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25th November 2020


Prism the Gift Fund co-hosted a Zoom roundtable with Lombard Odier on 11.11.2020 to explore the implications of the ‘The Philanthropy Paradox’ – a think piece commissioned by Prism the Gift Fund and researched and written by Dr Beth Breeze, Director of the Centre for Philanthropy, University of Kent. The paper revealed a new paradox in public opinion about philanthropy – that the public views donations more positively than they do donors.


This finding has broader implications for fundraising (currently at a £10bn loss as a result of Covid-19) and public levels of trust in the third sector. The session aimed to galvanise debate, garner attention to these pressing issues and to explore how the use of language is key to creating a more positive image of philanthropy in the UK.


The session was chaired by Ajaz Ahmed MBE, Trustee of Prism the Gift Fund with keynote speakers Dr Beth Breeze and Dr Maximilian Martin, Global Head of Philanthropy, Lombard Odier. Dr Breeze gave an introduction and overview of the key findings of the paper and the discussion was then opened to the floor. We have given a sample of some of the great questions that were raised.


From Ajaz Ahmed to Dr Maximilian Martin: What is your experience working with global philanthropists?


Dr Maximilian Martin – With global philanthropists, we see two mindsets. The first is very local, focused on doing more for local charities to get them through this difficult time. The second is those who want to solve a big problem. Individually, they are passionate about one specific challenge. As a group, they are agnostic about the causes they support. Global philanthropists are becoming more and more strategic. For example, trying to inform policy in intelligent ways via research and advocacy.


From Ajaz Ahmed to Dr Beth Breeze: What do you think needs to happen for donors to be viewed in different light?

Dr Beth Breeze – Philanthropy has always been criticised. Historically, people have always wondered about the motivations of donors. The problem with the critique is that it is generalised. There are many different types of philanthropists. There are many that do it for the joy and to make something good happen. There are so many motivations, and only to highlight the worst of them is simplistic. I’m calling for more nuance and care in the language we use to talk about philanthropy. 


From Catherine Dovey, co-founder of the Philanthropy Collaborative and key coordinator for Beacon Collaborative: I’d be interested to hear who can change the perception of philanthropists? Government? Advisers? Media? What guerrilla tactics should we employ?


BB – It’s quite simple, we need to push back. There are critics out there, sometimes it’s your neighbour or your friend. It’s important to engage and have those uncomfortable conversations. 


MM – We need to contextualise and act at different levels. Firstly, if you are involved in a charity, in a governance role for example, there are requirements for transparency and professionalism. We must support this technocratic side of things as it helps to win over sceptics. Secondly, we have the most influence with those who know and trust us. We must be active there, take a stand and be engaged citizens. Thirdly, I understand that if someone wants to sell a book, negative stories always sell better. There is not enough strategic support for philanthropy in the media. My ‘guerrilla tactic’ would be: what are some great stories that are not being told properly? Put great minds towards helping these stories reach people. Use tools of targeted marketing and analysis of understanding communities. 


From Ajaz Ahmed to the floor: Are there any advisors that would like to answer the point about the role of philanthropy advisors in educating clients about tax-effective giving?


Helen Jones, Partner, BDO – We assume that advisors feel confident enough to have a discussion with their clients about philanthropy, but they don’t. Recently, we have had a real focus around the basics. We have focused our periodical magazine on philanthropy and sent it to our clients, covering the basics on how to give and what to give, and the rules about tax relief.


From Alexander Rhodes, Head of Mishcon Purpose, Mishcon de Reya LLP: Can Max’s enlightenment idea be realised without a structural revisiting of the role of charities in solving society’s problems, in the same way as is happening in business – with e.g. the framing of corporate purpose by the Business Roundtable?


MM – I agree that we need a restructure. I published an article on the topic in the Stanford Social Innovation Review called ‘Reestablishing Philanthropic Vitality After the Emergency’. We need to be strategic. We see the role of government being redesigned. We see the private sector onboarding ‘purpose’ but having to deliver profits. We haven’t seen a comparable systematic rethink of the non-profit sector. To achieve this new ‘enlightenment’ we need a specific third sector whose primary goal is charitable purpose and the greater public good, but I also think this sector needs access to the advances in business processes, information technology, analytics and other tools, other than just grants. This is the time to do it.


From Kathryn Marten, Chief Development Officer at The National Theatre: How does the panel think that charities can most effectively celebrate philanthropists?


BB – It requires nuance. They need to tailor a personal response, not assume that all donors have the same expectations. During Covid, charities are taking stewardship more seriously and showing donors what has been achieved. Some charities have been doing virtual tours of what the funds are being spent on. While that is easy to say, the reality is that fundraising is a misunderstood profession. We need to invest in fundraisers. They were the first to be furloughed. We know that if you don’t ask, you don’t get, so is it any surprise there is less money coming in? We need to treat fundraisers as professionals – invest in their function and ensure they have access to continuing professional development.


From Anna Josse, Prism the Gift Fund CEO: “How do we make education around giving a key part of growing up?”


BB – Most of our habits are formed at a young age. We need to teach children about philanthropy during their school years, as students and as young professionals. This is a key research interest in our Centre for Philanthropy, we study how people learn to give, how do we ‘raise charitable children’. One of my PhD students is researching how children of the wealthy learn to give, because as much as we want everyone to be philanthropic, the fact is some people have more resources than others. family foundations give a small amount to the kids within those families and let them make decisions, so they get some practice and see what it feels like.


From Jane Franklin at Childhood First: “I wonder if the report should be shared with DCMS to influence policy? – The government will be looking increasingly to the private sector – they need to endorse the value of this support.”


BB – There are things that the government can do and could do more of. I would caution that donors don’t want to feel like they are plugging a gap or making up for a reduced budget. But governments can certainly help, in addition to providing tax reliefs for giving, by recognising donors through the honours system, making governmental buildings such as 10 Downing Street available for charity functions, and being careful in how they speak, avoiding the temptation to make generalised criticisms about fundraising and charities, just as they would not make negative generalisations about people and organisations in the for-profit sector.


Comment from Cath Dovey, co-founder of the Philanthropy Collaborative and key coordinator for Beacon Collaborative: ‘For me, the research and the discussion have underscored that while the UK has a generous culture, we have a systemic weakness when it comes to encouraging, supporting and celebrating philanthropy. We don’t need to fix philanthropists; we need to build a better system to support philanthropy. Absolutely brilliant work from Kent University, Prism and Lombard Odier.’


Comment from Claire Evans, Partner at Deloitte: ‘When advisers are discussing matters such as business exits, succession, estate planning and wealth structuring with wealthy individuals and entrepreneurs, it is important that they at least ask the question as to whether philanthropy forms part of their plans. Simply asking the question can initiate philanthropic exploration when it might not otherwise have been on the agenda at the current stage.’ Thank you to everyone that attended. A huge thanks to Dr Beth Breeze, Dr Maximillian Martin and Ajaz Ahmed MBE for their thoughtful insights.