Effective philanthropy gets a boost

This weekend’s Sunday Times Rich List suggests that, at least for those at the top, the good times are back. This year, to get in the top 1,000 of UK wealth, you need to have over £100m—up from a ‘mere’ £85m a few years ago.

This outpouring of wealth may or may not be good for the UK economy and Joe Public. But hopefully one consequence will be that these very rich people decide to use some of their wealth for charitable purposes—using their cash to support good causes and help those more in need than themselves.

So just as important as the Rich List is the announcement of the new Marshall Institute for Philanthropy and Social Entrepreneurship, funded by Paul Marshall, chaired by Sir Thomas Hughes-Hallett and based at the LSE. ‘A huge amount of money is ploughed into philanthropy,’ Marshall told the Mail on Sunday,and yet there is no qualification in the skills needed to run social and charitable enterprises’. The Institute promises to fill that gap.

While one may wonder if a brand new £20m home for the centre is the very best use of money, the idea of trying to encourage and improve philanthropy is very important indeed.

For, contrary to what one might expect, many philanthropists actually dedicate little time to thinking about the effectiveness of their giving. The nitty-gritty of giving—where to donate, how to make sure it really goes to the best charities, how to avoid duplicating good work, how to help charities become sustainable, how to really create impact—should at least have equal importance as enjoying the warm glow engendered by giving or an evening with a royal or a celebrity.

It doesn’t always happen this way, but the effective philanthropy agenda is not as much of a blank slate as it may seem. NPC has been working on and advocating it for over 12 years now, and, along with others in the sector, have seen progress. It continues to be a challenge though because some fine minds—despite creating their wealth by assessing options, looking at metrics, taking calculated risks and scaling-up good ideas—suddenly ditch this thinking when they get involved in philanthropy.

So we fully support the work of the indefatigable Tom Hughes-Hallett and Paul Marshall and look forward to supporting the institute and getting involved in its work when we can. Talking about cash and donations gets everyone excited. But being an effective philanthropist—realising an impact on the ground—is surely what really matters in the end.