Making the right ask of billionaires
I was doing some research on fundraising recently when I came across the Forbes website, and specifically its list of billionaires. This site tracks the stock portfolios of billionaires in real time.
That particular day’s winner was Larry Ellison, the chief executive of Oracle – his stocks were up $550.3m in under 24 hours. I’ll just give you a minute to take that in. That single day’s profit for that one individual is slightly more than the annual income of Macmillan Cancer Research and the British Red Cross combined.
Looking at this from another angle, the top six wealthiest people in Britain have a combined income of £58bn, according to The Sunday Times Rich List 2012 . This is £6bn greater than the income of all 162,000 general charities combined.
I’m not about to argue that this is unfair, as this is the system of unfettered capital we live in (and not just in the West – number 3 on the Real Time Billionaires list is Indian businessman Lakshmi Mittal, with a one-day gain of $331.5m). We know the rules when we play the game. Some may say this is an obscene amount for any one person, and they are probably right. The point is how to use this knowledge to slightly redress the balance by getting more of this money to charities.
Billionaires may argue that they give enough already, but this is not borne out in the figures. The 2011 Coutts Million Pound Donor report identified 174 donations of £1m or over in the previous year, totalling £1.3bn – a drop in the ocean when the 1,000 richest people in the UK have a combined wealth of £414bn.
A two-fold approach could be applied to this issue, summed up as “educate and ask”. First, educate the general public about the scale of this wealth, and get them talking about it. It’s often hard to grasp just how much richer some people are than the rest of us; the size of the numbers can render them meaningless. The result is that this wealth is not discussed.
[Paradoxically at other end of scale charity expenditure is scrutinised to a far greater extent, and spend on administration questioned by much of the public. Many people even hold the view that “all charity staff should be unpaid”. For these people, it’s almost as if the charity sector exists in a parallel universe from the private sector, staffed by people for whom good deeds should in themselves be reward enough.]
And educate the billionaires, about the scale of the need and the difference their money can make.
Second, make the right level of ask to truly rich people. Vinoba Bhave, the spiritual successor to Gandhi, walked all across India asking people with land to consider him as one of their sons and so give him a one seventh of their land, which he then distributed to landless poor. I’m not advocating giving up your life to do similar, but when you next meet a billionaire you could do worse than to say: “I don’t need all your wealth – just a day’s profit would suffice.”
Steve Morley is managing director of strategy house Sango Consulting. He spent 10 years working in campaigns, marketing and communications for big NGOs, before setting up his own consultancy in 2006