Category Archives: Philanthropy Events

Philanthropy (or not) on the stage: a review of ‘The Money’ by Kaleider theatre company

‘The Money’ is a piece of participative theatre in which half the audience (the ‘benefactors’) get to decide how to spend a pile of cash whilst the other half (‘silent witnesses’) have to watch and hold their tongue, unless they decide to add at least £10 to the pile and become a benefactor.

It was absolutely enthralling to watch ordinary people discussing money and what they could – and should – do with it. Some were lobbying for their favourite causes from the start, many suggested sending it to help the relief effort in Nepal, but the over-riding consensus was that large charities were worthy but ‘boring’ and it would be preferable to do something more creative. A popular suggestion was to hide £5 notes within the leaves of library books, which led to an interesting side discussion of whether a note should be included asking the lucky recipients to report to the group on how they spent their windfall; some liked the idea of interacting with their beneficiaries and others rejected the enforced gratitude this might create. Other creative ideas including buying a group dog, saving it to buy a huge wreath for the first person in the group to die, or simply putting the money behind the bar after the show.

Tension was injected when one benefactor insisted that unless he receive 50% of the cash (to spend on himself) he would not sign the final agreement, which the rules state has to be unanimous. Without a unanimous decision, the money rolls over to the next show. It was only at this point that a number of silent witnesses stepped in and paid £10 to join the discussion in order to encourage this man to change his mind. He stayed firm but admitted afterwards he was surprised that the audience (benefactors and silent witnesses) turned on him so forcefully, when his strategy was within the rules of the game and (one could also argue) reflects the expectations of a society in which the pursuit of self-interest is understood as the rational way to behave.

The final decision was a rather dispiriting decision that everyone would take away an equal share (which was essentially a refund of the £10 they had paid to be a benefactor) and do whatever they liked with it, then report their actions on a blog to be set up by one of the group. I think this reflected their primary desire to have an ‘experience’, rather than to do some collective good, and their reluctance for that experience to end when the show ended.

Despite the outcome being 20 or so affluent Londoners choosing individual consumption over collective altruism, it was a truly insightful evening that I will be thinking about for a long time. Money is still a deeply taboo subject in the UK – we’d rather talk about absolutely anything else – so it was an utter privilege to spend 90 minutes watching a group of strangers wrestle with the meaning and potential of a pile of banknotes.

Here’s the Guardian’s review of the play. It’s on for one more night at Battersea Arts Centre in London (Fri 1st May 7pm) – if you can get there, then get there!

Top marks for donor appreciation

I’m buzzing after spending the morning at our university’s ‘Donor Appreciation Day’. This was a super initiative, led by Anne-Marie Rigley in our development office, that involved inviting all the generous people who donate to the University of Kent to drop by for a coffee, pastries and heart-shaped chocolates (well, it is Valentine’s day and we do love our donors).

The wide range of people who joined us today – despite the wind and the rain – included those giving smaller and larger gifts, each one valued because of the difference it makes to the beneficiaries. The development office tell me that in the last academic year 1,029 donors gave to Kent, 920 of whom were alumni. I also learnt that our youngest donor is just 19 years old – a great age to have begun their philanthropic journey.

Many of our guests donate to the Kent Opportunity Fund which supports excellent students to complete their studies. An extra nice touch today was the presence of some of those students – all bright and smiley, and carrying cards saying ‘Thank you for supporting me’.

The donors seemed to enjoy seeing in the flesh how their money was being used. And I’m sure they were glad to be at an event that was purely about thanking – with no hint of “thanks but how about making another/bigger gift?”

It will be very interesting to see how this first class example of donor stewardship translates into income in the coming year – I’ll post an update if I can get the figures!


Something worth blogging about: Open Philanthropy UK

One of the paradoxes of engaging in social media is that the busier you are doing things that are actually worth blogging or tweeting about, the less time you have to blog and tweet.

These past 4 months I have been immersed in rich data on rich givers – writing up a year of in-depth study of UK philanthropists for a new book Richer Lives: why rich people give, co-authored with the wonderful Theresa Lloyd, which thankfully – after many many late nights of writing and re-writing – was sent off to the printers last week and will be published on the 30th September.

I’ll write more about the findings once I don’t risk spoiling the media embargo, and once I’ve got off my chest all the things I’ve wanted to write about but have been too busy to breathe never mind blog.

The first ‘something worth blogging about’ is a new effort to encourage more open data on philanthropic activity. The Indigo Trust  is helping to promote an important initiative to encourage UK donors to be more transparent in their grant making. As a researcher, I’m obviously all for people sharing the detail of how much they give and to what causes, but there is a much more important agenda at stake here than making the lives of researchers that bit easier. Opacity favours none and causes concern to many – we all know there is a climate of suspicion about philanthropy and philanthropists in the UK, so why not dispel some misconceptions about the shady goings-on of rich givers and cast a light on what they actually do, rather than what the cynics think they do?

In a note of the first meeting to discuss this initiative, Indigo explain the benefits better than I can:

We believe that being transparent in itself is the right thing to do, but the reasons for encouraging openness go far beyond this.  In summary, openness makes grant making better.  We believe that opening up grant data will enable more effective collaboration amongst funders and between civil society and funders, allow for more effective strategic planning which will ensure that money gets to where it’s needed the most, enable grant-makers to assess their impact and demonstrate this to the public and enable analysis of interventions across a whole sector such as health or higher education.

If you want to keep up with developments then check out the Open Philanthropy UK blog  – and if you’re a philanthropist keen to emerge from the shadows and shine a spotlight on your giving decisions, then do get in touch!

Guest blog: Reflections on Social Justice Philanthropy conference

I am delighted to introduce this blog, written by my good colleagues Dr Balihar Sanghera and Dr Kate Bradley, who have spent the past year running a project on Social Justice Philanthropy:

The end-of-project conference, held at NCVO in London on Friday 1 March 2013, was an excellent opportunity to bring practitioners and academics together to discuss the state and future of social justice philanthropy.

The morning part of the conference explored the more philosophical and theoretical dimensions of what social justice philanthropy is, and what it might be. The first session brought together speakers from a wide range of organisations, and likewise a diverse range of viewpoints. This session opened up an extremely useful consideration of the historical development of social justice philanthropy (Stephen Pittam) and a case study of social justice philanthropy (Sara Llewellin), as well as reflective criticism on what exactly we mean by ‘social justice philanthropy’ and its purposes (Andrew Barnett). Issues raised included the idea of whether the sector is ‘retro-fitting’ social justice to philanthropic activities, the need to consider the structural issues that create inequality in a rigorous and critical manner, and to avoid creating an industry that serves its own ends rather than the needs of the disadvantaged (Matthew Taylor, Paul Hackett and Samantha Callan – Callan’s response is here). The second session brought in discussion of our project findings, which drew attention to how grant-making foundations often reject the label ‘social justice’ and only partly realise the liberal ideas of social justice. The session also heard Diana Leat’s reflections on how foundations might change over time.

The afternoon part of the conference heard a rich collection of case studies from practitioners and academics that explored the potential and limitations of social justice philanthropy. Gareth Morgan discussed the implications of the Charities Act 2011 for small grant-making trusts and foundations, pointing out the political significance of the public benefit test. Sinead Gormally presented a comprehensive model of social justice to community development, drawing upon her case study of the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland.

Some speakers critically examined the implications for social justice of ‘new’ and ‘venture’ philanthropy,’ Stephen Ball argued how corporate and family foundations and philanthropic individuals are beginning to assume socio-moral duties that were previously assigned to the state, and pointed out some negative consequences in the education sector. Niamh McCrea also provided a fascinating study on how practices associated with ‘performance-based funding’ can enable and inhibit relationships of love, care and solidarity.

In addition, the delegates heard a variety of practices and experiences from activists, who pursue social justice, peace and civic participation. Representing the radical philanthropy Edge Fund, Sophie Pritchard posed the question that given that most foundations are set up by those who have benefitted from the economic and political systems that produce social inequalities, how will they challenge the status quo? Carolyn Hayman and Tom Gillhespy from Peace Direct shared their ideas on the theory of change and how to evaluate the impact of peacebuilding grants, drawing upon several case studies of conflict resolution. Rob Williamson (Tyne & Wear and Northumberland Community Foundation) and Cathy Elliott Community Foundations for Lancashire & Merseyside) discussed how Vital Signs UK assesses the vitality and aspirations of local communities, identifies local social needs, and opens a debate on the contribution that local philanthropists can make to address them. Natalie Branosky from InclusionUS examined how the concept of ‘philanthropub’ can promote community engagement, volunteerism and civic participation.

We feel that the social justice philanthropy journey is still at a relatively early stage in its development. Foundations who seek to promote social justice and peace should take time to reflect on how they can best embed it in their practices. For example, moving into (or expanding) social investment would increase the impact of foundation cash, by opening up a further front on which foundations can help communities in need. We also need to scrutinise to what extent the income from endowments and philanthropic donations are earned and deserving, as well as to focus on addressing the unhealthy levels of concentrated wealth and power in the UK and overseas. Ways of increasing the input that marginalised groups have into how resources are provided to their communities should be explored. Such activity could range from inviting more people with experience of poverty and deprivation to serve on the trustee boards, setting up advisory boards as well as focus groups. Including previous grantees and other frontline groups in the governance processes of foundations would also be welcome. Social justice philanthropy is a process, and with critical reflection and creative thinking, foundations can continue to progress towards their aims. We hope that the conference on 1 March starts or continues a reflexive conversation about what social justice is.


This blog was written by Dr Balihar Sanghera and Dr Kate Bradley, University of Kent

Why does the philanthropy sector ignore fundraisers?

Wonderful to spend time at the Institute of Fundraising convention last week. I bumped into lots of great colleagues and enjoyed hearing Adrian Sargeant, Joe Saxton, Bernard Ross and Glen Fendley give provocative talks at the Growing Philanthropy Summit.

Unfortunately my visit was cut short by being taken ill – huge thanks to all who helped me, especially Amanda Delew – a few days of tests shows it’s nothing too serious and I hope to be back out at events once I’ve got the problem under control.

From the few hours I was there, the comment that stuck with me was this seemingly innocuous remark: “Fundraisers raise £10 billion every year”.

Do they?

Do fundraisers raise money? Or do donors give money? Most of us see the fundraiser/donor relationship as two sides of the same coin, but recently the Institute has complained of a failure to acknowledge the role that fundraisers play in generating donations. Whether fundraisers raise funds or donors donate, is something I’ve written about in an earlier blog.Having begun my career as a fundraiser, I know that donations have to be inspired and collected as well as given. People are generous, but their altruistic impulses are often nurtured and sustained by the efforts of people working in fundraising departments.

But the philanthropy sector often forgets to acknowledge the role of the fundraising profession because donors so rarely attribute their gifts to any interventions by fundraisers. Donors describe an internal impulse to use their money to do something good. They talk about their passion for a cause, their empathy for beneficiaries and their desire to help. They don’t say “I only gave because s/he told me to”. As Alec Reed, one of the UK’s most loveable philanthropists says, in a case study in the 2009 Million Pound Donor Report, “most people prefer to buy than be sold to – a concept frequently applied in retail but almost unheard of in the charity world”.

I think Sir Alec is absolutely right. A couple of analogies that strike me: we all want double glazing in our homes but no one likes double glazing salesmen; and we’re obsessed with buying and selling houses but despise estate agents. It might be unfair and untrue to write fundraisers out of the picture, but so long as funds are raised does it really matter who gets the credit? It would be wonderful if, at the next Institute of Fundraising convention, it was acknowledged that donations are not just raised, they are given.

When is it a bad idea to ask a billionaire for a donation?

It’s said that becoming rich means never eating another bad meal and never telling another unfunny joke. On the back of my experience this week, at an event with 2,000 fundraisers and a handful of rich philanthropists, I’d suggest it also means never being asked another decent question.

The star turn at this year’s ‘Raising Funds from the Rich’ conference, held in London on the 14th October, was Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin business empire and a man with his thumbs in a lot of philanthropic pies. His current charitable interests range from climate change to health and education in Africa to ‘The Elders’ initiative, which harnesses the moral authority of global statespeople like Nelson Mandela, Kofi Annan and Mary Robinson to intervene in intractable conflicts.

By the time Branson arrived to give his speech, delegates had heard from a range of speakers addressing the central question: How to raise funds from the rich. The advice was pretty consistent and covered the same 3 good points: (1) do your research to identify people who are wealthy enough to give big sums and have an interest in your cause, (2) take your time to build mutually respectful relationships, and (3) don’t make the ask until the donor is engaged with your cause. Unfortunately, this advice was ignored by delegates during the Q&A following Branson’s speech, whose ‘questions’ were almost all variations on the theme of: “Please give my charity some money”.

In answer to the riddle posed at the top of this post: it’s clearly a bad idea to ask a billionaire for a donation when your only qualification for doing so is that you happen to have grabbed the microphone. But reader, they did. Three days later I am still utterly perplexed as to why anyone could have thought it a good idea to make a pitch for funds rather than seize the chance to ask a more searching question about Branson’s philanthropic journey. Wouldn’t it have been interesting to learn what got him started? how he decides what to support? how he decides how much to give? what’s been his biggest philanthropic mistake?

But worse than this missed opportunity is the terrible impression we must have made on a man who has the ability to pump, literally, billions into our sector should he follow the lead of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett by transferring almost all his fortune into philanthropy. We know that one barrier to giving is donors’ fears (however misplaced) that charities lack the nous to spend their money wisely. This fear is especially prevalent amongst businesspeople who suspect our sector of being full of nice-but-ineffective people. I doubt that Branson left that event impressed by what he heard or thinking he’d spent time with people who could be entrusted with his money.

Of course it’s in every fundraiser’s bones to seize opportunities to promote their cause. But I think we also have a responsibility to advance the reputation of the charity sector as a whole. Asking for money in this setting was not just unlikely to succeed, toe-curling to listen to and a missed opportunity to ask decent questions. It may even have spoilt the chance of encouraging Branson to gear up from being a good philanthropist to a great one.