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Philanthropy Right Now:

The Future of Philanthropy

‘Philanthropy Right Now’ is a regular column for Beacon Collaborative by Marie-Louise Gourlay, Managing Director of Europe for The Philanthropy Workshop.

The report of the recent 21% decline in charitable donations by top earners, despite growing wealth, is deeply disappointing, though no surprise.

Talking about, let alone engaging in, philanthropy, is alas, usually a journey of many years. As a culture we share a deep discomfort in discussing money in any of its roles, creating taboos, even when it comes to giving money away.

Even our organisational credit card from a reputable bank, has misspelled our name, calling us ‘The Philantrophy Workshop’. They weren’t in the slightest bit concerned when we pointed it out; so we live with it.

That this mistake includes the noun ‘trophy’ got me thinking – our American cousins celebrate philanthropy far more than we do; with names emblazoned on buildings and widely-publicised patronages of large cultural institutions.

Are those the trophies of philanthropy? Trophy can be synonymous with status symbol, or, per the Ancient Greeks, a memorial of victory – neither of which we aspire to.* But what is it that really incentivises giving? And how do different cultures influence this?

The media’s take on last week’s Law Family Commission report emphasises that for giving to go up, it’s up to the charities to build back trust. That is indeed a part to it, and whilst not condoning the actions of some NGO staff which have served to undermine public trust, we must move forward.

As the late bell hooks wrote:

“For me, forgiveness and compassion are always linked: how do we hold people accountable for wrongdoing and yet at the same time remain in touch with their humanity enough to believe in their capacity to be transformed?”

My own perspective, whilst admittedly too narrowly focussed on the role of philanthropy, comes back to the need for the culture of generosity to be built. And how can this even begin to happen when we lack any degree of open-ness with anything linked to money?

Culture change starts with openness. To be open to listening, learning and sharing with great vulnerability and honesty. To recognise that sometimes we don’t have all the answers inside us already. Coupled with a willingness to challenge our values, assumptions, traditions, attitudes. We also need to address our money shame, for that can often be the cause of debilitating inaction.

Transparency is the core of this; urgently required from every angle. Philanthropists benefit from knowing what others are doing, by being able to learn from peers, to leapfrog often siloed journeys of giving in order to accelerate their own positive social impact.

And for those on the outside looking in, it would be hugely beneficial to have greater visibility over what benefits private capital can provide for public good, enabling the public to benefit from knowing how and where to hold philanthropists to account.

Looking forward to 2022, observing the behaviours that changed over the darkest times of Covid, and knowing that nothing’s ever certain, not least with Omicron infections steeply rising as I write this, reminds me of the basic need to be as transparent, flexible, collaborative and long term as we possibly can be.

Simply put, for philanthropy that means flexible, unrestricted, multi-year funding. Basic – yes. But is it common practice? Alas, not yet.

Traditionally, this is the time of year for giving. Let’s each ask ourselves what more we can – and should – do, and start to build on this, year on year.

*Side note on trophies; not a moment too soon on the new UK legislation banning the import of hunting trophies of endangered and threatened animals.

Marie-Louise Gourlay is the Managing Director of Europe for The Philanthropy Workshop. Find out more about The Philanthropy Workshop’s activity here.

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