Last year, shortly after being appointed editor of How To Spend It, I wrote my weekly column for the Weekend paper. Partly it was to tell people of my temporary retirement from those pages. But it was also an opportunity, I hoped, to get inside the Financial Times reader’s head. Making the move into a luxury magazine, with its focus on the finer things in life, I wanted to grapple with the thorny subject of wealth. What does luxury stand for? What things do FT readers hold dear? Basically, I wanted to know how the FT’s readers spend it. It prompted quite an exchange. And not all of it generous.
Perhaps it is a unique characteristic of the British personality, but we’ve never been comfortable discussing publicly what we do with our money. We shrink from the banker’s braggadocio. Children are dissuaded from comparing their stuff. We’re squeamish about mentioning our salaries – which is possibly why we’re so dreadful at asking for a raise. Nevertheless, we are also inconsistent with our judgements. We can be scathing and dismissive of those privileged enough to have inherited their wealth, yet are equally suspicious of the social parvenu. However we skirt around the subject, money just casts a certain pall of shame.
Our readers, unsurprisingly, pulled no punches with their suggestions. “How about: how best to give it away” was one – much “liked” – comment. “How to live within your means, or how to keep our planet alive?”
Another was: “It would be very interesting to introduce a section looking at how successful people spend their time and money philanthropically. Not just the genuinely awesome Gateses of this world… but those very many with less extreme wealth who have found creative ways to use their talents in retirement or have chosen to fund projects for the benefit of others… It could become a genuinely inspirational, and still aspirational, feature.”
As we enter a new decade, it seems a timely moment to reconsider how to spend it. Climate change, social activism and philanthropy are in the headlines, and the call on our conscience to be better, reach deeper and do “gooder” is greater than ever. Among the many ways social media has transformed the cultural landscape is to have made everything more transparent. When so much is so public, we’ve all become more accountable for our actions.
One could argue that after a decade of sharing – selfies, Ubers, YouTube videos – the world is shifting towards a more caring attitude. And yet there is a catch. Despite much lip service to promote good causes, our philanthropic zeal has been floundering of late. According to the Barriers To Giving report commissioned by Barclays Private Bank, 75 per cent of the 400 multimillionaires questioned said they thought philanthropy was the responsibility of those wealthier than them. As a nation, we are giving less to charity than we did at the height of austerity Britain.
Hence the launch of How to Give It, a special supplement supported by Barclays Private Bank in which we have compiled a guide to smart philanthropy. We have tried to distil the act of giving into easy, bite-size bits of advice as well as showcase those individuals who might inspire us all to do more.
Which isn’t to say philanthropy should be all hair shirts and no fun. In her essay, Claire Wrathall makes a compelling case for why charitable acts can be totally addictive, and in an interview with Emma Turner, director of Barclays Private Bank’s philanthropy service, the “wealth therapist” describes how she helps would-be philanthropists open up their hearts and their wallets, and the feelgood factor she unlocks. It’s astonishing to think that one of the greatest obstacles around giving is a general ignorance of how to do it best. We hope, therefore, that this might offer an illuminating guide. Now you’ve no excuse.
All How To Give It editorial content was commissioned and produced by the Financial Times. Barclays Private Bank funded our reporting but it is the independent journalism of the Financial Times, and Barclays Private Bank was not given any editorial oversight of the content.