3 Guiding Principles of Philanthropy

Andrew Law discusses what guides his charitable giving 

Andrew and Zoë Law established the Law Family Charitable Foundation a decade ago. It was set up as a vehicle through which to pursue their charitable giving. 

Since then, the foundation has gone on to support a range of initiatives, from increasing educational opportunities for disadvantaged children to developing peer-support networks for those living with cancer. 

Whatever the cause, Andrew and Zoë rely on three principles to guide their giving. We spoke to Andrew to learn about these principles, and to hear his advice for budding philanthropists.

andrew law

Image: Andrew Law / Credit: The Times

Principle 1: Philanthropy should do things that the government cannot do 

The first principle is that, as a philanthropist, you should pursue something which the government has neither the capacity nor the political will to pursue.

State funding is, at the best of times, pushed to its limits. Many essential services are routinely left without government funding, and the role played by the third sector in picking up the rope here is vital. However, these organisations predominantly rely on less secure funding streams like project grants and retail donations. Andrew suggests that philanthropists should step up to fill the gap.

An example of this is the foundation’s role as the sole funder (until recently) for Speakers for Schools. Founded by Robert Peston and chaired by Andrew for the past decade, the project brings successful industry leaders back to state schools – often in their hometown – to give engaging talks to students. According to Andrew, the aim is “to inspire to aspire,” by providing students at state schools with the same access to highly influential individuals as their private school counterparts. 

Beyond inspirational talks, the charity has now been able to encourage many speakers to supply work experience programmes through their companies. This provides a chance for students who do not have a family connection to access the same opportunities as those who do.

Andrew says this is a project which would not have been supported if left to the government: 

“There is no way that the government could persuade 1,200 influential and eminent leaders to give up a couple of hours or half a day of their time for this. The government just doesn’t have access to these networks on an informal basis in the same way as many private philanthropists do. We were able both to invest the money needed and to draw on our existing networks to get speakers interested in taking part.” 

 

Principle 2: Philanthropy should pursue a ‘proof of concept’ 

The second aspect of Andrew’s strategy is to support new ideas in order to prove that they work. The thinking behind this is that philanthropists are particularly well placed to back smaller, unproven solutions to social problems. 

Many small charities have the potential for large scale social benefit, but need initial support from philanthropists to get them off the ground. This often only requires a small donation on the part of the philanthropist. Says Andrew:

“If people realise that change can be made with relatively small amounts of personal money, it will lead to more philanthropic money flowing into civil society. Ultimately, you feel inspired to give if you can see that you’re making a difference – it’s just about understanding that new solutions often don’t need much money to start having a real-world impact.” 

This principle is highlighted by the foundation’s sponsorship of the Laurus Trust, a multi-academy trust. There are two strands to their work here: 

  1. Providing schools with better sports facilities and top-level inspirational teaching figures, and; 
  2. Oracy (originally named Cicero), a programme to help children and teachers alike to develop effective communications skills and social capital. 

This dual approach was still largely conceptual when the foundation supported it, but the funding has now led to measurable results: 

“We have witnessed a marked increase in student achievement levels. The trust’s schools have gone from producing an average of two Oxbridge attendees per year to seven this past year. And now that the concept is proven, it has begun self-perpetuating – former students who have attended Oxbridge are coming back to speak at the schools. The universities have also started to get involved with the network. The academic grades were always good enough, the difference is in factors beyond that.” 

A key takeaway to the thesis is that state schools need a longer day to be able to offer the breadth of co-curricular activities needed to fully develop pupils’ passions and capital.

By proving that innovative concepts like this can be viable solutions to social issues, Andrew argues that you also open the door to government funding. The thinking is that the government will be far more enthusiastic to invest money into a solution once it is de-risked and they are convinced it will work – and when they realise that only limited monies are needed for huge impact. 

 

Principle 3: Analysing how the UK can boost its philanthropic giving. 

The third principle is a subsidiary one, designed to support the other two strands of Andrew’s philosophy. The idea is that if individuals can make a change through the first or second principle, then surely we should also be seeking to unlock the full potential of philanthropy in the UK. 

Explaining why this is so vital, Andrew cites the vastly higher giving levels in the United States, when compared to the UK. Though there are myriad reasons for this, they all stem from a difference in the perception of philanthropy’s role in society, something reflected in the US’s guidance and legislation around philanthropy.

The UK’s Gift Aid scheme – where charitable donations are increased by 25% by the government – is given as an example of where government policy could stand to improve:

“Gift Aid is a great idea. People who want to give to charity are spurred on by the notion that their donation will be amplified by government. However, if we can simplify the process for donors by removing some of the end-of-year paperwork related to Gift Aid, they will be more likely to make use of the scheme.”

To look deeper into how we can improve philanthropy in the UK, alongside a raft of other issues, Andrew created the Law Family Commission on Civil Society. The commission – being run by and alongside Pro-Bono Economics – will undertake research into how public, private and government bodies can work together to strengthen British civil society. As part of its mandate, the commission will provide valuable insight into the essential role philanthropy can play in levelling-up communities around the country. 

 

Final thoughts for new philanthropists 

Ending our discussion, we asked Andrew what lessons he had for those looking to get into philanthropy. Drawing on his experiences in giving over the last decade, he has some advice: 

“I think most people wouldn’t realise how enjoyable it is to give money away! But the real joy is that, in many cases, application of evidence, impact assessment, and normal business sense can deliver great leverage to outcomes. Creating structures that multiply donations in a sustainable way that others will readily buy into is the key. People who have more than enough money typically have some expertise in acquiring it – using that skill for the benefit of others is just a natural next step.”