Fundraising academic Beth Breeze says people who give large donations are celebrated in the US, but British culture has a problem with the idea of a “philanthropist”.
Breeze, who is director of the Centre for Philanthropy at the University of Kent, said that in the US large donations from very wealthy people were celebrated and seen as something to aspire to. “There’s a very distinct culture of philanthropy in the US, one where they’re pretty positive and encouraging about the use of private wealth to advance the public good,” she said.
Despite the UK’s long tradition of charitable giving, she said, British people seemed to be a lot more comfortable celebrating smaller donors. “If you stick a few zeroes on the end of a donation, people get a bit uncomfortable and unsure how to react,” she said. “We reject the word ‘philanthropist’ in this country. Major donors here will often say ‘I’m not a philanthropist, I’m just generous, I’m just doing what I like’.”
She said this problem was often played out in newspapers, which made snide comments about the large-scale giving of billionaire Bill Gates.