What the 2016 Rich List Really Tells Us about Philanthropy

Uber-rich growing in number and wealth

£103m gets you into the top 1,000 richest people in the UK, according to The Sunday Times Rich List.  Ten years ago, £60m would have gotten you on the list.  The number of billionaires has doubled. Two of the richest in the UK also appear in the top 50 richest people in the world.   Nine of our richest appear in the top 50 in Europe. The uber-rich in the UK are growing in number and are getting richer. This may not be a surprise.

A record time for giving

What might be a surprise is that The Sunday Times reports a ‘record time for giving’: “Giving is more deeply rooted than at any time since we started measuring it in 2002, with a record 178 people in the Rich List gifting at least £1m either direct to charity or to their charitable foundations in the past 12 months.”   The Sunday Times tracked the philanthropy of 300 names on its Rich List over the past year and has published data on 200 of these.

Fascinating but disappointing 

I have to say I am deeply underwhelmed.  On the face of it, I would need to be worth £103m to be in the top 1,000 richest people in the UK, and I would only have to give 1% of this to appear in the top 178 donors in the UK.  In fact, when you look at the data, it shows that only 106 of the most wealthy in our country gave 1% or more of their wealth to good causes, and only 24 gave 5% or more.  How deeply disappointing.  Yes, there are some wonderful stories. For example, Lord Sainsbury and his family gave two of the 10 biggest gifts made in the year, with their gifts of £200m to the London Garden Bridge Trust and £16.8m for a centre for Neural Circuits at University College London – but there should be many more.

We should expect much more

Surely, we should expect many, many more of the list to be giving and giving much bigger sums.  To put the data into context, let’s look at lower levels of income and giving.  According to the Charities Aid Foundation, “poorer donor households are more generous than richer donor households, those in the bottom decile donating approximately 3% of their budget compared with those in the top decile donating roughly 1%.”  What if the giving of the uber-rich and their families reflected the generosity of the poorest families who give?  Only 40 of the Rich List gave 3% or more of their wealth to charity.  Now I know those of you who like to analyse data are going to point out a crucial fact: the wealth listed in the list is not the same as income.  However, it’s still hard to see how anyone whose wealth is listed at £100m or more cannot give at least 1% of that wealth away. This is illustrated admirably by those who are giving at some much higher sums. Five gave 20% or more.

So why aren’t the uber-rich giving more?

I blame the fundraisers.

Well, actually I blame the charities and the fundraisers who work for them.  Charities in the UK have failed to develop major giving and have focussed on mass and community giving.  The University sector in the UK have led the way in securing major gifts with the majority of £1m+ gifts going to HE.  Coutts reported that 65 of the 200 or so £1m+ gifts made to organisations (not foundations) in 2015 were given to HE.

Why is this?  Are universities more deserving of big gifts than causes?  Clearly not.  No, the answer is simple. Universities have focussed major gift fundraising.  They are doing their research, building long-term relationships, recruiting and training for major gift fundraising, and just getting out there and asking.

With mass fundraising techniques facing a perfect storm of regulation and lower response rates (who picks up their phone or opens all those ‘junk’ emails anyway?), charities must invest in major gift fundraising now.
They must analyse their data – see my earlier post “Isn’t That a Bit Distasteful?” – and invest in developing a major gift fundraising programme now.  It will require patience from trustees in terms of ROI (it takes time), and vision from leadership in terms of developing an inspiring case for support, but it has to happen.  Come on fundraisers. Let’s raise our sights and ask those who can give much, much more to give much, much more.

-Susie Hills, Managing Director

All Services

Fundraising Strategy

  • Annual giving
  • Planned giving
  • Principal and major gifts
  • Risk assessment


  • Planning studies
  • Campaign strategy and counsel
  • Campaign assessments and audits
  • Communications
  • Coaching

Attraction and Retention

  • Donor relations
  • Alumni relations
  • Grateful patient programs
  • International scoping
  • Member relations

Organizational Effectiveness

  • Operational assessments
  • Talent assessments and development
  • Training and engagement
  • Interim staffing

Business Intelligence

  • Prospect profiling
  • Database optimization
  • Wealth screening and analysis
  • Fundraising metrics


By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.