THE images still resonate. Huge waves bearing down on holidaymakers too fascinated to flee, families torn apart, mile upon mile of sodden destruction, thousand upon thousand killed. Barely a year on, December 26, 2004, is etched in the memory as the day of the Boxing Day tsunami.
In the aftermath, the rush to help survivors was almost as dramatic, driven by charities with coffers swelled by donations. The desire to help was universal, from politicians, from private individuals, aid agencies, emergency services . . . and from business.
Nor was the Indian Ocean disaster, which claimed more than 230,000 lives, an isolated case. From earthquakes in Pakistan to hurricanes in America, and from Live 8 to Children in Need, tragedies and the appeals that follow inspire businesses to try to help the world around them.
Kevin Nicholson, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, the accountant, says: “Recent natural disasters have impacted on peoples’ attitudes to giving. We have noticed an increase in the number of our corporate clients asking us for advice about how to develop more strategic plans for corporate philanthropy.”
New figures from the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF), an organisation that promotes charitable giving, says that donations from the 500 most generous companies in Britain rose from £845 million in 2002-03 to £900 million last year. That money is spent almost everywhere, on international projects, national charities and on local projects.
For example, workers at Singularity, a Northern Ireland-based computer software company, meet regularly to decide how to help and raise money for local charities. Singularity, which has 160 staff in six offices around the world, does most of its charity work in Derry, although Padraig Canavan, managing director, says that visiting the company’s office in Hyderabad, India, reminds him “that it is a very different world out there, and keeps the awareness of the need for charity at the forefront of the mind.”
The company, which generated turnover of £8 million last year, donates time as well money. Several of its programmers have helped to develop software for Fosec, a charity in Northern Ireland that helps pupils to prepare for work after they leave school.
Staff secondments are a popular way for companies to help charities — and there are tax perks, too. Mr Nicholson says: “There is a high awareness of the tax breaks available with Gift Aid, but many do not realise that there are tax reliefs available for other ways of giving to charity.”
New figures from TaxAction show that while UK charities received £21.3 billion in 2003, this income could have been boosted by a further £691 million if individuals and companies had given their money in a tax-efficient way.
“Many people do not realise that they can give gifts of shares or land, or even trading stock and equipment, which are all exempt from capital gains tax,” Mr Nicholson says.
Recently Singularity introduced a scheme called “give as you earn”, which enables its employees to donate to charity each month before tax is deducted from their salary, giving them tax relief on the sum donated. Every 60p donated by higher-rate taxpayers is worth £1 to their chosen charity.
The Government is encouraging small and medium-sized enterprises to introduce this scheme by offering a refund of up to £500 for the cost of setting up the programme. It will also match all donations made by staff for the first six months.
Mr Canavan says: “We have given the Government’s refund money to charity and we are doubling our employees donations after the Government has done so. So for the next couple of months, every £6 donation by a higher-rate taxpayer will be worth around £40 to charity.”
Russell Prior, of CAF, says: “The benefits of give as you earn are impressive. For charities, as they are receiving money on a regular basis, it means they can plan with greater certainty. For employees, give as you earn is simple to join and flexible, and being tax efficient it means they can give more. Those companies providing give-as-you-earn schemes can support the generosity of their employees and demonstrate their own commitment to charitable giving.”
Copyright 2006 Times Newspapers Ltd.