Jackie Bird’s Column
“I am not suggesting that Scots have the monopoly in generosity but we can take a tiny bit of credit...”
At a charity dinner not so long ago, I watched as a woman bid for just about every item in the auction. I reckon she bought about half the prizes, from a signed football jersey to a trip on a boat. Elsewhere in the room other guests were doing their bit and raising what amounted to tens of thousands of pounds to keep a wonderful local hospice in business. These generous people were not mega rich, nor were they celebrities. The woman, I later learned, had been lucky in the lottery and two of the biggest spending tables were from a roofing company and a firm of floorers. I’m sure they neither wanted nor needed most of the lots they went home with, but the common denominator was that they had either been blessed with or worked hard for good fortune and were prepared to spread it around. At this time of year when the Chancellor does his sums and prepares to tell us the news about our finances, you often hear the cry – the rich must pay their fair share. It’s a statement of fact but it comes with an implication; that whatever their fair share is, they’re not already paying it. Now what the various tax rates should be set at are for the politicians to squabble over, and are way above my pay grade, but I believe that too often the wealthy get a bad press. That’s not to say that all affluent people are do-gooders. There are rich people who are bad eggs as well as poverty stricken individuals who’re rotten to the core, but what we don’t often see, or give credit for, is the generosity of those who have a bob or two. Because my dubious talent is reading out loud, and because I have a certain degree of profile, I’m invited to quite a few charity events and each time I come away feeling humble. The volunteers and workers at various charities do a magnificent job and can’t be praised enough, but you don’t often find out about the largesse of a local entrepreneur, or the generosity of the lottery winner you last saw – and probably envied – quaffing champagne and being presented with a big cheque. Who knew she went on to give a chunk of that cash to those not quite as lucky as she? More often than not the prosperous go about their giving quietly and without fanfare. It’s reassuring to know that no matter how ugly our world becomes, a measure of our inborn humanity is that when people become rich so many of them want to spend a bit of it doing something good. We’ve all been to charity events and the number of small unsung firms who enable them by contributing is inspiring. I only have the inside track on their generosity because when I’m hosting these events I deal with the organisers and learn that the table flowers or table gifts have been given for free; likewise the raffle prizes, or that the food or entertainment is the result of sponsorship by companies who ring-fence a percentage of their profits each year simply to be given away. It may be the guilt of good fortune, but it’s a joy to behold. They say that with great power comes great responsibility, well the same can be said of wealth. The really big-hitters, multi-millionaires and billionaires spend huge amounts of time and energy not just making donations, but setting up charitable trusts so that they can give away their wads in the most effective way. I know of one fabulously wealthy Scot who has sent his entire family on a course which teaches the uber rich how to spread their charity money productively. These days they also give their money away much earlier in their lives – bequests from the grave are being replaced by bounty from the living. I am not suggesting Scots have the monopoly in generosity, but we can take a tiny bit of credit in that the prototype for large-scale philanthropy is reckoned to be Andrew Carnegie, a penniless Scot who became the world’s richest man and then gave it all away. Current day tycoon Sir Tom Hunter tells the story of visiting the Carnegie Corporation in New York and being inspired by its philosophy. He says after that visit he became determined not to be the richest man in the graveyard and has donated millions to good causes. It’s understandable to envy the world of the “haves and the have yachts”, but I also hope that those of us not in their league have the generosity of spirit to applaud the good that they do.
“Because my dubious talent is reading out loud, I’m often invited to quite a few charity events and each time I come away feeling humble.”