A reason to give

Philanthropy in the Community

What do we mean by “philanthropy”? Might it provide some of the answers to pressing resource questions?

London Funders’ Director, Gaynor Humphreys, was asked to share some thoughts on these questions at the start of a half day conference on philanthropy in the community organised by London Civic Forum in mid-March:

A bit like the word “community”, philanthropy can use up a lot of time in definition without adding much illumination to what we instinctively understand by the term. I have worked with organisations promoting and supporting philanthropy and philanthropists all over the world and know how varied are the contexts and cultural frameworks in which different forms of philanthropy can flourish – and how hard it is to pin down a definition. If I have to, I suggest

people helping each other by sharing resources for the common good

While “philanthropist” as a term may feel as though it fits best only the biggest givers, I believe that people at every level of wealth can be enthused to be philanthropists in the way that quote defines them. At this conference we may touch on how to persuade the richest people to support our work as charities and community groups, but we will also hear how those of more modest means can make an impact by pooling their resources.

If you look at the broad statistics on giving in the UK it is not a very encouraging picture. The figures for household giving suggest that for years there has been a cohort of averagely generous donors who consistently give to charity but who as they get older are not being replaced by younger people giving anything like as much – Charities Aid Foundation analysis has shown household giving as flat or even falling over some years. Indeed the latest CAF/NCVO statistics for 2010-11, while showing that nearly 60% of people in the UK gave something to charity, say their combined giving was £1 billion less than in 2007-8, i.e. before the recession.

Government is keen to see individual and corporate giving as a way of supplementing its reduced expenditure. There is some money going into grants for innovation in giving and there will be a Giving Summit in a couple of months’ time for more ideas and experience to be shared.

There is not a lot of evidence yet that Government nudging or big campaigns that encourage more giving are making much difference but there is a clear success story, where people are being connected to local causes through community foundations and initiatives like Islington Giving and Localgiving.com. We need the very wealthy to help. We need to encourage companies back into decent levels of giving. Meanwhile, there is steady growth in donors supporting local causes. For me there are four elements to making it work:

1.       It connects people to issues and causes that they can relate to, that will prompt them to give, and provide them with feedback and satisfaction from supporting. In London the richest people and the most excluded live cheek by jowl yet sometimes the better off can be cocooned from understanding the poverty and disadvantage of their neighbours. Community philanthropy builds knowledge and links – solidarity, even – and gives people a reason to give.

2.       Part of the value of philanthropy is that it can turn occasional and impulsive givers – people who may respond to a one-off campaign or a crisis – into more planned and consistent donors, with a habit of giving and a relationship with the organisations or communities they support.

3.       Community philanthropy organisations need to be well-administered and professional , ensuring good contact with donors - acknowledgement and feedback, opportunities for donors to connect with the work they are supporting and see the impact of their money.

4.       It also pays dividends to be collaborative. Donors can be put off by apparent competition between charities. The community foundation concept is based on encouraging donors’ commitment to a geographic area, with the foundation being a knowledgeable grantmaker to all sorts of voluntary and community groups in that patch. Islington Giving is a collaboration between several foundations and other Islington organisations which together are raising awareness among better-off residents and local companies of Islington’s community needs. Localgiving.com is a technological solution to the financial needs of even the smallest community group, offering a web presence and with community foundations doing due diligence and Gift Aid tax claims for them.

Useful publications:

Inspiring Local Philanthropy
Coutts Bank, New Philanthropy Capital and Community Foundation Network, 2011
This report makes the case for supporting “low level”, local community activity to help communities thrive and reach the most vulnerable people. It makes the case in part through some case studies of major donors who focus a lot of their giving on the geographic areas that matter to them.