David Beckham has announced that he intends to donate his entire salary from a five month contract with Paris St Germain to a local Parisian children's charity. Reporting in the media has generally been positive about this act of philanthropy, although some commentators view Mr Beckham's decision – perhaps unfairly – as a savvy public relations stunt or an attempt to reduce his tax bill.
Not many people are fortunate enough to be able to donate their entire earnings from a contract to charity, but many millions of Britons make charitable donations of varying sizes every single year. It is also fair to say that, despite a very small minority who try to exploit or abuse the rules, those who can afford to give to charity seldom do so through questionable motives. Recognition for a large charitable donation will often reflect kindly on a philanthropist – and many donors of the past are still recognised today, decades or centuries later, for their enormous generosity. Does that mean that they should only have given in secret? Should people really be faulted for their philanthropy? Or does giving to charity openly encourage others to consider doing likewise?
As for donating in order to achieve a tax break, the research which HM Revenue & Customs has carried out suggests that donors do not give to charity in order to receive a reduction in their tax bill. They give because they want to give, and they support causes which are important to them. Yes, tax relief can be an incentive to give, but it is seldom if ever the driving force behind charitable donations: it should not be overlooked that a donor to charity no longer has the money which he or she has given away and no degree of tax relief will change that. If the decision were solely about tax reliefs then there are other ways in which people can structure their affairs in order to gain a tax break and keep their money.
Public recognition and PR aside, philanthropy in our view is a moral imperative. That the Government provides a framework of tax incentives to give to charity does not reduce the impact or eliminate the motive behind philanthropy: indeed, in many cases the incentives boost the money which the charity receives, thus enhancing the value of a gift and the work which a charity can achieve with it. Rather than envying (or just criticising) David Beckham's level of earnings or celebrity, we should encourage him and others to continue with their philanthropic giving. It's not such a bad example to follow.