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Million Pound Donors Report | Top 10 Tips



Every year we capture valuable insight from major donors about their philanthropy and the lessons they have learned. Drawing on their wealth of experience, here are the top 10 tips they have shared for those starting their philanthropy journey.

1. Be clear about your motivations for philanthropy

Being clear from the outset about why you wish to support charitable organisations or social enterprises is important. It will help guide your actions and ensure the experience is fulfilling.

“One of the things philanthropy does is change the way you think about yourself and society, and you start to interrogate the world differently. It asks you what’s important in your life. And what help do people need? So from that point of view it’s immensely enriching. If you can say, ‘I’ve done something that’s good’, that is an extraordinarily privileged feeling.” Elizabeth Brooks.

“Philanthropy is such an extension of your entire life, whether you’re aware of that or not. We just really value understanding our motivations, our biographies and everything that has shaped our world view.” Jennifer Buffett.

2. Give to causes and organisations you are passionate about

Your values, passions, interests or concerns will drive your choices in terms of the issues you focus on.

“Try and find what you enjoy. You have to enjoy it otherwise it is not worth doing”. Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou.

“I would say choose an area of activity that you feel needs burnishing, that you are knowledgeable and passionate about. And try to find people who share your passion and get them to get involved alongside you.” Sir Terence Conran. 

3. Learn from other donors

There is much to gain if you work with and learn from other funders that share your passions and interests.

“Be collaborative. Join with other philanthropists, because there’s power in numbers. It can be hard, and coalitions are difficult, but I often use the African proverb, ‘if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together”. Swanee Hunt

“Don’t reinvent the wheel. There will be other philanthropists who have been active and successful in your areas of interest. Take advice, listen to people, and learn from others”. André Hoffmann

4. Visit the organisations you support and learn from them

The people working ‘on the ground’, many of whom will have first hand experience of the issues you are focused on, are best placed to determine what will work.

“Meet the leaders of the organisations you’re considering funding, to make sure that they are committed, visionary and practical in delivering their vision and that you can trust them to do what they say they are going to do; and never think you know best - always listen to what's happening on the ground”. Sarah Butler-Sloss

“I don’t think you can learn how to be effective in philanthropy by sitting behind a desk. You’ve got to get out and physically see and engage and feel and touch, and you’ll learn through what you see and do.” Sir Trevor Pears CMG

5. Take informed risks

The ability to take prudent risks is a key benefit of philanthropy. It’s a valuable resource for innovation and for testing solutions to society’s most pressing issues.

“Every once in a while you are going to get things wrong and you have to confront and own up to your errors and move on. But it ought not to prevent you from doing things. Many of the people who cross our path are amongst the most severely disadvantaged and may not play by the rules. You have to make allowances.” Gordon Roddick

“Because we’re prepared to take risk, we expect things to go wrong. We make it very clear: we know things go wrong, so don’t cover it up – so come and talk to us about it. It’s about openness and mutual trust.” John Stone

6. Think carefully about how you can use your resources effectively

There will be many ways in which you can intervene to affect change for your chosen causes. As well as financial support, you may wish to draw on your expertise, volunteer your time, become a trustee or draw on your networks. And where possible, find good leaders and organisations and back them with unrestricted funding.

“It’s the journey that matters and not the destination so enjoy the process. Take your time and work out how you are going to make your grain of sand count”. Shalni Arora

“Unrestricted funding is catalytic. It unlocks the potential of organisations to invest in themselves. To be responsive and to scale up. To become the resilient, sustainable organisations their communities need them to be.” His Excellency Amr A. Al Dabbagh

7. Think about engaging the next generation in your philanthropy

Many see philanthropy as integral to their family values, a hugely enjoyable and rewarding activity that the family can undertake together, and an effective way to help prepare the next generation for the opportunities and challenges wealth brings.

“It’s enjoyable if you can work as a family as you can draw on each others’ perspectives and strengths. You learn a lot from each other. I’ve learned a lot from my family”. Gordon Roddick

“Listen to descendants like me who benefitted from not inheriting the cash – that has possibly been my biggest gift from my grandfather and great-grandfather!” Anna Southall, Barrow Cadbury Trust

8. Commit for the long haul

Patience and persistence are key ingredients to success in philanthropy. In addition to funding services, philanthropy can also enable systemic long-term change through influencing policy and practice, and changing hearts and minds.

“Develop a focus and maintain an inner discipline to stick to it – and if it doesn’t work then move onto something else. You have to give change time”. Winsome McIntosh

“As a patient, long-term investor, supporting human rights is a good fit between my values and the organisation’s mission. It is almost by definition high-risk, high-return philanthropy – you can work on a human rights problem for a long time with no signs of progress, but then get a massive payoff when policies are changed or a dictator is overthrown.” Hassan Elmasry

9. Use the endowment of your charitable trust to make a difference

Traditionally, philanthropy has been associated with giving grants to charities from the income generated by an endowment. However, more philanthropists are realising the untapped potential of the endowment itself to achieve their mission.

“I think considering environmental, social, governance and ethical factors when investing the endowment is one of the most exciting and growing trends in philanthropy. I think more and more people are beginning to feel constrained by grant-making that accounts for only 5% of financial assets, and they are increasingly thinking about how to deploy the other 95% [the endowment] in a way that preserves the corpus and generates the income for grant-making, but also in a way that advances mission. It’s a powerful new force in philanthropy”. Stephen Heintz, Rockefeller Brothers Fund

10. Consider how you leverage all your assets to have a positive impact on society

Philanthropists are increasingly connecting the dots between the impact of their business interests, the management of their personal wealth and the impact of their philanthropy.

“The question is not how you use your business to finance your philanthropy, but how to use your business presence to improve the outcomes you want to see. It is not about how you spend money, it is about how you make the money. For me, there is a very important correlation there – how can I sit on the boards of three quoted companies while at the same time [through philanthropy] try to repair the damage caused by the existing business model?” André Hoffmann

“I want to be part of a culture shift which sees philanthropy or, perhaps more precisely, the proactive and strategic management of our financial and other resources, as something every person and every institution does in the interests of future generations.” Dr Frederick Mulder CBE

For more guidance on how to develop a strategy for your philanthropy, ask your Private Banker for a copy of the Coutts Handbook for Philanthropy or to speak to one of our experts.