Commentary - 08 February 2022

Tailor-made philanthropy

There’s no question that philanthropic giving has many benefits. However, it can be complex and daunting to the unfamiliar.


  1. Identifying the passions
  2. Giving that suits you
  3. Communication is key
  4. The danger of being too available
  5. Four pointers on your philanthropic journey

Guest author: Alison Hope, founder of Hope Philanthropic

Decisions around how and where money is directed can be powerful life changers for both the giver and recipient. So those decisions need careful consideration. Alison Hope offers advice on how to get real joy out of your giving.

When asked what process we go through to support people in their philanthropy the truthful answer is that, even though we have flow charts with the steps we might take a donor through, more often than not we don’t! How people apply their resources to make a difference to the things they care about (their philanthropy, or simply, their giving), is so deeply personal that even the starting point for each person is unique.

For me and the sector specialists at Hope Philanthropic, supporting someone to get real joy and fulfilment out of their giving, is as challenging as designing the holiday of a lifetime. With the potential for much wider ramifications, of course.

Our world is populated by many charities, social enterprises, organisations and individuals with ever-increasing financial needs. To ensure that donors get real joy out of their money we invest time in understanding their aspirations and circumstances.

So where do we start? It may be a cliché, but to quote business guru Stephen Covey, we ‘begin with the end in mind’.

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Identifying the passions

We ask our clients to consider what they want to achieve with their money. What difference would they like to see as a result of their giving?

Then we explore their circumstances. This gives us an insight into their experience of philanthropy to date and who they might like to involve, such as a spouse or children.

We next consider the causes that resonate with them, the ones that fire their passions and generate a real interest. From sectors to locations, this is where the analogy of a holiday is apt. The range could not be greater.

We have worked with donors with a diversity of interests. From a passionate classical music lover who believed that people from all backgrounds should have access to musical training to a donor who took inspiration from his childhood hero Scott of the Antarctic. The latter was able to support an international project to save Scott’s hut and its 8,000 expedition artefacts.

Social welfare issues are often the focus for many who feel fortunate. They may help with projects to reduce reoffending in young people, to giving people with disabilities a voice.

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Giving that suits you

There are so many ways to ‘give well’, so we focus on understanding what best suits the client. We evaluate how involved a donor prefers to be. This could be termed their giving ‘personality’ and there are many options.

The spectrum ranges from very hands-on philanthropy - including ‘catalytic philanthropy’ where donors are actively engaged in the sectors and causes they support. Over time they develop an expertise and a strategy for giving where they take responsibility for the results. This might even involve campaigning to change the law. At the other end of the spectrum is ‘light touch’ giving, where donors trust their recipients to use funds wisely and simply want to hear from them from time to time.

Many people think that philanthropy advice is all about tax effectiveness and financial structures. But this is a very small part of philanthropic advice. Most wealthy individuals and families have their own advisers to advise and set up the appropriate trust or charity, or they may simply give directly.

A leading UK law firm, which sets up charitable structures, reports that for every charitable vehicle they set up, about 50%  of clients know exactly what they want to do with this and the rest have yet to decide. Outside of the USA, where philanthropy advice has long been recognised as a valuable service, there are still many philanthropists who rely on the very charities they plan to support to provide the sector knowledge and project options they might consider.

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Communication is key

We work with our clients on their communication approach and help them position themselves within the sector. Choosing who receives support is a key strategic decision, and there are choices to be made around taking a reactive or proactive approach. You can select your own projects by research or recommendations from others. Do you go to them or allow them to come to you?

Your strategy would include details of how people will be made aware that you are a funder, your profile, and that you would like to hear about projects in your sphere of interest.

60% of US Foundations are closed to unsolicited approaches. That may enhance efficiency but you could miss the experience of meeting inspirational people who live and work in your field of interest. I recently worked with a family whose charitable foundation invited approaches from projects which benefit their home town of Bristol. We were able to work with them on a pioneering photographic project for children living in divided communities in the inner city. Street crime, fuelled by prejudice and misunderstanding, was rife. By using photography to share experiences, friendships were formed and the stereotypes gradually dissolved. As one child observed: “I learnt that (the areas of) Easton and St Pauls are the same and don’t judge them by their covers.”

The joy of giving is as much about what the donor learns and experiences as the feeling of being able to contribute. It is a truly virtuous circle. Without an ‘open door’ policy with clear parameters, the low key and modest Bristol project would never have seen the light of day and the family would not have enjoyed meeting local pioneers who dealt with a problem in their own community.

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The danger of being too available

The negatives of an open door policy are that it can lead to inappropriate approaches, which can put people off the challenge of giving well, and sometimes puts them off giving at all.

We recommend developing clear communications, even if you are an individual donor funding things directly. It can be worthwhile publicising your giving strategy and how you do, and do not, want to be approached.

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Four pointers on your philanthropic journey

Ultimately, philanthropists may develop a giving strategy and plan, and the means to support its implementation, but there is much to think about before reaching that point. These are some of the issues we consider with our clients:

  1. Make it clear whether you will accept unsolicited applications.
    You may or may not wish to explain yourself, but if your funds are committed and there is no chance that you will be persuaded to support a cause, even by a friend, then publish this information on the web and in funder directories.
  2. Publish what you really want to fund.
    Be absolutely clear about what you will and won’t fund; the size of grant you would be likely to consider, types of organisation and causes, whether you would consider funding core costs or prefer to fund specific activities.
  3. Clarify the information you want to receive.
    In many cases, a brief summary is enough information to start with. You can always ask for more detail later.
  4. Let people know what you will do with their approach.
    Will they hear from you if they send you a proposal? If not, is there a time by which they can be sure they have been unsuccessful.

The philanthropic journey, like that epic holiday, needs careful planning and importantly a real interest and understanding of everyone travelling with it. But while the memory of even the best holiday will ultimately fade, philanthropy’s impact has the potential to resonate for decades. And that is the real joy of giving.

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Correct as of May 2017.

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