Giving is Good For You, Why Britain Should be Bothered to Give More. (2013).

Book Review
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Publishing information: 
Hardback. 332 pages plus index. RRP £20.00 ISBN 987-1 84954-520-4

An experiment using magnetic resonance imaging on the brain activity of people choosing to give to charity, found that there was activity in the “reward centre” of the brain – the same part that is stimulated by sex and good food.[1]

The results of this experiment should come as no surprise to seasoned fundraisers. People give because it feels good; they are honoured to be asked and thrilled to give, not simply because it is the right thing to do but because giving makes the donor glow. This concept is powerfully presented by John Nickson in Giving is Good for You, Why Britain should be bothered and Give More.

The book contains a clever foreword by Robert Winston, 17 chapters, an epilogue and an appendix (detailing how to be a good donor, trustee, charity and fundraiser). Throughout, John paints a vivid picture of the current (poor) state of philanthropic giving in the UK, the challenges that the UK continues to face, following the financial crisis, and recommends how to improve this sorry state of affairs. 

The book offers many inspiring stories, celebrating remarkable individuals and their giving. Some of whom are well-known such as John Madejski and Trevor and Lyn Shears, others less famous but equally inspiring, such as Duane. Duane was brought up in the care system and made some poor choices as a young man, which led to a spell in jail. It was through a programme for prisoners run by the Prince’s Trust that he identified his talents and how he could use them. He has since created an extremely successful software business, transforming his life. None of this could have happened without the support of The Prince’s Trust, his girlfriend (now wife) and a leading philanthropist. Duane is now giving what he can afford and plans to give more in the future.   

A recurring theme in the book is motivation. How can you encourage people to give in the first place and encourage others to give more? One is reminded of the phrase, “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink”. We appear to know much more about the motivations for giving, especially why rich people give, than we do about how to encourage those who do not give. 

We could surmise a number of reasons for those who currently choose not to give. For example, they may never have experienced any form of generosity in their lives, are simply too selfish and ‘not wired’ to give, are financially risk averse, have not yet had a life-changing experience (which might encourage them to give) or, they simply have not been asked to give by anyone, in the right way at the right time, for the right thing. 

Whatever the reason, John presents a number of recommendations under the broad headings of charities and the state, tax and public benefit, and building a culture of giving and gratitude. Whilst some of these recommendations have been articulated by others in the past, some are new.

I agree with John that there is a lack of consistency in current government policy concerning the non-profit sector, its relationship to the State and the role of philanthropy. What is required is clear and strong cross-party and departmental leadership, which understands and acknowledges the incredible history of philanthropy in the UK and also recognises the challenges that exist now. This leadership would need to accept the wealth of knowledge and experience that exists within the non-profit sector and to work with the sector to develop appropriate policies and create a regulatory environment that encourages philanthropy.

So who should read this book? Whilst this book is UK centric, it offers something for anyone interested in learning more about philanthropy. Private client and charity advisors will find the book supports their work with clients. Charity leaders, trustees and chief executives, as well as their development teams will find the book provides a treasure trove of useful information and it may prompt consideration of the question, what can we do better? Philanthropists and people who are thinking about giving money to charities will be encouraged by the frankness of the stories and thoughtful comments presented throughout.

John Nickson’s wisdom, gained from personal and professional experiences and his desire to build a better society are evident throughout this book making it well worth reading.

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[1] Atruisim, The Joy of Giving (October 12, 2006


This book review is tagged under:

  • Understanding philanthropy