How do we Celebrate Giving?

| July 28, 2009

Big figures are not the key indicator to recognising generosity; and all generous giving should be honoured in the interest of encouraging more of it.  

In My Fair Lady, the exchange between Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle speaks volumes about the relative value of a shilling.

Following the death of Richard Pratt there was significant public discussion about the appropriateness of his family being offered a state service.
We are, none of us, perfect. Reflecting on individual’s life should not be reduced to a tally of good Vs bad, particularly if we were to play that game in a manner in which philanthropy points could be won by dollar value. 
That said, considering his wealth, it is valid to question to what degree our society is morally obligated to commemorate his philanthropy as something unique. Why do we only see philanthropy as worthy of applause when the sums are in the millions?
Philanthropy should always be respected and applauded. The Pratt Foundation has made a substantial contribution to Australian communities and its work should inspire all Australians, even those of quite modest means to give what they can. When generous giving is publicised, that is always the hope. Sadly sometimes it has the opposite affect, leaving ordinary people feeling like the contribution they are capable of making is unimportant.
If all Australians earning more than a hundred thousand dollars a year donated 1.5% of their income to Australian charities we’d make an enormous difference.
Surely, it would be in the government’s interest to try and make such widespread philanthropy a part of our culture? We need to change our cultural understanding of what constitutes an impressive charitable contribution that deserves celebrating.
A realistic assessment of philanthropy is far more complex than the dollar value. How we value such contributions should consider not only the sum, but also the spirit in which it is given, the sacrifice required and the effectiveness of the distribution.
Many Australians of modest means give, and not just money. Volunteers give of their time, often paying from their own pocket for the privilege. Expenses incurred by volunteers are not tax deductible, as their volunteering is not generating an income.  So we expect pensioners to pay for the petrol, parking and materials they use in the course of their community service.   
Something is wrong with our society’s system of incentives when we give Kerry Packer a state funeral but can’t stump up the bus fares for Smith Family volunteers.
Why do we reserve state funerals and memorials for those whose families have the least financial hardship whilst tolerating vagrant burials for our most needy? It is symptomatic of our failure to properly respect and value giving unless we are being dazzled by million dollar figures.
We should all be encouraged to give, and to do this we must begin by celebrating all giving. If a state service is our society’s recognition of philanthropy then I propose that anybody who has donated 1.5% percent of their income should be entitled to a state funded memorial service: regardless of whether their philanthropy was 1.5% of $15 000 per annum or $1M per annum.
Peter Fritz AM is Managing Director of Global Access Partners, and Group Managing Director of TCG – a diverse group of companies which over the last 38 years has produced many breakthrough discoveries in computer and communication technologies. He chairs a number of influential government and private enterprise boards and is active in the international arena, including having represented Australia on the OECD Small and Medium Size Enterprise Committee.


  1. denis.tracey

    July 29, 2009 at 2:52 am

    Another reason to give

    If all Australians earning more than a hundred thousand dollars a year donated 1.5% of their income to Australian charities we’d make an enormous difference.
    Yes, but how enormous? Alas it’s beyond my skill to work this out, but I expect the number would dwarf the $12 million we are now said to donate annually. (Is there a friendly statistician or economist who could do the arithmetic?)
    But there’s another reason to give. People who give are happier than those who don’t. They feel better about themselves, about their families and about society. And of course society feels better about them.
    Many consumer goods are sold on the promise that they’ll make us feel happier, more successful, sexier. Of course we eventually understand that this is ridiculous – the happiness is at best ephemeral. But giving really does make you happy. Just ask someone who gives.
    Denis Tracey