Overcoming personal barriers to giving

There have been a number of reports looking at the barriers to giving among wealthy people in the UK in recent months. They provide a great deal of insight into what the wider philanthropy sector could do better to support individual donors, but what can an individual philanthropist learn from them to make their own first step into giving a good one?

When you first decide that the time has come to make a sizeable gift to a charity, you might be surprised by the mixed feelings that come with that decision. 

What are the barriers of fear that stop wealthy people giving money away?

So, let’s be clear: it is normal to worry about how giving money away now might impact your life choices later on in life. It is normal to wonder if other people are giving more or less. It is normal to think about whether you want to talk about your choices and what your family and friends might think about the causes you have chosen to give to. It is normal to question whether giving money to charity is the best way to tackle an issue – couldn’t the government be doing more?

For most people who lead busy lives these questions can start to feel like hard work. You might even be tempted to stick with the direct debits you have in place and may just nudge them up a £100 or so. 

But, if you really want to make that first step into philanthropy, you will probably find that this isn’t a satisfying way forward. The question, “how can I make a difference?” will just keep resurfacing.

So, how do you overcome your fears?

First of all, make it a personal goal to make a meaningful gift within a year. For you, that gift might be £1,000, £5,000, £10,000 or more. Be clear with yourself about the amount with which you are comfortable to make this first step. 

Then consider what will make this gift meaningful to you. If you have had a personal or family tragedy in the past, perhaps that will make it a meaningful gift. Alternatively, many people get drawn to causes, like the environment, education or human rights because they want to feel to be part of the solution to bigger issues. Others are drawn to local activities where they can be involved. 

You need to identify something that really matters to you. 

After that, it is time to do some homework. There are 168,000 charitable organisations in the UK and because they focus their resources on their charitable mission, very few have a good public profile. 

The good news is that there are a growing number of resources to help you find out more. There are donor networks, like The Funding Network, the Environmental Funders Network or Ariadne. There are Community Foundations operating regionally across the UK. There are specialist philanthropy advisers or, if you have a wealth management relationship, there may be someone on their team who can help. There are also a number of online resources designed to help donors filter down to the charities where there is a good match, CharityBase, SoGive and Maanch, to name a few. 

It is worth spending time to find an organisation that can help you to have the meaningful experience you are looking for. Remember, you have given yourself a year. 

By the way, you should also congratulate yourself on getting this far. Most people don’t conquer their fears to get to this point. 

What are the barriers of trust that stop wealthy people from giving money away?

Wealthy people are money-focused, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that you will have lots of questions for the organisations you are considering supporting. You are used to kicking the tyres on organisations with which you do business and you will probably want to do the same to the charities you support. 

Just prepare yourself that many charitable organisations might not be ready for the kind of questions that you routinely ask in business. Very few have the resources to put together a brochure or even a good annual report. They may also spend very little time with their donors, focusing their efforts instead on the work that they do. 

It is absolutely right to ask the organisation about its financial position, to find out about its people and to ask questions so you understand its work. You have to feel confident that your gift is going to be a meaningful one. Just be prepared that the responses to these questions might not be as polished as you are used to.

Ultimately, you will have to decide if you like what they are doing, if you believe the people are passionate about their work, if you think their work can make a difference and how you are going to judge that. If you think they can make a difference, then it is time to make that bank transfer. 

Just remember before you hit the “confirm transaction” button that if the problems they are working on were easy to fix, then they would have been fixed by now. With your big gift, you might not see immediate results, but you have automatically become part of the solution – and hopefully it’s a good feeling.

Building a relationship

Over the coming weeks and months you’ll want to feel more connected to the organisation. You’ll want to find out more about its work and how your gift is contributing to making a difference. 

Keep in mind that the focus of the organisation is on its work. It is important to let them get on with that work. Your role is as a supporter. 

That said, hopefully the organisation you have picked will recognise that your first gift was a big deal for you. They will keep in touch and share more about their work and the difference that it is making. You may also discover there are ways you can help the organisation apart from giving money, perhaps through introductions or volunteering your time and skills.

Over time, with more knowledge, with a deeper relationship and with an understanding of the results the organisation is delivering, you might find you want to give more. 

Equally, you may decide a different approach or a different organisation will suit you better. Take stock. You have overcome the personal barriers that were holding you back. You have already made a difference and you have a better idea of what meaningful giving means to you. Starting small has given you the foundations on which to build. 

Lastly, it is worth remembering that overcoming the barriers to giving is a two-way street. Charitable organisations and the philanthropy sector are working hard to find ways to make sure your experience of giving is a meaningful one, but they are on a journey too. They can try to build your confidence, but only you can overcome your fears. 

Read next: What is the threshold for generosity in the UK today?

See more resources for philanthropists in our resource hub