Simpsons Solicitors

Good Giving. 7 Observations On The Practice of Philanthropy.

January 5th 2014

Understand your motivations and limitations.  Seek the overlap between your motivations, what you have to offer and what others most need.  A passion for the task at hand is a must and will help drive and reward you, but is only part of the puzzle.  Identify and be realistic about financial, time and other input limitations.

Beyond altruism, ask if you also seek your own personal satisfactions whilst helping others – don’t worry, its natural.  Be honest and make them part of your goals.  Ego is not a dirty word but can muddy the waters – keep it in check, recognise the gap (if any) between your intentions and what the world needs.

Set clear goals and metrics.  Define a philosophy to guide how you will spend your time and money – focused attention is better than scattergun.  Define what success should look like and how you’ll measure what’s achieved – in both quantity and quality.  That way you can monitor progress, learn from experience and adjust your strategies through success and failure.

Get organised and get serious.  Good administration drives successful outcomes and that costs time and money – just as in any business.  So, define and test your administrative model and budget.  If you can’t afford a well-run approach, rethink your ambitions or way of operating (see also below “Team Up”).

Be creative in your operating model.  Some businesses include charitable goals; and, some charities run businesses.  The lines are increasingly blurred.  With heightened consumer and shareholder interest in valuing social outcomes, your financing options broaden.  Loans, shareholdings and guarantees can be alternatives to the traditional tax-deductible gift.  Giving time and opening networks can be just as important as money.

Team Up. Look for economies and joys of scale in working with like-minded others.  Liberated from self-interest and the need for control, opportunities abound.  Collective action and funding can be more effective and powerful than individual endeavour.   Check your ego at the door for the common good.  You may be able to achieve more if you don’t care who gets the credit.

Build trust.  A true partnership between donor and recipient is critical to both parties – and the foundation for lasting outcomes.  Delegate and let those with experience guide the process.

Remain humble.  What you contribute in money and other effort is a critical ingredient.  But don’t forget those you support face the day-to-day grind of delivery and possess the on-the-ground knowledge. They know better than you what they need and what needs doing (and can leverage and create greater value from what you contribute).

———-Background———-

What follows is a short overview of some of my personal observations from a visit to leading philanthropic organisations on the west coast of the United States organised by Philanthropy Australia.  It is part personal aide-memoir and part introduction for similarly fresh faces to some of the complexities of the field.  Some experienced practitioners might enjoy the foray from a fresh perspective.

The coast is important – it reflects a dramatic shift from the traditional dominance of wealth and philanthropy on the east coast (think Rockefeller) to the new power of technology businesses on the west (think Microsoft, eBay and Hewlett Packard).  Innovation was common theme amongst those we visited.

We met with some of the world’s largest philanthropic organisations such as The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with funds in excess of $70 billion and goals scaled to match; over 1000 employees, impressive premises swarming with ivy-league graduates but also an openness and recognition that the work is difficult and it can do better.

We saw how technology is making it even easier for everyone to be a philanthropist at Kiva, a micro-finance organisation, where small loans can be made direct from Australia to Kenya to help build communities.  We saw the universality of compassion in loans from individuals in so-called developing countries to those struggling in the United States.

We visited a small privately-funded no-fee school in a tough neighbourhood of San Francisco where the children had a good day if they weren’t held up at gun-point on the way in.

We saw how philanthropy can make a real difference to peoples’ lives – for recipients of charity as well as those that give time and money.  We saw pride in the successes and an honesty in the failures.

The scale of these endeavours and the immense and focused application of effort and realistic optimism was inspiring and humbling.  American enthusiasm can be infectious but I was quietly proud to see Australian philanthropists leading the way in some areas.  I also saw Australia’s social welfare system and corresponding tax obligations in a new light – a communal commitment to a charitable goal.

As someone new to structured giving, there was much to learn.  It was also an opportunity to ask some difficult questions and probably the most important question was to ask myself; ‘why was I not doing more?’

The 7 points above are a distillation of what, to me, were some of the key lessons from the trip or subsequent musings.   What follows is a more leisurely stroll through those issues broken down into chapter headings.

Organisational Fundamentals – Philanthropy is no different

Peculiar Philanthropy