What motivates people to give their own private resources for the public good?

Authored by: Cathy Pharoah

The Routledge Companion to Philanthropy

Print publication date:  May  2016
Online publication date:  May  2016

Print ISBN: 9780415783255
eBook ISBN: 9781315740324
Adobe ISBN: 9781317579717


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While the previous chapter has looked at some of the broader issues around giving and philanthropy, this chapter will focus in more detail on the question: why do we give away part of what we have? This question has intrigued people of different cultures, from diverse walks of life, and from numerous academic disciplines; it is assuming renewed significance in this time of widening global inequality. As governments increasingly roll back the state and seek to redefine the balance between individual and public responsibilities, there are growing expectations of the contribution which philanthropy might make (Harrow and Jung, 2011). In purely material and instrumental terms, private giving provides substantial financial support for a vast range of civil society activities and organizations which depend on it: it provides 11 percent of their income globally (Salamon et al., 1999). Today, private giving is worth more than $335 billion in the US (Giving USA, 2014), and over £18 billion per year from individuals, companies and charitable trusts in the UK (Pharoah, 2011a,b). It is therefore increasingly important to understand the philanthropic impulse and how it might be changing in a social environment of growing secularism, individualism, consumerism, and multiculturalism. This chapter highlights how research has found that giving is embedded in multiple social, personal and moral contexts; that the motivation to give is multi-faceted. It outlines the different ways in which that motivation has been addressed and interpreted in research, some of the key findings, and concludes with reflections on the challenges to donor motivation in today’s increasingly complex and demanding environment for philanthropy.

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