Community Philanthropy: A changing space

Patrick Shine

Over the last two years I have enjoyed working with Community Foundations; in a personal capacity with Community Foundation for Surrey (where I live) and with the Community Foundation Network (CFN), which supports the 55 individual foundations across the UK.

Community Foundations do many things, but I particularly like what they do for two reasons. First, they embody localism, linking local philanthropy to local causes; and secondly they are creative and dynamic in the way they promote philanthropy. Matthew Bowcock, their chair, is very clear that foundations primarily serve the philanthropists, rather than the causes those donors choose to support.

Recently we completed a project for CFN which has led to a new website, which seeks to discuss the current opportunities, promote new ideas and debate responses to the challenges the sector faces. We’ve enjoyed the work, which is based on a series of “commissions of enquiry” held at their national conference.

It was a wide-ranging and fascinating exercise, but for me three particular themes stood out.

The value of local assets: philanthropy works really well when it is “close to home”. This allows the donors and recipients to work together to enable Asset Based Community Development.  ABCD seeks to shift the paradigm from a “needs based” mentality which keeps beneficiaries stuck in a low aspiration – but this shift is mirrored by in the attitudes of donors who can become part of the solution rather than simply providing palliative support.   

The need to “socialise” giving: because some donors have a high media profile, many assume that philanthropy is some sort of selfish act to boost profile or reputation. In fact the opposite is true, and the majority of giving is done privately and very quietly. This has a perverse effect, as people who are interested in giving don’t have many role models. So a key finding is that we need to talk about it more, and make it normal rather than abnormal to practice philanthropy.

The increasing role of wealth managers: Although there are a few specialist firms that have always provided philanthropy advice to their clients, we learned that this is becoming increasingly mainstreamed within the wealth management sector. For purely commercial reasons, the industry has realised that if clients have to go elsewhere for philanthropy advice, they are losing business.

Taken together, these themes show how, over time, we can expect to see different behaviours and pathways come into being. This complements the approach taken by NESTA’s “innovation in giving” programme. If successful, we should see not only a wider base of philanthropy, but also a more informed and vibrant local market between donors and recipients - which will benefit everyone.

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