Church-goers are encouraged to contribute to the weekly collection but there is now a new generation of Catholics who
are willing to share even a small fortune. Francis Davis reports When Bill and Melinda Gates made the announcement that by the end of their lives they planned to give away their $28 billion fortune to the poorest communities on the planet it was greeted with cynicism by sections of the press. Were they trying to enhance Microsoft’s public relations? Was it an attempt to distract attention from lawsuits pending against the firm? Was it tax avoidance? No wonder then that a sceptical media missed a striking statement from Melinda Gates that “as a former pupil at a Catholic school the motivation for me is at least a little bit religious”.
While Britain can not yet lay claim to a couple with wealth on the scale of the Gates family, it can nevertheless point to the increasing affluence of many in business or with properties throughout the country. In the last decade, the number of millionaires in Britain has more than doubled despite the collapse of the dot com boom.
With rapid increases in the value of houses, those just below this level have also experienced leaps in their net worth over that period. Such people are vital, as 60 per cent of all charitable giving in Britain is made by the top seven per cent of donors.
Of these, according to the Charities Aid Foundation, “elite donors are much more likely to be women and have a disproportionately high number of religious believers in their number”.
Sadly, for the future, the younger they are the less they are likely to give, either in absolute terms or as a proportion of their income.
Charitable giving has always been seen as an essential aspect of the Catholic community’s moral economy. Literally translated, philanthropy means “love of fellow man”. Its history has been intimately bound up with the development of the Church throughout Europe and on both sides of the Atlantic: both St Francis and St Ignatius had rich female patrons. In penal times in Britain the mission to sustain the Church was supported by a few wealthy benefactors. When the English Benedictines began to refound their monasteries, the locations chosen would often owe as much to the geographical preferences of their philanthropic supporters as to any evangelical imperative.
Later, as the Church was enhanced by the arrival of migrants from Ireland and elsewhere, it would be the gifts of the faithful that built schools, cared for the poor, established clubs and housed many who were struggling. But, as any Catholic fundraiser will tell you, the need for a network of generous Catholic donors remains. The task of inculturating such generosity in our younger Catholics has become a priority. It is also a wonderful opportunity for priests who wish to preach a positive view of the future.
One of those who has paved the way for a new responsibility is John Studzinski, now a senior director at HSBC and previously vice chairman of Morgan Grenfell. “People are often naturally mean,” he has said, “and philanthropy is something that has to be culturally learned through role models.” A devout Catholic, Studzinski was encouraged by Cardinal Hume to witness to humanitarian principles in the business community and his devotion to the cause led to the award of a papal knighthood in 2001.
Studizinski was a founder supporter of the Passage centre for homeless people and has made a path-breaking contribution as chairman of Business Action For the Homeless.
It is reported that when he joined the Board of the Tate Gallery he matched another donor’s multi-million pound grant. Like other new generation philanthropists, what marks him out further still is his focus on making every penny count by maximising its social return. It is unsurprising that in a professional life focused on maximising shareholder value his freetime philanthropy looks to maximise public value.
Studzinski personally interviews hundreds of struggling and emerging young musicians, artists, writers and performers annually. With the best advice from the likes of the Guildhall School of Music and the Almeida Theatre, he then backs them with his own cash if they are likely to invent wonderful new opera, music or books.
“Catholic donors have traditionally relied completely on their trust of a Catholic charity or institution to justify making funds available to it” says Bill Hampson, the director of the Epiphany Charitable Trust in Wigan, “but these new ‘venture philanthropists’ are trying to extend the boundaries so that they have a real confidence in the outcomes their hard earned cash will be able to secure.
“With a little thought, those with smaller gifts, legacies or the proceeds of the sale of a parish or personal property can often be just as creative,” he says.
Thus, while Catholic Sir Rocco Forte runs marathons to raise thousands for his nominated charities his father has endowed the Lord Forte Charitable Foundation to advance charitable causes that he considers of strategic importance.
When the Servite Sisters sold one of their houses they endowed the “Servite Sisters Charitable Trust” which, in keeping with their charism, has a special interest in encouraging women at home and overseas.
A number of Irish religious orders have followed this route, as has the social justice fund of the British Jesuits who in turn are now worth, according to government figures, in excess of £300 million.
One Catholic family, who have made their fortune in the retail industry, are equally generous and focused about their giving while insisting that gifts are anonymously made in a spirit of service.
These networks and foundations have lined up behind creative Catholic work for the poor, pioneering initiatives based in Catholic schools, the redevelopment of older buildings for wider use and more.
In Germany, a scheme has been launched to identify and nurture future Catholic leaders for the Church and society among young people of all back grounds. In the United States, schools have been kept open where urban blight would have closed them.
“The aim in the UK must be to encourage a range of families and groups to think about doing philanthropy in this way” says Bill Hampson, who works closely with North West Catholic philanthropist John Kennedy.
“If every Catholic family whose house has risen in value by £100,000 or more set aside 10 per cent of its worth for new giving, we could raise the level of activity significantly. If extended families, or groups of friends, came together to endow a small trust, joint initiatives could be launched that really could lift the Catholic Church’s mission in new times.” Alternatively the Catholic bishops could set up a “national community foundation” into which wealthier Catholics could give but still have some say over the work backed by their particular gifts.
The lesson from the United States is that developing generations of Catholic charitable leadership is key. The umbrella agency Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities (FADICA) brings together many of those who have established charitable bodies interested in increasing the effectiveness of the Church’s philanthropy. A leading member of FADICA is the Raskob Foundation of Delaware which funds social welfare, education, catechetical and health apostolates worldwide. Founded five generations ago, the Raskob Foundation now involves more than one hundred members of the family in its work and since its inception has given away £70 million.
Family members learn charitable habits from an early age with many involved in grant-making meetings around the family dinner table so that philanthropy and family are not separate but culturally integral.
Some have suggested that the time is ripe for a British and Irish FADICA to bring on our own “group of passionately committed Catholic social change-makers”.
“The only real obstacles we face in encouraging wealthy and wealthier Catholics in these isles to take a new step forward are the will and the tax system,” says Hampson.
“In the UK it is still more tax efficient to invest in a company than it is to invest in empowering the poor via a charity and the churches need to keep raising this tragedy with the Chancellor and his advisors.” In some Catholic quarters the need for detailed policy proposals regarding giving has been omitted in favour of general campaigns for structural social justice. This division must also be bridged.
The Catholic Church has sometimes struggled to understand how it can speak to, and learn from, its business people and those among its members who have been lucky with investments or property.
As the example of Melinda Gates shows, a Catholic formation, and a wider Catholic culture that is supportive could lead to a charitable plan with more resources than many states can muster.
As the wealth of many British Catholics rises, a new opportunity emerges to mobilise the many who could give in new ways, and possibly even give without counting the cost.
Francis Davis is Chairman of SCA Care, a 600 employee social enterprise and until recently CEO of a leading print and contract publishing company