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Welcome to the Giving Thought Podcast, a bi-weekly exploration of trends in global philanthropy and civil society from the Charities Aid Foundation’s in-house think-tank, Giving Thought.

In each episode your host Rhodri Davies (formerly with co-host Adam Pickering) explores a big issue, theme or trend and analyses what it means for philanthropy and civil society around the world.

Be sure to check the show notes for each podcast and find blogs, reports and videos from Giving Thought and do get in touch if you have questions or suggestions at

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Feb 4, 2020

In episode 65, we chat to John Picton from the Charity Law & Policy Unit at the University of Liverpool about charity law and the ethical and legal challenges surrounding certain kinds of charitable donations. Including:


Charity Law

  • What are some of the key principles of UK charity law? (e.g. public benefit, charitable threshold etc.)

The “Dead Hand” & Cy Pres

  • Why have some critics argued that perpetually endowed charitable institutions are problematic?
  • What does legal theory have to say about the balance between respecting donor intent and avoiding “zombie” trusts?
  • What is the practical process for freeing up money from an endowed structure whose purposes are no longer deliverable? How difficult is this?
  • What is the legal status of charitable gifts made in wills? When heirs challenge donations, what issues does it raise?

Tainted Donations

  • Why are some donations seen as “tainted”? What is it about them that is “bad”?
  • What powers and responsibilities do charity trustees have when it comes to assessing whether or not to accept a donation?
  • Is it possible to give donations back? Or is this harder in practice than you might think?
  • Can charities keep donations on the basis of “turning them to good purposes”? If so, how do they ensure the donor doesn’t get benefit (e.g. social status, reputation, warm glow)?
  • Should there be any sort of statute of limitations on tainted donations (e.g. those stemming from proceeds of slavery etc)?
  • If institutions have assets that are tainted and want to do something about it, is it enough to give them to any “good cause”, or do they need to be directed at a cause related to the nature of the taint? (I.e. is it a case of making reparation?)

Nationalising charitable assets?

  • There have recently been proposals that the charitable assets of private schools should be seized by the government, and similar ideas have been floated in the past. Is this feasible in practice? Are there broader issues of principle in terms of charity law?

Academia & Practice

  • How well does academia informs practice (and vice versa) when it comes to philanthropy?
  • Where might there be gaps?
  • How can we getter stronger links between academics and practitioners?

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