Nudge towards philanthropy
26 November 2010 | By Cause4 staff
‘Nudge Theory’, established by the behavioural economists Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein in their book ‘Nudge’, is currently fashionable amongst the new coalition Government. Its underpinning principle is that ‘bad choices and laziness are a large part of what makes people human’. Nudge Theory, a strand of behavioural theory, pre-supposes that individuals can be ‘nudged’ into making good decisions, not so much through diktat but rather by highlighting available options, by gentle pushing towards what would seem the best of these options and by exerting peer-group pressure to do the right thing.
As we have been reminded recently by Charlotte Higgins, The Guardian’s arts critic, there is a passage in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport business plan ‘invoking behavioural theory as an aid to philanthropy.’ At Cause4 we rather think that the DCMS might be onto something here but have a suggestion for testing this proposition further. Our thinking is as follows:
1. At a time when the potential for Government to support charities and social enterprises through statutory funding is compromised by the need to reduce expenditure, philanthropy has never been more important.
2. The effectiveness of charities and social enterprises and the potential for the Big Society concept to translate into deed rather than talk – and notwithstanding the part that a volunteer work-force can play – is dependent upon generating income from all sources. Worthwhile projects don’t happen without hard, tangible funding.
3. Whilst philanthropy is a very personal and private matter, there is an extent to which the culture of philanthropy can grow more effectively if philanthropy is publicly acknowledged and celebrated. It is laudable that so many philanthropists give unobtrusively, preferring to hide their lights under bushels, but not always helpful in stimulating a wider culture.
4. The Government is actively promoting philanthropy and encouraging the nation to embrace the act of giving. It is also promoting the Big Society and challenging individuals and community organisations to devise and deliver initiatives that will make life better within local communities.
5. The Cabinet as a collective is ideally placed to lead from the front and to set an example to the rest of us. Its members allegedly include 18 millionaires and its networks are formidable.
As such Cause4 offers this ‘nudge’ to the Cabinet – amidst growing calls from others such as Guardian theatre critic Lyn Gardner. We suggest to David Cameron and his colleagues within the Cabinet that they consider our challenge to establish a charitable fund, one developed through their own personal giving and fundraising. We suggest that the fund might be deployed to turn Big Society ideas into living, breathing activities. We also suggest that The Cabinet in turn considers ‘nudging’ Cause4 by challenging it to double the sum generated by The Cabinet within a period of 12 months in order to maximise its own philanthropic support. In this way both parties can demonstrate their willingness to put their money where their mouth is.