pre-election spending round, when health and education will be the main vote winners.

The Arts Council of England receives just over £500m a year from the Treasury and the lottery to support the arts while the Council for Museums, Libraries and Archives gets a further £37m in government funding.

Mr Tweedy is convinced that arts organisations can only survive on a mixed economy of private and public-sector funding, as well as corporate and personal philanthropy.

There are now 73,000 millionaires in Britain, and charities are determined to see them and many others dig a little deeper into their pockets in the future.


Sir Christopher Ondaatje

This year he gave a £1m donation to save Raphael's Madonna of the Pinks, for the nation. The Sri Lankan-born financier founded the Canadian stock brokerage company Loewen, Ondaatje, McCutcheon, and the Pagurian Corporation, a banking and publishing empire. He has given £2.75m for the Ondaatje wing of the National Portrait Gallery, huge sums to Somerset cricket club,and £2m to the Labour Party. Last year, he was knighted for services to philanthropy. He has also given a £200,000 endowment for a literary prize for writing which "evokes the spirit of a place".

Vernon Ellis

The international chairman of Accenture, the world's largest consulting firm, is president of the Classical Opera Company and vice-chairman of the English National Opera. He donated £5m in shares to the ENO last year and is dedicated to bringing opera to the masses, with cut-price seats for performances. He says: "We cannot expect the Government to do everything."

Donald Gordon

He gave £20m, one of the biggest arts donations in British history, of his £500m fortune to the Royal Opera House and the Wales Millennium Centre. At 75, the South African-born philanthropist is chairman of the property giant Liberty International.

He says: "People spend their lives worrying about how they are going to leave their estates to their children for them to decimate later on. I'm not interested in all that."

John Madejski

Sold his 'Auto Trader' magazine empire for £170m in 1998 and is now chairman and director of 16 companies, including Reading Football Club. Illegitimate, he did badly at school, claims he was educated at the "University of Life" but went on to amass a £200m fortune. He gave £3m to the Royal Academy last year for the restoration of the Fine Rooms and has also lent the gallery a Degas sculpture he bought for £5.3m.

He says: "If I can enable other human souls to be fed, than that does it for me."


Elton John

Established the Elton John Aids Foundation in 1992 and, in the past decade, has given away more than £30m in grants for research, treatment and prevention of the disease. His annual Oscars party alone raised more than £500,000 for the foundation this year, while the White Tie and Tiara ball held at his mansion garners millions more.

Matthew Mellon

The American-born banking heir is a life member of the Serpentine Gallery council, a position which cost him a £50,000 donation last year. In 2003, he also donated £30,000 to the Prince's Trust, and receives up to five charity invitations a week.

The Goldsmiths

Jemima Khan, daughter of the late Sir James Goldsmith, is a regular on the London charity circuit. She has also donated undisclosed sums to the UN Children's Fund, Unicef, for which she is an ambassador. Her younger brother Ben last year set up the Manuka Club, aimed at encouraging wealthy people to donate money to small environmental causes.


Gaius Maecenas

A Roman statesman born about 74BC, who became one of the earliest patrons of the arts. He gave financial aid, moral support and political backing to a literary circle that included Virgil and Horace.

Lorenzo de Medici

Supported great Italian Renaissance artists including Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo. Machiavelli called Medici "the greatest patron of literature and art that any prince has ever been".

Andrew Carnegie

The US steel baron was the world's richest man when he retired in 1901, then set about giving it all away. He established the Carnegie Institution for scientific research, and funded libraries and music halls.

Peggy Guggenheim

Among the greatest 20th-century collectors, she helped Jackson Pollock and Max Ernst. She lent her art to galleries and left her collection to the family's philanthropic foundation. She died in 1979.