City givers like the personal touch

City Philanthropy's Cheryl Chapman writes about local giving in the City

When we talk about ’local giving’ or ‘community philanthropy’ we usually mean giving to a geographical area - indeed as London’s Giving demonstrates with its aim to encourage locals to give to their boroughs.

However there is another interpretation of local giving and it is one we see in the City or Square Mile – and that is local giving as giving from a place.

The City has always been a philanthropic hotspot and can trace this rich tradition over a millennium back to the foundations of London Bridge. (You can find out more in the book I co-authored with Dr Cathy Ross, Philanthropy: The City Story, available from The Guildhall Library.)

While for a good few decades the City has not been explicitly philanthropic, the community has remained quietly committed to charity though its institutions such as the Livery; the City of London Corporation’s charity; City Bridge Trust, its corporates (the finance sector gives more to charity than any other sector according to The Directory of Social Change’s Giving Almanac!) and its individuals.

In recent times we have seen the emergence of a ‘new’ kind of individual philanthropist, born of a boom in self made wealth. Typically entrepreneurs and financiers who have made their own wealth through shrewd and creative business practice, are bringing a new appetite for a certain style of high-touch, high-impact, high engagement philanthropy that is satisfied by supporting local communities and grass roots charities.

Supporting a community, whether it be a community of interest or a geographical one, brings particular reward as articulated by the 30 or so high net worth philanthropists interviewed for the 2008 report on community giving produced by think tank Policy Exchange.

Just some of the motivations for giving to communities voiced by these donors are:

• ‘touch’ or proximity to one’s giving
• seeing the impact of a donation
• achieving greater impact with modest amounts of money
• being able to contribute time and skills
• building relationships with other donors, local organisations and beneficiaries

Guy Hands, founder and chairman of Terra Firma Private Capital, noted: “If you cannot see the impact, it is very difficult for a businessman to give. A community charity may not always have the advantage of scale, but it does have the advantage of closeness and being able to demonstrate first-hand what it does.”

Hedge fund investor Michael Hintze, who runs his own foundation, speaks of an element of ‘market place’ in “liking to see what is going on”.

While a private equity partner, quoted in the report, explained the power of ‘touch’: “Most things are easier to understand if you can touch them and feel them. If you can meet the people either doing the work or benefiting from the work, it makes it real. One of the biggest problems with donating money is that often you have no sense of ownership or touch. The human touch is a very strong feeling. If you cannot touch something, there is a risk it does not exist and it is much easier to engender that feeling if that thing is in striking distance.”

This idea of touch - the need to know where the money is going and how it is making a difference - is also seen among younger City philanthropists such as those who belong to giving networks BeyondMe, The City Funding Network, Raise Your Hands and The Bread Tin.

Adam Pike, co-founder of BeyondMe says: “What inspired Michael Harris and me to create BeyondMe were the limited opportunities to give meaningfully. Like many of our peers we donated to friends’ charity challenges but did not find this experience engaging – nor did we build any understanding or connection to the issue.

“Our primary motivation was to support our friends-not the cause, the charity or its beneficiaries. Against this background we launched BeyondMe to change attitudes and behaviour among professionals and businesses by enabling them to pool their resources and develop a close relationship with a charity. We aim to increase understanding of the impact of one’s donation and skills, as well as the charity’s impact on its beneficiaries. We envisage charities building lasting relationships with BeyondMe members, every one of whom is a current or future leader.”

BeyondMe undertook a survey of its network members this year and the findings reveal engagement is key.

The top reasons respondents said they participate in BeyondMe are to:
• Be more effective in my giving (56%)
• Be around like-minded people (50%)
• Engage more deeply with an issue or organisation (47%)
• Connect with new charities or causes (47%).

An overwhelming majority of survey respondents agreed that giving money and volunteering can have a positive impact on the health of a community (97%) and that they had a long-term commitment to giving and volunteering (86%).

The City may appear in the media as an uncaring aloof community disengaged from society. In fact, as this survey shows, the City wants to get up close and personal to communities.