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What is Effective Altruism?

This blog post is written by Dr. Eddy Hogg, Centre for Philanthropy, University of Kent

Discussions of effective altruism have been around for some time, but they have gained momentum in recent times with the publication of William MacAskill’s Doing Good Better – Effective Altruism And a Radical Way to Make a Difference. MacAskill argues that as donors we should consider how what we give can be most effective. If it costs £1,000 to save a life in the UK but only £1 to do so in Sub-Saharan African, our donation can be 1,000 times more effective in Africa than at home. MacAskill, a philosopher, advances this argument convincingly. But one tweet this weekend left me reflecting on the weaknesses of this way of operating.

I donate monthly to a charity run by a friend of mine, the Free Kicks Foundation. Free Kicks fund and organise days out at football matches, often as mascot or guest of honour, for deserving kids. These may be terminally ill children, young carers or boys and girls suffering many other types of hardship. Free Kicks doesn’t save lives. Nor does it stop hardship occurring. Through the lens of effective altruism, my monthly donation is about as ineffective as it could be.

On Saturday my team and the team of Free Kicks’ founders Peterborough, were playing away at Sheffield United. As usual, Free Kicks had worked with Sheffield United to provide a day out for a local boy, Aiden Dodd, a Sheffield United supporting 6 year old who has leukaemia. As I sat on the train home, delayed just outside Leicester, I saw a tweet from Aiden’s mum which read:

For one day we forgot that Aiden has leukaemia, thank you [to Free Kicks Foundation] for an amazing day.

Free Kicks are superb at looking after their donors. While my monthly donation doesn’t save lives or prevent terrible things happening, it gives children and families in terrible situations some comfort and an unforgettable experience. Is my giving to Free Kicks effective by MacAskill’s definition? No. But what this tweet shows is the impact that something quite mundane, certainly not lifesaving, can have on a family going through something awful.

This perfectly highlights my issues with the effective altruism argument. Of course we as donors want to see our donations used efficiently and wisely. But we want to know that what we are giving makes a difference to something we care about. I saw Aiden lead Sheffield United out onto the field, and in his mum’s tweet saw what this meant to Aiden and his family. To me, that’s effective altruism

Kent: The Philanthropy Story

This blog post is written by Dr Triona Fitton, Research Associate in the Centre for Philanthropy at the University of Kent

The University of Kent, much like the ancient Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, has a long history of philanthropic donations. As one of the 1960s ‘plate-glass’ Universities – founded as part of a post-war drive to open up access to Higher Education, spearheaded by the then Government’s University Grants Committee (UGC) – the importance of their philanthropic foundations are often overlooked because these Universities are, to this day, treated as wholly state-funded institutions.

My current research into philanthropy in Higher Education has indicated that the uncelebrated early gifts that enabled the University to flourish are long overdue their fanfare. Key buildings on our campus (such as the Gulbenkian Theatre and the Colyer-Fergusson Building) would not have existed. The library would be understocked; our prestigious Law Clinic would be a pipe-dream; the beautiful art that appears across our campus would not have been commissioned; many scholarships and funded Chairs would not be possible to sustain.

Back in 1959, prior to the University having a site secured, the necessary presence of philanthropy was causing controversy. A proposal for a University of Thanet, by Thanet Technical College in what is now Broadstairs, Kent, was sent to the Kent Education Committee. It recommended the siting of the University at the old Ramsgate Airport, a small 90 acre space in East Kent.

Committee members did not accept the proposal, citing several conditions including the airport site being “too small”; “costs underestimated”; and most crucially, that the body of potential sponsors simply “lacked influential people.” At that time, the University Grants Committee required a University bid to demonstrate “ample evidence of strong local support” which would translate to at least 10% of capital funds being from private donations. Without this philanthropic support (both fiscally, and through endorsement), the proposal would not be accepted by the UGC.

As a result, Thanet did not receive its own University. The University of Kent was eventually built in Canterbury, on a hill top near Giles Lane. The dismissal of the Thanet Proposal was one of the first acknowledgements of the importance of fundraising for the Universities; but it would not be the last…

A Beacon Project at the Centre for Philanthropy aims to bring this, and other untold stories, to the fore by celebrating 50 years of philanthropic gifts to the University of Kent in a book, provisionally entitled ‘Kent: The Philanthropy Story’. The book will be launched at a major conference on “Understanding Philanthropy” to be held at the University of Kent on Monday 29th June 2015. The conference will welcome speakers from across the globe, both practitioners and theorists, to examine the meaning and mission of philanthropy in contemporary society. Our keynote speakers are Professor Michael Moody, author of ‘Understanding Philanthropy’, and Dr. René Bekkers, co-author of A Literature Review of Empirical Studies of Philanthropy.’

The conference is open to all, but registration is essential. Click here to register.

In addition, the Centre will be holding 2 debates on the role of philanthropy in Higher Education, one on our Canterbury Campus on 10th March and one on our Medway Campus on 10th April. The debates will be a discussion of the moral and practical implications of philanthropic funding for research and innovation. For more information please click here (Canterbury) or here (Medway).

Follow the Kent: The Philanthropy Story blog here.

Tweet: @50yearsofgifts

Why teach and study philanthropy at UK universities?

This blog is about why we are trying to build the field of philanthropic studies in our Centre for Philanthropy at the University of Kent. Over this holiday period we are recruiting for a new colleague to help us develop and teach new courses on philanthropy – but why?

In the 1850s a wise person wrote:

“The profession of philanthropy, like every other, can be safely and serviceably practiced only by those who have mastered its principles and graduated in its soundest schools. It is as dangerous to practice charity, as to practice physic [medicine] without a diploma. He who should benefit mankind must first qualify himself for the task”.

Yet 160 years later there is minimal university-level provision on philanthropy (as this paper by Charle Keidan sets out), and little clarity on what is needed to qualify people for the task of working in the philanthropy sector, or the task of being philanthropists.

Philanthropy is a complicated topic for university-level teaching because it is both a noun and a verb – it is a thing that exists (like a charitable foundation that has a building, staff, policies and procedures) and it is a thing that people do (like figuring out how to use their resources to improve the world around them). This raises important issues for those of us trying to build the field of philanthropic studies in the UK

Firstly: is the focus on scholarship about philanthropy (history, ethics, concepts etc) or the skills to work in the philanthropy sector/be a philanthropist? At Kent we are focused on the former – our students gain a thorough understanding of the meaning, mission and purpose of philanthropy rather than a ‘license to practice’, though they inevitably gain a lot of insight into the sector as our team includes former practitioners and the Centre is highly engaged with charity leaders, staff, volunteers and donors.

Other disciplines have faced a similar scholarship/skills issue, because philanthropy is not the only thing that people both do and think about: law, politics, music, art, drama, languages, architecture, archaeology, medicine, business – these are all practical professions that benefit from extensive Higher Education provision at undergraduate and postgraduate level. And they are also all subjects of extensive analytical academic enquiry, with their own journals, PhD students, established streams of research funding and all the other paraphernalia that turns a topic into a discipline. So we can learn from their experiences, and be confident that there is room on campus both for those who want to do it and those with a more theoretical bent.

We can also take heart from similar professions that have trodden a similar path in the relatively recent past. For example, until the mid 20th century, social work was a profoundly practical activity – something done, not studied. It didn’t become an academic discipline until 1954 when the Carnegie UK Trust funded the first courses in social work at the LSE because they believed the profession needed a body of core knowledge and trained practitioners. There are now 848 courses on social work being offered by UK universities.

Many other subjects have travelled the same trajectory and become established disciplines in a relatively short period of time. The deputy vice chancellor at my university, Professor Keith Mander has been very supportive of our efforts to build the Centre for Philanthropy by providing initial seed funding and matched funding for donations that we receive. When I recently asked why he took such an interest, he told me that when he started out as a junior lecturer in computer science in the 1970s, older academics questioned the legitimacy of his subject. One said that as computers were just machines, it made as much sense to study lawnmowers! But of course Prof Mander had the last laugh because computer science is now an established academic discipline and UK universities now offer over 2,300 courses in different aspects of computer science.

In my department at the University of Kent, the School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Policy, our most popular undergraduate degree is now Criminology. Yet this discipline only got going in the UK in the 1960s, largely as a result of a donation from the Wolfson Foundation to create the Institute of Criminology at Cambridge University. Today almost every university in the UK offers criminology courses. When I look at my over-worked Criminology colleagues teaching hundreds of students who are willing to pay £9,000 a year to undertake the scientific study of crime and criminal behaviour, I can’t help asking: wouldn’t similar numbers want to undertake what is essentially its opposite, the scientific study of philanthropy and philanthropic behavior? It seems rather like the distinction between War Studies and Peace Studies – they draw on much of the same literature and ideas, so what’s in a name?

So we have decided to follow our hunch and invest the time and effort in trying to establish the field of philanthropic studies. We believe we have all the ingredients necessary for an academic subject to go from marginal to mainstream:

  1. Demand from students and industry – the modules we currently offer on fundraising and philanthropyvolunteering and the third sector in modern society are very popular, we are turning away good potential PhD students because we haven’t got the capacity to supervise them, and our practitioner colleagues say they struggle to find suitably equipped candidates, especially for fundraising posts (as this report on the fundraising workforce in HEIs notes)
  2. The existence of academics willing to build a field as well as work in it – this of course includes our team at Kent, as well as excellent colleagues at other universities such as Tobias Jung at St AndrewsSiobhan Daly at NorthumbriaAdrian Sargeant at Plymouth and Peter Grant at Cass Business School.
  3. Enlightened funders willing to provide resources to make it happen – we are immensely lucky to have the support of some philanthropic funders, in particular Pears Foundation is generously providing funding for the new 3-year teaching post that we are currently recruiting – information and application are available online here.

We do hope that some excellent candidates will apply, and join us in our exciting endeavour to build a new field in UK higher education.

We are proud of our achievements so far at Kent and excited about what we will achieve when our team expands, but we are also very glad that some other universities are with on this same journey. We know there is no ‘one stop’ solution to providing philanthropy education. Growing a new field, pretty much from scratch, requires multiple providers across the UK to ensure there’s room for diverse interests, approaches and emphases. It would make as little sense to have just one academic department of Social Work in the whole of the UK, or just one Business School, as it would be to have only one functioning centre of philanthropy.

We are glad to work together with others to come to a shared view on what is needed and who is best placed to do what, because we cannot afford to waste time in duplication and unnecessary competition, nor do we want to leave important areas untouched, if we are serious – as I know we all are – about making philanthropy education a perfectly normal part of higher education provision in the UK.

Winning the Philanthropy World Cup

This blog post is written by my colleague Dr Eddy Hogg, in the Centre for Philanthropy at the University of Kent

Last Sunday the World Cup Final was won by Germany in Rio de Janeiro, watched by an estimated one billion viewers across the globe. One of Germany’s victorious side, Arsenal’s Mesut Özil, announced on his Facebook page the day after the final that he would use his winner’s bonus to pay for the surgery of twenty-three Brazilian children as part of the BigShoe charity campaign, one for each member of Germany’s squad. Özil is not the only world cup star to donate his winnings to charity: the Algerian squad have donated their entire prize fund to humanitarian aid in Gaza, striker Islam Slimani commenting that “they need it more than us”, while Greece’s national team have asked for their bonuses to be used to build a new national football centre. Even England’s much-maligned squad donate all of their match bonuses to a range of charities selected by the team.

Much of this philanthropic activity goes unnoticed and unheralded, but Özil’s donation seems to have struck a chord. Maybe because it is part of a wider narrative of a successful team who have respected their hosts – as well as Özil’s gift, the brand new training and hotel facility that the Germans built for themselves in Brazil will now become a community resource for the local people. Maybe though it has struck a chord because the morning after the biggest match of his career, a footballer is thinking about others rather than his own glory and has chosen to make a personal donation to a universally appreciated cause: poorly children.

Beyond the impact on his own image – and there is no denying that Özil’s reputation will benefit from his generosity – what is the likely impact of this very public donation? Our research shows that donors often use famous and respected individuals as guides for their own philanthropy – role models who guide their giving. Özil – a global superstar and now a World Cup winner – holds the respect and adoration of football fans across the globe. Faced with a decision of whether to donate to charity, and what causes to donate to, our research suggests that people who admire footballers may well look to Özil and follow his lead in donating to worthy causes.

Bossy Boots’ best books on philanthropy

In 2009 I blogged about how much I love being asked to suggest good books on philanthropy. I like to think it’s a type of gift to share suggestions, but I’m willing to accept it’s just another form of bossiness to try to nudge other people to read the books I’m into.

I’m slightly shocked to see that the 3 books I named in that previous blog are pretty much still the same books I’d suggest today. Has nothing changed in five years? I would actually add a few newbies: Oliver Zunz’s majestic history of US philanthropy (though why oh why is there no UK equivalent?); Angie Eikenberry’s insightful study of giving circles (glad to report that Angie and I are now working on a UK equivalent); and Caroline Fiennes’ thought provoking and readable ‘It Ain’t What You Give It’s the Way that You Give It‘ have all been good reads in the last few years. But I still keep recommending the same top 3 as I picked last decade:

1. Peter Frumkin (2006) ‘Strategic Giving: the art and science of philanthropy’.

2. Robert Payton & Michael Moody (2008) ‘Understanding Philanthropy: It’s meaning and mission’.

3. Matthew Bishop & Michael Green (2008) ‘Philanthropcapitalism‘.

My colleague Eddy Hogg is running a virtual book group. His first pick is Philanthrocapitalism.  In that blog way back in 2009  I wrote: “If you only read one book, this is the one to go for” and I stand by that. You can read a full review here and there’s more material on the book’s website, which is regularly updated. So here’s my contribution to the book group discussion:

This book is essential reading because it provides the most comprehensive and well-researched review of contemporary global giving that exists to date. Bishop and Green authoritatively map out the terrain of philanthropy at the start of the 21st century, contextualise that account within recent history and offer a balanced summary of the pros and cons of new developments, making space to air criticisms of the techniques, individuals and organisations that they ultimately endorse. The book also provides useful potted histories of many relevant organisations and extremely insightful pen-pictures of key individuals who are involved in contemporary philanthropy.

NB: I used to curate the ‘Book Review’ pages on the Philanthropy UK website, and it still exists in a new incarnation for Philanthropy Impact, so do take a look here if you want more bossy suggestions.


Volunteers are philanthropists too

This blogpost is written by my colleague, Dr Eddy Hogg

This week is the 30th annual National Volunteers Week, a week of celebrations across the United Kingdom of the contributions that volunteering makes to individuals and communities.  In a recent blog, the volunteering guru Justin Davis Smith, notes some remarkable consistency over the last 30 years – around 40% of adults volunteer each and every year – yet the level of support offered to volunteers has increased significantly.

The voluntary sector – a disparate collection of organisations that take their shared identity from the fact of having voluntary input – has professionalised enormously over this period, with a wide range of professions now calling the sector home.  Volunteer management is a big part of this, with the Association of Volunteer Managers stating that some 300,000 UK LinkedIn members list it as one of their skills.

 In the Centre for Philanthropy, despite our name implying (to some) a greater interest in gifts of  money rather than time, we are passionate about supporting the volunteers and volunteer managers of the present and future.

At undergraduate level we run a module called Kent Student Certificate in Volunteering, Platinum award.  This is the highest level of volunteering accreditation that the University of Kent offers, and is aimed at those students who are already committed volunteers.  It encourages and supports them in reflecting on the volunteering they do and how they benefit themselves and their communities through what they do.  My own research is clear that engaging in volunteering when you are young is great way of making voluntary engagement part of your life, with participation often lasting a lifetime across one or many organisations.

At postgraduate level we are developing a module on volunteering with a strong volunteer management element.  Many of the students who currently take our Fundraising and Philanthropy postgraduate module are voluntary sector professionals, and we recognise how important it is to provide academically robust and practically focussed teaching for those who work in the sector.

In all our teaching and module development, the needs of charities and those who work in them are paramount.  National Volunteers Week is an opportunity to celebrate the contribution of volunteers and those who make volunteering happen.  We are proud of our contribution to this, and looking forward to contributing even more in the near future.

Making the most of baby boomer volunteers

This guest blog post is written by my colleague Dr Eddy Hogg, whose research focuses on volunteering:

This week sees the launch of the Commission on the Voluntary Sector and Ageing’s report Age of Opportunity: putting the ageing society of tomorrow on the agenda of the voluntary sector today. The report begins by noting that:

The country is experiencing a huge demographic shift. By 2033 nearly a quarter of the population will be over 65 years old, tipping the balance between the number of working people and those receiving pensions as birth rates decline. The scale and nature of such changes will present both a significant challenge and an opportunity for charities, funders, social enterprises and other voluntary organisations.

The baby boomers who are retiring now are not only the largest group of retirees we have ever seen, they are also the healthiest.  Many of those retiring now can look forward to a decade or more of fit, active and healthy life.  Volunteering is one of a wide range of activities that people might take part in at this stage of life, either as a new activity or as a continuation of a lifetime of community engagement.

Lynne Berry (chair of the Commission) urges charities to go out and make contact with potential volunteers, seeking out those with particular skills, and suggesting that the voluntary sector should:

“Act now to take advantage of the huge opportunities a changing demography will create.”

My research shows  that people are more likely to engage if they are asked by a peer, friend or family member. Volunteering in older age is usually an extremely social activity, so this outreach to needs to come from across the organisation, by both paid staff and other volunteers.

Good volunteer managers realise that older volunteers bring with them a complex life history, which may or may not have included giving away their time for free. Understanding the prior experiences that older volunteers have had will allow charity managers to understand what new skills and passions can be brought to the organisation. If volunteers’ needs are understood and their engagement in a suitable role is supported during the transition to retirement, then those who only did occasional or event-based volunteering may be supported to take on important roles in retirement – such as helping with fundraising, serving as an organisation’s treasurer or secretary or helping to manage a site.

Lynne Berry is right to urge organisations to search out the specialist skills that older people have, but my research also shows that charities need to understand that while some people are motivated by a desire to build on what they can already do, other older volunteers are keen to develop new knowledge and abilities.  While one retired school teacher may be delighted to continue using her professional skills, another may never want to see a classroom or a lesson plan again!  If charities can understand these nuances, and harness the needs and enthusiasm of fit and healthy retirees, then the baby boomers’ retirement offers an unprecedented opportunity for all who work in, and care about, our  voluntary sector.


Making sense of the #nomakeupselfie trend

One of the great benefits of teaching is the amount you learn from your students. My current ‘Fundraising and Philanthropy’ class are a particular delight – full of ideas and not afraid to express them.

A few weeks ago we discussed why people are so unwilling to admit to being charitable donors, despite generosity being a  generally admired trait. The students noted that they post endless items on social media about their nights out, photos of what they’re about to eat and  information about things they’ve bought (such as new shoes) but would never in a million years share on social media the fact that they’ve just made a donation to a good cause. The only exception might be sharing the fact they’d sponsored someone doing a charity challenge, but only to help raise awareness and  never mentioning the amount given.

As a class we agreed to experiment and ask our loves ones what they would think of people who did publicise their giving. The response was immediate and clear: only idiots/show offs/those wanting to make others feel guilty, would ever do such a thing. So that seemed clear, until a rather unusual trend hit social media this week.

The #nomakeupselfie trend is pretty self-explanatory up to a point. Women post photos of themselves without any make-up on – but many also make a donation to a cancer research charity, and let their friends know that they did so. Shock, horror! People being willing to admit they are generous, what is the world coming to?

The genesis of the idea seems to be a marketing campaign. According to Closer magazine:

The craze originally kicked off in September 2013, when beauty retailer launched the nationwide DareToBare campaign for women across the UK to raise money and awareness for Breast Cancer Care.

However, as women started sending donations to whichever cancer research charity they preferred/knew of, some got organised to steer donations their way: Cancer Research UK – the UK’s biggest fundraising charity by a mile – advertised a text donation line (text BEAT to 70099) and have so far raised over £1m according to Civil Society magazine.

So, now my students are back on the case, trying to work out what’s going on. Has there been an attitudinal change? Is it the fun element and the small amount requested (£3) that makes it ‘ok’ to go public? Or  is a more cynical interpretation required – might the donation be a useful cover to show the world how great you look without make-up?

If you understand what’s happening then do let me know!



Fundraising pearls of wisdom – and all for free

I’m an avid follower of the Institute of Fundraising’s LinkedIn discussion pages. If you have even a passing interest in how fundraising works, and the issues that challenge people trying to raise money for good causes, then I recommend taking a  look. It’s worth joining the Institute of Fundraising just to get access to this resource.

One particularly impressive feature is the fabulous, free advice given by the titans of the fundraising profession to anyone who asks. Just this morning someone asked for help, clearly struggling to bring in the money her cause needs. Her question was: ‘How big does a fundraising team need to be to make it effective?’ Giles Pegram (of NSPPC Full Stop campaign fame, which raised £250m), immediately gave this frank and comprehensive reply, which is worth quoting in full:

I said at the beginning of this topic (How big does a fundraising team need to be to make it effective) that my answer is ‘one’, and I still believe it. I presume your finances are in a bad way, or you would appoint a full time fundraiser. Take your Trustees and donors with you.

First, concentrate on researching and then crafting applications to 20 Trusts and Foundations. That will give you some quick money. Which you can use to appoint a full-time fundraiser. 

Secondly, write to all your donors, and lay out your position clearly. Ask them to become regular givers at £2 a month. ( I assume there is someone in finance who could help with this ), or give a cah gift, and at the same time invite them to an open day, in your offices to hear from the CEO. Less than 10% will come, but the others will appreciate being asked. Be totally honest with them. 

Thirdly, set up a stewardship scheme for all your supporters. Write to them regularly about your work. From time to time ask if they would like to upgrade their regular gift ? become a regular giver, or give a cash gift. Connect them with the cause 

Fourthly, ask your Trustees for help. Get them, at least to invite their conacts to the open day. They are responsible for the financial stability of the Charity. And, get them to form a fundraising sub-committee to help. 

By now, you must have raised enough to appoint a full time, experienced fundraiser, who can do a proper audit, and create a longer term plan. I said at the beginning, my answer was ‘ one ‘ and I still believe it.

People normally have to pay a lot of money to get advice from people with a fraction of the experience of someone like Giles. The Institute should be congratulated for facilitating this excellent mentoring, and the more people who take advantage of this opportunity, the better our asking culture will become.

More Million Pound Donors but fall in total value of their donations

I’ll blog properly soon about the latest Million Pound Donors Report, released today. But for now here’s the press release:

The annual Coutts Million Pound Donor Report, released on 10 December and produced in association with the Centre for Philanthropy, Humanitarianism and Social Justice (CPHSJ) at the University of Kent, has found a record total of 232 separate ‘million pound or more’ philanthropic donations made by individuals, trusts and corporations in the UK during 20010/11.

This is the largest total identified by the report in any one year since the study began in 2008, up by 58 donations compared to last year. There has also been a big increase in the number of million pound donors, with 130 different donors identified, up from 73 the previous year (this includes individuals, charitable trusts, foundations and corporations, some of whom made more than one donation worth £1 million or more).

The total value of these donations was £1.241 billion. This is lower than the total value recorded in previous years, down from £1.312 billion in last year’s report, which covered donations made in 2009/10.

More than half of the million pound donations made in 2010/11 were donated by 93 individual donors, with a total value of £763 million. Living individuals therefore continue to be the most significant source of the largest donations.

Higher Education, Arts and Culture and International Development remain the most popular destinations for the largest gifts amongst both individual and institutional donors. But support for environmental causes increased in 2010/11, and all types of charities attract some support from million pound donors.

This annual report, which is now in its fifth year of publication, tracks size, scale and recipients of donations worth £1m or more from individuals, trusts and corporations in the UK and is illustrated with a number of case studies of donors and recipients, who discuss their experience.

The Coutts report also finds that despite the fall in the overall value of ‘million pound donations’, the amount that went directly to charities, rather than being ‘banked’ in foundations, increased from £631m to £747m, indicating a shift towards getting funds out onto the ‘front line’ to charities, many of which are struggling to raise funds from other sources.

One hundred and ninety-one organisations received million pound donations in 2010/11. This is far higher than the 154 recipients identified in 2009/10. The vast majority (166) received only one gift of this size. Organisations that received multiple million pound donations tended to be the oldest universities (notably Oxford and Cambridge) or national arts and cultural institutions.

As in every year that the report has been published, the most frequent size of donation is worth exactly £1m, indicating that ‘giving a million’ has both economic and psychological significance for donors, and is the size of gift that establishes a donor amongst the ‘top rank’ of UK philanthropists.

Dr Beth Breeze, of the Centre for Philanthropy at the University’s School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research and author of the report, said: ‘At a time when ordinary donors are finding it tough to maintain their support for charities, it is heartening to see those with a greater capacity to give are stepping up to the challenge in increased numbers. A seven-figure donation is obviously a major commitment, and it is not surprising that people start by making a gift of £1 million, rather than – say- £10 million. But experience shows that if donors feel their money is well spent, and that their contribution is appreciated and makes a tangible difference to the causes they care about, then they will continue to give at this level, and quite possibly increase their contributions. You very rarely meet an ex-philanthropist!

 ‘Before we started this annual study of million pound donations, there was no clear understanding of the scale, role and significance of the largest philanthropic acts in the UK. That was an important gap in our knowledge that needed filling, because we need a proper understanding of current levels of support in order to make robust plans for developing this much-needed source of income in the future. The data and analysis provided by the Centre for Philanthropy at the University of Kent is helping charities, fundraisers and policymakers to build a decent knowledge base about major giving and gain a better understanding of the main trends in contemporary UK philanthropy, which should help the UK to develop a stronger culture of philanthropy.’

Maya Prabhu, Executive Director, Philanthropy Services at Coutts, said: ‘It’s extremely encouraging for the development of UK philanthropy to note that this is the highest number of donors and donations since we began compiling this report in 2008. Large scale philanthropy is on the increase and the more donors there are and the more they communicate about the benefits their philanthropy brings to society and what it means to them personally, the more it will grow and strengthen a new generation of philanthropists. 

‘Despite the scepticism suggesting that many large scale donors are simply looking to make the most of ‘tax breaks’ on offer, our experience, as backed up by this report, is that the reality is very different. Today, the majority of the philanthropists we meet are self-made individuals, many of whom have witnessed first hand the highs and lows of building a business, and on occasion, the possibility of losing everything. It’s a strong desire to make a contribution to the world that has afforded them so many opportunities, whilst also enriching their own lives, their families and the lives of others that we see as the main driver for their philanthropy.’ 

The Coutts Million Pound Donor Report has been published annually since 2008, all five reports are freely available online here.

If anyone would like a hard copy of the 2012 report, please email me at b.breeze(at)

The wonderful world of fundraising, plus another grumble

Just a quickie today, more to draw attention to what someone else has written than to share anything original from my desk. But with an added complaint as bonus material.

I enjoyed this blog on ‘Fundraising around the World’ by Jenna Pudelek at Third Sector magazine. The description of the successful launch of face-to-face fundraising in the poor country of Nicaragua is a real one-in-the-eye for those who moan about people asking for money for good causes in this wealthy country.

For the purposes of balance, an item in today’s Civil Society Media (still known as Professional Fundraising to most of us) annoyed me, for a similar reason to the item in Third Sector magazine that I wrote about in my last blog.

It is incredibly frustrating when the media (especially the charity sector media who ought to know better) focus on costs to the exclusion of taking an interest in outcomes and impact. Last time my complaint was an excessive focus on the cost of charity re-brands, and today it’s an otherwise nice article about a new legacy campaign from the Red Cross, which contains this sentence:

While he wouldn’t be drawn on the cost of the campaign, Jacques said that: “For the British Red Cross, this is a significant investment.”

Too right he wouldn’t be drawn on the costs – but I bet he’d have been willing to have a discussion about the projected return on investment.

Come on charity sector media – leave this sort of nonsense to the tabloids and write articles that reflect the reality of running professional organisations in the 21st century.


The real cost of headlines about charity re-brands

Today’s Third Sector carries an article about a re-brand of a major UK charity. The headline is:

Institute of Cancer Research launches £187k rebrand

This is not a neutral headline – it’s a ‘Hey did you hear how much a charity supported by little old ladies and schoolkids has spent on crazy designer people?’.

I normally don’t read this kind of article as it makes my blood boil. But today I clicked to read it and my blood boiled at an even higher temperature when I read, buried underneath the insinuation that honest folks’ money has been wasted, the following sentence:

[ICR] provided the first convincing evidence that DNA damage is the basic cause of cancer, laying the foundation for the now universally accepted idea that cancer is a genetic disease.

So let’s get this right – it’s a really good charity with proven impact that decided it needed to spend some money on a new logo to raise its profile and attract more donors? Hold that front page….

I look forward to future articles on how much the NSPCC dares to spend on heating its offices, and how much the  Royal British Legion wastes on paying people to answer the phone.

Our sector is held back by assumptions that it’s possible to run cutting-edge organisations without spending a penny on anything other than core costs. And the newspaper that leads coverage of our sector ought to know better than to spread insinuations that reputable charities are wasting donors’ money. Shame on you Third Sector!

Charity tax relief cap: what the politicians are saying

Nearly a month after the Chancellor dropped his bombshell in the Budget, announcing a cap on tax reliefs for charitable donors, the House of Commons finally had a chance to discuss the matter in yesterday’s debate on the Finance Bill. Here’s an extract from the debate:

Rachel Reeves (Labour, shadow chief secretary to the treasury): …included in the Government’s definition of tax avoidance is tax relief for donations to charities including UNICEF, Macmillan Cancer Support, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, Oxfam and many others. The fact that the Government cannot tell the difference between that and real tax avoidance shows how incompetent and out of touch they are.

Mrs McGuire (Labour MP): Does my hon. Friend agree that it might have been more appropriate for the Chancellor to discuss with the charity commissioners whether bogus charities were taking part in tax evasion schemes than to have come up with an ill-considered tax proposal?

Rachel Reeves: I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention. She is absolutely right: instead of the Government making up policy as they go along, without bothering to talk to anybody who is affected by it, they should have consulted the Charity Commission and the charities affected. The Press Association reports that the Government are doing a U-turn; perhaps we will get clarification on that from the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, if he is bothering to listen to anything that is being said this afternoon. Will he confirm what the PA says—that there is a U-turn on charities tax relief? The fact is that nobody knows: the Government and the Prime Minister do not seem to know what is happening with their own policy, and we have had no clarification in the House this afternoon.

Charlie Elphicke (Tory MP) rose 

Rachel Reeves: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has a clue what is going on with the Government’s policy on charities tax relief.

Charlie Elphicke: It is clear that we should crack down on tax avoidance, but I want to know whether the hon. Lady is serious about doing so. Will she condemn the tax avoidance of people such as Ken Livingstone, or is this just more crocodile tears from the Labour party?

Rachel Reeves: We are serious about cracking down on tax avoidance, but tax avoidance is not the same as giving donations to UNICEF, Macmillan nurses, the Red Cross, the National Trust and thousands of charities in this country that rely on the money they get to do their important work, often supporting some of the most vulnerable people in society. If the Government cannot tell the difference between tax avoidance and doing the right thing and supporting valuable charity work, it shows the extent to which they have lost their grip on reality.

Mr Ben Wallace (Tory MP): Does the hon. Lady agree that before people give money to charity, they must also fund their obligation to society? They must do that first, before they start funding charity.

Rachel Reeves: If the hon. Gentleman extended that logic, there would be no tax relief for giving to charities. I am not sure if that is what the Government are proposing. People who give money to charities should be supported. We have heard a lot from the Prime Minister about the big society, but all those words about philanthropy and giving seem to have gone out of the window. It would be interesting to know whether the Chief Secretary thinks he has performed a U-turn this afternoon in the Chamber, as is being reported.

As the British Red Cross said, “Not only is such a measure at odds with the Government’s own announced agenda of increasing and facilitating philanthropy, it would reduce our ability to achieve our charitable objectives and reduce our help to people in a crisis.” Is that really what the Government intended when they announced these changes to tax relief in the Budget? Indeed, after the performance of the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury on the radio this morning, it seems that, along

with “expansionary fiscal contraction” and “we’re all in this together”, the latest casualty from the Conservative lexicon is the big society.

Christopher Pincher (Tory MP): Earlier the hon. Lady was extolling the virtues of the United States. She will know that even the US, which is possibly the most philanthropic society in the world, has a cap in place on philanthropic donations, so is she opposed to the principle of what the Government are doing, or does she accept that there is a role for a cap?

Rachel Reeves: In the US there is much more generous tax relief for legacies, for example, so it is a very different tax system. In many ways it is more generous than the system in this country. What I would like to see is policy being made in the proper way, which is by consulting the people who will be affected by it—consulting the charities, which stand to lose tens and perhaps hundreds of millions of pounds and which do such good work. Like the Red Cross, they say that their ability to do their work will be hampered by the changes in tax relief. That consultation should have happened before, rather than after, the Government’s policies were announced and the financial changes to Treasury revenues were introduced.

Calling people who give to charities tax dodgers, as this Government imply, and referring to charities as dodgy, when those charities include Macmillan, Red Cross, UNICEF and Oxfam, is unhelpful. If the Government truly want to increase giving, the language should be tempered and people who try to do the right thing and support worthwhile causes should be encouraged, not insulted, for what they do.

Are donors really giving all they can?

The headline in yesterday’s Third Sector news made depressing news: ‘Almost half of donors are giving all they can, says Institute of Fundraising survey’. Really? Do monthly gifts of £11 (the median monthly donation reported in UK Giving 2011) really represent around half the nation at full altruistic stretch? Is it true that so many of us can afford 37p a day and not a penny more, to support all the good work being done by charities up and down the country and around the world? Surely not. Fortunately, things are unlikely to be as clear cut as the headline suggests.

For a start – and it’s not the IoF’s fault as they presumably didn’t write the headline – it should have read: ‘Almost half of donors claim that they are giving all they can’. There is a big difference, because this is attitudinal rather than behavioural research, based on what people say about what they do, don’t do, might do, won’t do – rather than research into reportable actions and tangible behaviours. Attitudinal research is notoriously inaccurate as there is a great gulf between thinking and doing.

As an interesting anti-market research argument notes: it’s widely accepted that what people say they’ll do is often very different from what they actually do. Observational research – watching what consumers do and analysing their behaviour – yields more useful data. In this case, donors might think they have nothing to spare, but the year-on-year increase in funds raised by many charities tells a different story. When faced with a persuasive ask, made  by a credible and trustworthy organisation, it turns out people can dig a little deeper.

Just look at the money that will come flooding in this weekend to Sport Relief – times are still tough post-recession, and the government’s cuts are starting to hurt, but the fundraising genius’ at Sport Relief will undoubtedly generate yet another impressive sum.


UK Donors to watch in 2012

I love a challenge, so I couldn’t resist it when Martin Brookes asked me to name the UK equivalent of the US ‘donors to watch in 2012’ list. Here goes:

1. Jamie and Chris Cooper-Hohn – the hedge fund couple who have so far put £1bn into their Childrens’ Investment Fund Foundation, have been on the receiving end of some criticism for not distributing it fast enough. But in the 2011 Million Pound Donors Report, seven of the donations came from this philanthropic power couple, and it seems likely their momentum will only increase. Impact and transformation are the key words for the Cooper-Hohns. When Jamie was profiled in the 2008 edition of the £M Donors Report, she said, “When we give million pound grants,it is definitely an investment and not a gift. We want to know what the organisation will do in a really big and meaningful way that it wouldn’t have done otherwise”.

2. John Stone – not a very well-known name yet, but another philanthropist taking a slow and steady approach who seems on the verge of spending big. His Stone Family Foundation now holds over £40m  and last year made grants to a wide range of charities, from just £2k to almost half a million pounds. John has received advice from both New Philanthropy Capital and Coutts, and told the 2011 £M Donors Report: “It has taken me five years to scale up my philanthropy… I wanted to be sure that my money would be put to the best possible use and have the biggest impact on those I chose to help. It does take time to give strategically in this way, but I believe it is better to proceed slowly and carefully to ensure that philanthropic donations are committed wisely”.

3. HSBC – I choose a bank rather than an individual because HSBC are at the forefront of providing a new way of giving in the UK, through the ATM or ‘hole in the wall’ cash machines. Whilst it may take some time for people to think about this transaction as an opportunity to give money away, rather than take it out, it undoubtedly has the potential to become a major new giving vehicle, given the ubiquity of ATMs on every high street. Interestingly, the six charities named on the ATM screen are selected by a democratic vote open to all HSBC staff. As the selections are only reviewed every two years, smart charities will no doubt be looking to make their case for inclusion in the next round.

4. Instead of an individual, my 4th suggestion is ‘the next generation’, as the children of some of the UK’s big philanthropic names are now coming to the forefront as trustees, spokespeople and decisions-makers for their family foundations. For example Anita Roddick’s children, Justine and Sam, have a controlling role in their mother’s £50m+ charitable legacy. The large philanthropic Sainsbury family now has 17 charitable trusts and foundations, some controlled by supermarket heirs in their 20s and 30s. And the next generation are now running the Wates Family Foundation, as patriarch Andrew Wates told the 2011 £M Donors Report: “Many of the applications are being initiated by the family members themselves. It has been a real joy to see the participation of the next generation in our family philanthropy. They are now running it and it gives me tremendous satisfaction to see that”. As in most families, the younger Sainsburys, Roddicks and Wates are likely to have different interests and concerns than their parents, but how much do any of us know about who they are and what they care about?

5. My 5th and final choice is even more abstract: the donors who are choosing to spend out the entire capital of their foundations, rather than distributing a percentage in order to follow the traditional model of existing in perpetuity. Whilst endowments are a good thing and the right way to fund certain causes, the ‘spend out’ model will hopefully be considered as an option by an increasing number of philanthropists whose causes require urgent and large investments, rather than slow and steady support. The idea of giving it all away in a defined time period is gaining popularity, not least since Bill & Melinda Gates adopted this strategy. In the UK a couple of useful reports have studied the phenomena, including one from the Institute for Philanthropy and from the Tubney Trust, which closes this year after spending £65m in the past decade and a half, leaving behind this valuable reflection on its experience. Might 2012 be the year to ask ambitious and impatient donors to ‘give it all away’ rather than asking for a tiny fraction of their philanthropic pie?

It’s been fun thinking about this question, I hope others will be inspired to disagree and suggest other names and types of donor.

Media overload and the role of ‘disaster porn’

As others have noted, there is too much news at the moment. The current UK riots are the latest massive story to grab the headlines after a succession of other major incidents that would normally hold media and public attention for much longer. 2011  is the year in which developments of global significance happen simultaneously – the Eurozone crisis, the Norwegian massacres, the News International scandal and the American debt crisis, to name just four from recent days and weeks.

At huge risk of being lost in this superabundance of significance, is the drought in East Africa, where ten million people face starvation and tens of thousands of people have already died. Today’s Guardian reports that less money has been raised than for other recent major fundraising appeals run by the Disasters Emergency Committee, such as the Haiti earthquake in 2010 and the Asian tsunami in 2004.

One reason offered for the inability of this humanitarian emergency to compete with the glut of other issues crowding the media agenda, is the absence of sufficiently compelling visual images from the crisis-hit area. Inaccessibility and safety concerns are preventing journalists from reaching the heart of the disaster area where they can produce TV footage and press photographs that conveys the full horror unfolding in east Africa. It seems that donors need visual proof, or at least visual prompts, to encourage them to reach for their wallets. Yet when such footage and photos are available, it can create concerns about the ethics of exploiting the suffering of those depicted, as effectively encapsulated in the term ‘disaster porn’.

So what are we to do? Use the pictures that are most likely to elicit the largest donations, or insist the dignity of potential beneficiaries is respected, even if that results in less successful fundraising?

We are exploring this tricky issue with a small study undertaken as part of our work within the ESRC Centre for Charitable Giving and Philanthropy. Our research uses focus groups to find out what people who use the services of homelessness charities think about the images of homeless people that appear in fundraising materials. The interim findings, available here, suggest that the beneficiaries are more relaxed about the use of images than might be predicted. Participants do note that fundraising adverts are often too simple, using images of atypical homeless people, many of which look “fake” or “staged”, or use images that are too generic and fail to help donors understand to the issues surrounding homelessness. Yet our focus group  participants strongly viewed the maximisation of income as the most important outcome, and understood that the most powerful images may not be either educational or accurate. In the words of one young man:

“When you’re in the situation and you ain’t got no money of your own your ain’t got time to be judgemental, so if the organisations haven’t got their money in the first place to help you then the whole system breaks down, really and truly, Just get the money, hook or crook, y’know? “

Clearly there are important differences between domestic causes helping young adults, and international development charities helping the starving, including babies and children who cannot consent to the use of their images. But if the lack of effective imagery is indeed a key factor behind the slow start to the East Africa appeal, might that cause anyone to rethink their views on the dangers of using the most provocative pictures?

Changing places

Having worked as a fundraiser, and now as a philanthropy researcher, I’ve done a fair bit of asking, and an awful lot of thinking about asking. But as I’m not wealthy myself, I’m never on the receiving end of a personal, direct ask. So it’s been fascinating to find myself in the shoes of the asked not just once but twice in recent weeks. And both experiences gave me tiny insights into what it must be like to be courted by causes wanting your cash, and how easy it is to get the asking wrong.

The first experience was a result of mistaken identity. I was visiting a major charity to present some research and my host – a senior member of the fundraising team – very kindly offered to give a me a tour of the building. Presumably this person would usually be giving tours to well-heeled potential donors or senior decision-makers from charitable foundations, so it’s not surprising that her colleagues assumed I had access to big bucks (though my shabby shoes ought to have given me away as a decidedly poorly-heeled academic). Towards the end of the tour I spotted something on the wall that I wanted to ask about, yet suddenly found myself being lectured, at length, about an aspect of their work that she thought I wanted to know about. Time stood still as the long-winded explanation went on and on, and  I began to appreciate visiting dignitaries’ ability to feign interest in things they never expressed any desire to know. Suddenly our time was up and I was bustled out of the room, slightly annoyed and no wiser about my unasked question. As I am not a potential mega-donor no harm was done, but I wonder how often we talk at, rather than to, potential donors, and make unwarranted assumptions about what will inspire them.

The second experience concerned an acquaintance who phoned out of the blue and asked me to join a committee to help a cause that she cares passionately about. As it happens I don’t share her interest in this cause, but have often shared what knowledge I have about charities and fundraising with people I know who are committed to things that don’t rock my boat. But the speed at which this ask came and the lack of groundwork in warming me up for an ask – albeit for a contribution of time and knowledge rather than money – was another case study in how not to inspire and motivate a potential donor. What’s worse, I felt terrible for saying no as I felt judged for my lack of interest in the cause.

Being a student of philanthropy is the best job in the world. It’s a subject I find endlessly fascinating and hopefully the findings will do some good at some point. But I’ve always been aware that my life experience is so very far removed from those I try to study. Thanks to an over-enthusiastic staffer and a clumsy request for help, I’ve had a tiny taste of what it must be like to be have something that other people want, and a tiny insight into why the answer might be no.

Do fundraisers raise funds?

It sounds like a rhetorical – or even facetious – question, but I’ve been thinking recently about the role that fundraisers play in raising funds for good causes. I started my career as a fundraiser and I think it’s a fantastic profession full of dynamic, inspiring and hardworking people who are doing their best, often on minimal budgets, to keep great organisations afloat.But in my current role as a researcher I’ve been interviewing donors about why they choose to support charities, and they rarely mention any interventions by fundraisers. The stories donors tell about what attracted them to a cause and their reasons for sticking with it usually centre on internal impulses – their own passions, concerns, empathy etc – or the urging of loved ones and associates to make a donation.

Yesterday I was reminded of this disparity between the official role of fundraisers as the expediters of donations and donors’ accounts that write fundraisers out of the picture. I went online to make a donation to the emergency response to the recent series of disasters in the Asia Pacific region . At one stage in the donation process I was asked to select from a list of 16 options to conclude the statement ‘I am making this donation because…’. I looked in vain for an option that related to my vague desire to ‘do something’ in response to the scenes of misery filling the TV news. But 12 of the 16 options that appeared in the drop down list were variations on the theme of being asked by a fundraiser (eg. ‘I saw an advert’, ‘I read a leaflet’, ‘I spoke to a fundraiser’) and none of the other 4 options were accurate (I wasn’t memorialising a loved one/celebrating a birthday/participating in a workplace scheme).

It is clearly unfair and untrue to write fundraisers out of the picture, yet this list assumed that funds are only raised as a result of such prompts.

Perhaps it doesn’t matter much; so long as funds are raised who cares who gets the credit? But if we are serious about creating a culture of asking to complement our culture of giving, then I suspect the fundraising profession needs to take two seemingly contrary steps. Firstly, it needs to remind donors that their impulses are often inspired, nurtured and sustained by the efforts of people working in fundraising departments. And secondly, it needs to recognise that people can make a decision to give without having been on the receiving end of any specific appeal.

When America sneezes, we may have already had the jab

The newly released figures on charitable giving in the USA during 2008 make very interesting reading. The full press release from Giving USA is available here

Despite the onset of a well-heralded recession, giving only slipped from $314 billion to $307 billion, and the decline is dragged down by larger decreases in corporate and legacy giving – individuals only slipped by 2.7%.

I have long been arguing that there is no reason to assume that philanthropy will be dramatically affected by the economic crisis. Charitable giving is a very complex and personal decision that is not driven solely by how much spare money someone has.

On the whole, people don’t think: “I’ve got money so I can give” or “I’ve got less money so I can’t give”.  If the main reason that people made donations was because they could afford to, then every rich person would be a philanthropist, and every fundraiser who met a rich person would walk away with a big cheque. And if there were a direct, straightforward link between having money and making donations then people on low incomes would not be so generous, yet we know that the poorest 10% actually give away more as a percentage of their income than do the richest 10% 

So, giving is not just a function of our capacity to give. The fundraisers know it and the research shows it. What a few decades of research into philanthropy shows is that people give: 

• because they think the cause is important and their money can make a difference.
• because they feel good about supporting that cause or charity.
• because they care about others and the wider world.
• because they’ve been brought up to believe they have a duty to give something back.
• because they want to be part of a charity that they admire.
• because their family and friends support that charity, so they want to as well.
• because their religion encourages them to give away some of their wealth.
• because they enjoy attending the fundraising events and meeting new and interesting people.
• because they couldn’t live with themselves if they didn’t.
• because in so many different ways – and in different proportions depending on each individual donor – supporting charity enhances their life. 

So I’m relieved to see that the Giving USA figures do not show a terrible slump in donations, as many people predicted. And given that UK giving has consistently been less than half of that found in the US (usually below 1% of GDP versus over 2% in the US)  let’s hope any decline we have is similarly halved. In fact, given the low starting point for our giving, let’s not assume it has to decline at all.

Back to the Future: Who’s to blame when philanthropic support ebbs away?

Just back at work after a lovely break in North Yorkshire. Today I’m on my way to attend an ESRC seminar at Newcastle University on newly emerging roles and relationships between the VCS (voluntary & community sector), communities and the local state. I’m looking forward to hearing the papers and getting my brain back into gear.

But I did get some philanthropic food for thought during my hols. We visited Rievaulx Abbey, a Cistercian monastery founded in 1132 which at its peak housed 650 monks & lay brothers and was one of England’s wealthiest monasteries. The abbey’s income came from philanthropy and from trading: the monks received donations of land from patrons, money from visiting pilgrims and earnt income by mining lead and iron, rearing sheep and selling wool to buyers from all over Europe.

Henry VIII usually gets the blame for closing down these allegedly thriving centres, which also provided some health and welfare services to the local poor population, but in fact by the time of the Dissolution only a handful of monks and brothers were left. From being a thriving and rich community in the mid 12th century, Rievaulx’s fortunes fell dramatically as a result of bad management (debt incurred on building projects), bad luck (the Black Death and sheep scab) and changing social norms (rising individualism and declining attractiveness of monastic life).

The moral of the story? Organisations that rely on philanthropy and volunteering can only continue to exist if they are well-managed, have some luck and chime with the mood of the times. Every organisation that struggles to survive in 2009 will blame the recession, but like the monks blaming Henry VIII, that won’t necessarily be the whole story.