Philanthropy in 2013: Can Anybody Play?

We’re not in the business of telling people to give up their money, but we do promote the idea that anyone can be a philanthropist. The word philanthropist isn’t just defined by the Bill and Melinda Gates of the world.

Original article published on 19/02/2013 Mark Greer Philanthropy Director, UK Community Foundations

Nobody would argue that philanthropy is a bad thing. But it’s understandable that in a time of austerity, some may question their ability to give, and the charity sector’s right to ask.

We’re not in the business of telling people to give up their money, but we do promote the idea that anyone can be a philanthropist. The word philanthropist isn’t just defined by the Bill and Melinda Gates of the world. It is also the person who gives smaller amounts in a thoughtful and strategic way. As UK Community Foundations, we’re familiar with helping people who want to give to charity at all levels – from people with average incomes to millionaires, and we find it encouraging that many people are still giving even in today’s tough economic climate. But as we learnt from the 2012 World Giving Index compiled by the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF), the charity sector has been suffering from its own double dip, and giving is down worldwide. So while we believe anybody can give, we know we have a job to inspire people to do so.

Earlier this month we held the 2013 Beacon Awards, which celebrated a group of outstanding philanthropists who were awarded Beacon Fellowships. Outstanding not necessarily for what they gave but for how, and where, they gave. The fellows demonstrated great diversity of giving: from Harry Potter writer J.K. Rowling to ARK Schools co-founder Paul Marshall, putting their energy and resources into fields such as health, the environment, education, culture, third world sanitation and more. We feel the Beacon Awards provide a useful marker for where philanthropy is headed. And looking at this year’s fellows, that means it is still going strong, but it is evolving. The 2013 Beacon Fellows show that good philanthropy is targeted at a clearly defined cause, and can also be ambitious and experimental.

The awards are not about congratulating a small group of elite people. They are intended to celebrate and, crucially, to promote philanthropy. Each Beacon Fellow has taken a different path to giving, and we hope their personal stories will inspire others to consider how they too can give at a level appropriate to them.

The fact that UK Community Foundations – an alliance of philanthropic organisations which connects donors with local causes – manages the Beacon Awards programme is significant. We do so because we believe that while it is important to celebrate the philanthropy superstars, they can also play a role in inspiring giving at any level. Zac Goldsmith MP, himself a previous Beacon Award winner, has said “it is not what you’ve got, but what you do with what you’ve got.” We also believe that philanthropy is not just about giving from personal fortunes. One of this year’s Beacon Fellows, Harris Bokhari, received a fellowship because he has achieved outstanding fundraising success – raising over £750,000 in the last year entirely on his own time. He has helped Asian business owners support neighbourhood charities, and he raised more than half of the £300,000 target for the Pakistan Recovery Fund.

This year’s Beacon Awards also celebrated where people give. Angila Chada and Michael McKibbin, who won fellowships in the Philanthropy Advocate category, are involved in philanthropy in Northern Ireland. Their willingness to talk publicly about their own giving has helped inspire a community in which, historically, philanthropy has not been something people wanted to shout about. Angila Chada set up the Raj Darshna foundation in honour of her parents. It is the Community Foundation of Northern Ireland’s first ever gradual growth endowment fund. Angila is an advocate for philanthropy not being exclusive to High Net Worth individuals. She gives a portion of her own salary, but also encourages her friends and families to invest.

What all these people -Paul Marshall working to provide excellent education for children in disadvantaged communities, Angila Chada setting up a family trust in Northern Ireland, J.K. Rowling investing in neurological research – have in common is the desire to give something up to help another person. Philanthropy in the UK is alive and well and we hope that the 2013 Beacon Fellows will inspire others to give to causes they feel strongly about.