By John Nickson
£15.49 from Biteback publishing
John Nickson’s ‘Giving is Good for You’ is, thankfully, not another jargon-filled academic text, but an impassioned polemic against the non-philanthropic rich. Nickson aims to encourage them to give, by using the experiences and words of those who enjoy philanthropy, including his own.
As one of Britain’s most experienced fundraising directors, and a donor, trustee and advisor, Nickson is well-placed to wag a finger at those who are failing to give. But far from a rant, the book is a rational and reasoned manifesto for giving and its joyful returns, with lots of helpful insight for fundraisers, charities and philanthropists alike.
“This is a book about values. I fear that our society is becoming more materialistic and selfish, and that our humanity and civil society may become compromised. I am making a personal, emotional and moral case for giving…,” explains Nickson in his forward.
It is a well-justified call to action; in an age of austerity for the masses and prosperity for the few - the combined wealth of the 1000 wealthiest has increased by 283.5% since 2000 to £414 bn is one of the many statistics offered in this fact-filled text- a book that encourages giving is well-timed; some would say essential.
The book sets out the state of philanthropy in Britain today, drawing on the many surveys and statistics that confirm us a generous nation - 56% of us give in some way or other. Yet we have the capacity to do so much more: half of the richest 10% of Britons do not give. Though it needs to be stated that the wealthiest give the most money and without their contribution Britain’s galleries, theatres, and educational and health establishments would not be the world leaders they are. Wealth creators have an important role to play in the future of Britain.
Among the book’s strengths is Nickson’s rigorous primary research that draws on interviews with more than 80 philanthropists, charity leaders and sector professionals. The effect is to give the book a reportage feel that delivers very many well-worded descriptions of philanthropy's enriching and life enhancing properties, that are supported with genuine examples.
The book's weakness, I thought, was how it might reach its potential audience – surely a book aimed at wealthy people without a philanthropic interest is not going to find many buyers. So I put the question to Nickson who reveals a cunning plan: “The idea is that philanthropists will buy it and send it to people they know as a polite prompt and I know that is already happening.”
Indeed the book reveals, in no uncertain terms (page 29), that philanthropists are pretty cross about their wealthy uncharitable peers.
The book covers just about every angle of its subtitle: ‘Why Britain should be bothered to give more’: the challenges, the barriers, the opportunities, as well as a critique of government policy and action and where philanthropy might be encouraged - including among the younger generation. It finishes with an expansive call to action and an epilogue filled with practical information for how to be a good donor, trustee, charity and fundraiser.
Nickson says his aim was to write a readable book that will persuade people to give. In the heart he has put into ‘Why Giving is Good for you - Why Britain should be bothered to give more’ he has achieved that.
The hope is that wealthy non-givers will have the heart to open it.
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