Experiencing the Grant Givers Programme

By Amel Hamilton

The Grant Givers’ Programme is intentionally designed for those working within the philanthropic sector, with the aim of creating space away from their everyday work to think about the best ways in which philanthropy can be used to advance social justice. Over the past four cohorts, I have had the fortunate opportunity to curate and facilitate the Grant Givers’ Programme, providing me with a wealth of knowledge and learning. In order to create such a space, the Grant Givers’ Programme consists of a range of topics that are frequently reviewed such as ‘Exploring Your Proximity to Power’, ‘Understanding Systems Change’ and ‘Reparative Climate Justice’ amongst many more, by a number of excellent speakers. The programme’s participants are a mixture of seniority levels and due to our partnership with 2027, there are several participants that are new to the sector.  We have found that this offers a strong learning environment for everyone involved to share ideas and methods surrounding grantmaking supportively and as such, the programme has had over  150 participants.

Alongside the seven-speaker sessions, the Grant Givers’ programme also consists of two ‘Review and Reflect’ sessions and a workshop providing an insight into the various communities that we serve. The ‘Review and Reflect’ sessions allow us to revisit any moments of tension or difficulty throughout the speaker sessions which I have found helps to foster a space that is inquisitive, honest and judgement-free, with a focus on learning from one another as well as during speaker sessions. It’s worth noting that the Grant Givers’ Programme is meant to stretch the thinking of our participants and the space is there for them to share their views, both in agreement and opposition. It has been extremely heartwarming to see cohort members keep in touch with one another and continue to support each others learning in a variety of ways, including meeting regularly as a cohort. Every cohort is highly unique and whilst the planning is meticulous, individual cohorts have their own idiosyncrasies, which is wondrous to see unfold.

The Grant Givers’ Programme is dynamic and responsive to the needs of the sector and its participants. Of course, the pandemic moved the programme from in-person to online, however serendipitously, this has allowed for the programme to boast a range of international speakers and has also widened the geographical scope for its participants nationally. The feedback that we receive from participants is also invaluable and has guided us to continue to curate new iterations of the programme. Our most recent changes include newly streamlined communications on Slack, synthesised briefings and slightly shorter sessions to allow for easier scheduling amid the workday.

We aim for the Grant Givers’ Programme to bring topical discussions to those working within the sector in an authentic, open and warm way. Honing in on making the space as conducive to this as possible from the beginning of my involvement by listening and having frank conversations with participants has been a pleasure. I encourage anyone who is interested in the Grant Givers’ Programme to get in touch. For those interested in attending the next cohort beginning in April 2023, please contact Dean.

Photo by Alexis Fauvet - Unsplash

Black History Month 2022: To BHM or not to BHM?

By Maxine Thomas-Asante

As an organisation that actively pursues race equality, it is always a difficult question to decide whether or not to actively celebrate Black History Month. On the one hand it is a fantastic opportunity to champion the fantastic work of Black community organisations. It is a time Black experiences in Britain are truly visible. On the other hand, we contribute to the pattern of only championing Black communities during one month of the year, which is detrimental in the longer term.

What are the origins of Black History Month in Britain?

It is hard to argue that the origins of Black History Month were anything but admirable. Black History Month was first celebrated in Britain in 1987. Akyaaba Addai Sebo was a Special Projects Officer at the Greater London Council and the founder of British Black History Month. The idea was to celebrate the contributions of African descendants and Afro-Caribbean communities to Britain’s tapestry. Sebo observed the lack of pride that many Black children had in being associated with Africa and sought to reshape the self-perception of the Black British community. Black History Month in Britain began in London but quickly spread across the country.

Britain took inspiration from the introduction of a Black History Month in the US, which was launched in 1976. The American Black History Month was the inspiration of Carter G Woodson, a Harvard graduate, who promoted Negro History Week in 1926. Woodson was also the author of the acclaimed Mis-education of the Negro, which critiqued the impact of the education system on Black communities. The event was expanded in 1970 and is now celebrated by American presidents annually in February.

Black History Month is largely celebrated by as a public demonstration of inclusion by public institutions, private corporations and – most importantly – community groups. Conventionally in Britain, this takes the form of events, conversations, visual representations, and a stronger digital presence. The challenge is that the work cannot and does not stop here.

More than a month

It is really important that we realise Black communities, initiatives and organisations exist year-round. Not only do they exist, but they persevere against the odds and often without the necessary investment. Extensive evidence demonstrates that in Britain, Black communities are systemically economically disempowered. In business, Black entrepreneurs receive approximately 0.24% of capital. In academia, Black researchers struggle to access funding and represent less than 1% of all professors. In philanthropy, 87% of micro and small voluntary sector organisations led by racialised people were are serious risk of closing within 3 months of Covid-19 lockdowns. If we are serious about race equity, it is going to take a consistent and concerted effort to make true change.

Also, while Black History Month promotes diversity by preserving space for Black people in Britain to be acknowledged, it does little to truly shift power towards Black communities. There is a significant need for Black Britons to be given the resources for transformational change, to be protected from hyper-surveillance, over-criminalisation, and consistent discrimination. One month of visibility cannot reverse 11 months of systemic violence.

That being said, there are many countries – and developed economies – that do not have the privilege of celebrating Black History Month. Black communities in countries such as Germany continue to lobby for a national Black History Month, where AfroGermans can be celebrated and can gather freely. Despite the fantastic work of Black community groups in Berlin, the lack of political interest has prevented this from developing into a national happening. In France, it is illegal to collect data on the ethnic identity of the population under French ideals of equality and fraternity. In practice this makes it incredibly difficult to mobilise and advocate for Black communities without the necessary data to convincingly demonstrate structural discrimination. Thus, it is important that as a Black British Community we use Black History Month as an opportunity to push for the transformative change that we know is necessary.

How else can we take action towards racial justice?

So, if we agree that Black History in Britain deserves more than a month, it is time to ask ourselves in addition to celebrating Black History Month, what else can we do?

As funders our top 5 key pieces of advice from our Racial Justice and Social Transformation: How Funders Can Act research is:

  • Educate yourself on the history of philanthropy in Britain and the power dynamics involved in common practices.
  • Make redistributing power a priority. It is not just about what we do but how we do it.
  • Embed accountability practices into your commitments to advance racial justice so that outputs are tangible.
  • Create space to accept failure and try new things. This means reimagining how we consider risk.
  • Practice your racial justice ideology within your organisation. Transformation also relates to the diversity in your staff teams and how those people experience the workplace.

Also, to develop your learning further, some great BHM Events you can attend include:

Happy Black History Month!








Exhale Retreat

Exhale Retreat: A Deep Breath for the Community

By Maxine Thomas-Asante

On 25th June 2022, a group of Black women, differing by age, heritage, experiences and geography released a deep breath together. We shared the type of breath that feels like a good stretch, a type of physical, mental and spiritual catharsis. Stepping into the event I was not sure what to expect, but it was not this.

Exhale Retreat was first sent to me by my Nana. She had seen a Metro article about the event through Whatsapp and she thought it was the kind of thing that I might like. Then – entirely separately – my Mum sent it to me, she had come across the advert for applications and thought I might need a break like this. Thirdly, a former colleague, Eli, passed it on to me thinking it might be of interest. Finally, my CEO, Derek, sent it to me. By the fourth nudge, I looked up to the sky and lightly whispered “I’ve heard you” before submitting my application. Whether I had noticed consciously or not, this event was responding to a need to be around people with a similar experience and purpose; a need to safely bring my entire self into a space of sisterhood. This need was not mine alone, demonstrating the significance and necessity of spaces and events such as this.

Tracey Agyeman, the organiser of the retreat, wanted to foster a space where Black women could come together, share, lean on each other and ultimately Exhale. Tracey has been working in the civil society sector for around 5 years and contributed to Funders for Race Equality Alliance‘s Racial Justice Audit. The inaugural event in 2021, was partly shaped by Covid, and the increased the pressure faced by Black women navigating the minefields of the third sector. After immense success, Tracey organised the second volume, in June 2022.

The retreat was held at Yard Arthouse, an initiative by the MAIA Group to maintain a physical space where Black artists can gather, ponder, and create. The walls of this new build house are covered in posters asking questions about prison abolition, how we craft our voices and what collaboration looks like for the social revolution. The spirit of the environment itself was one of curiosity, questioning and excitement. Yard preserves the atmosphere of a house. It feels like a home. It felt like my home. I was able to make a cuppa, grab a snack, and load up my plate. In such a warm and inquisitive atmosphere, I cannot imagine a better place to host a gathering of this nature.

So as we stepped into the room, and were invited to put on the kettle, I began talking to some of the incredible women in the room. Without any prompting, we just began to talk openly about how we were feeling in life, what we were carrying and what we would like to put down. When we, as people from marginalised communities, commit our work lives to social justice, we do not have the privilege of stepping out of these lived experiences. As a result, we can end up in intense cycles of discussing, challenging and experiencing systemic oppression in both our personal and professional lives. We conduct emotional labour in our workplaces and homes. With the steep cost of private therapy and long NHS waiting lists many people are left alone in this. Some conversations within the sector have included ideas around clinical supervision for people of colour working in Equality, Diversity and Inclusion or more peer support spaces. In this case, the Exhale Retreat provided just the respite we needed.

Not long after we started this conversation, the event facilitator – Dorett Jones – opened the circle. She explained that the practice of beginning sessions by opening the circle for participation was learned from ancestors of African women, gathering in their own communal practices. The opening of the circle was an opportunity to introduce yourself and share anything that may be useful for the others in the room to know. The group shared the challenges of menopause, being of mixed heritage, growing up in colour-blind environments, and the impact of Black Lives Matter among other themes. What struck me was the transparency that was evident from the off. The learning began from there.

During the day we were able to choose between sessions on yoga, poetry, and mindfulness. We learnt from Ashlee Elizabeth-Lolo, Chai Soul, and Kareen Griffiths. All using their skills and art to practice expression. We broke bread over Jamaican food and laughed heartily, pouring forkfuls of rice and peas into our mouths. We ended the day with an Intergenerational Conversation, where we considered what it means to share and hand over the movement between generations. We asked “what type of elders did we want to be?” and how can elder status be grounded in service to those coming up behind us. We shared how scary it was to take on the baton and acknowledged that we were picking up the work whether we had intended to or not. Shaping my work and professional life around the type of elder I want to be later, was definitely a reflection I gleamed from Exhale Retreat Volume II.

As we concluded the event, my heart swelled. I had learnt so much about the experiences of other Black women who had longer careers in philanthropy and civil society. I had released so much of the pain I had suppressed from the ongoing exposure to stories of trauma that I related to. By the end of the event, I felt almost overwhelmed with thoughts about what is possible and the new futures we can build. Ultimately, this fantastic event was a reminder that we must first remember that our pursuit of a new world can only be successful if it is a collective one. We were reminded that showing up, in our fullness, power and vulnerability builds solidarity and community. We were finally given the safe opportunity to Exhale.

Black Philanthropy Month: Making the Change

By Maxine Thomas-Asante

In 2010, the Pan-African Women’s Network launched Black Philanthropy Month. The idea behind the event was to raise awareness of the underrepresentation of Black communities as recipients of philanthropic funding and to create a more equitable funding environment . Over time, this celebration spread across the United States and has been recognised by state legislatures and social organisations. This year, the theme for Black Philanthropy Month is ‘The Fierce Urgency of Now’.

While Black Philanthropy Month is ultimately an American initiative, the principles that make this necessary are also evident in British and global philanthropy. Across the board, Black communities receive less funding. Here, the word “Black” is taken to mean people of African descent from around the world. Whether we are considering bank loans for enterprise, academic research funding or philanthropic grants, Black communities are consistently the last to receive. The inequity in access to funding for Black communities is stark. In business, Black entrepreneurs receive just 0.24% of venture capital in the UK (1). Considering micro- and small- organisations, 87% of small initiatives led by racial minority individuals did not have sufficient capital to exist beyond 3 months (2). Regarding household income, Black African households receive 10p and Black Caribbean households receive 20p for every £1 of income brought in by white British households (3).

In addition to there being a racial disparity, there is also an intersectional geographical disparity. Looking particularly, at philanthropic funding, 66% of all funding is directed towards London, which homes 42% of all BAME communities in Britain. Other areas of Britain, such as the South East and West Midlands – which each host 10% of racialised communities in Britain – are significantly underfunded, receiving only 1-5% of funding (4). The cumulative effect of all of these statistics is that whether we are considering entrepreneurship, charity, or regular life Black and Brown communities are financially disadvantaged.

Economic disadvantage is important because in society our opportunities and life outcomes are tightly tied up with our access to resources. In other words, a lack of access to capital has knock-on effects. Our access to quality education, healthcare and the core essentials for life are often shaped by our access to capital. If we want to truly create a world where everyone has the opportunity to thrive, it starts with the equitable distribution of resources.

In response to this, Black Philanthropy Month calls for funders to make a deliberate and concerted effort to invest in Black initiatives during the month of August. This helps to build awareness of the innovative work happening and channel resources to underfunded communities. While this is very important, when considering economic liberation, grants are just the beginning.

A great start would be attending some of the fantastic events taking place this Black Philanthropy Month. We have thought of a few below but invite you to seek out more.

This Black Philanthropy Month we have an opportunity to think about how we can make our sector more equitable. We like to encourage wealth holders to consider the impact you would like to have and to be ambitious in the change you can make. Black Philanthropy Month is the perfect opportunity to start. Lastly, we want to remember that we can all be philanthropists. Whether we possess a little or a lot; whether we give money, labour or solidarity, we can all practice the love of humanity that makes our world a warmer, kinder and more liberatory place. It starts with ourselves.

Happy Black Philanthropy Month!


Sources and Further Reading


(1) Sifted – Sifted – Black Entrepreneurs Receive just 0.24% of capital in the UK – https://sifted.eu/articles/black-entrepreneurs-vc-funding/

(2) The Voice – Black Charities Starved of Funding Report –  https://www.voice-online.co.uk/news/uk-news/2022/01/21/black-charities-starved-of-funding-report/

(3) The Runnymede Trust – The Colour of Money Report – https://assets-global.website-files.com/61488f992b58e687f1108c7c/61bcc1c736554228b543c603_The%20Colour%20of%20Money%20Report.pdf

(4) The Funders for Race Equality Alliance – A Quantitative Analysis of the Emergency Funding to the UK and Black and Minority Ethnic Voluntary Sector During Covid-19 – https://www.equallyours.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/QUANTITATIVE-ANALYSIS-BAME-31-03-21-2M.pdf


Covid-19 and racial disparity: A time for urgent action

from Derek Bardowell

Last month, ACF convened an event titled ‘Covid-19 and racial disparity: A time for urgent action’, attended by more than 200 foundation representatives. A recording is available on ACF’s  Diversity, equity, and inclusion resources page.

This blog by panelist, Derek Bardowell, is closely based on his remarks at this event.

The first thought that comes to my mind is a WhatsApp message I received recently from an ex-colleague, who is a woman of colour and a grant-maker. She said that her ‘anger had turned to heartbreak’. My friend was referring to how her employers, a funder, had been behaving during the Covid-19 outbreak concerning race. I could feel her point.

On 19 March, Future Foundations UK (FFUK) released its first statement expressing, among other things, how foundations could improve their funding by grant-making through an equity lens. Initially, we were going to say, in the statement, that it felt as if the funding sector’s behaviour was akin to a doctor turning black people away from a hospital door. We omitted the line, and rightfully so because it was insensitive. But it feels relevant now.
Three months on and considering the lack of action by funders, it genuinely feels as if philanthropy has turned its back on black people. The pain for people of colour right now is particularly high, yet our expectations of funders are low, and it shouldn’t be that way.

I think the following statements are obvious, but they keep popping into my mind as I think about philanthropy in the UK:

  1. We, as people of colour, experience British society entirely differently to the way most of the people who govern and run foundations experience life in Britain. They don’t understand us or our experience. And this disconnect fundamentally undermines foundations’ abilities to distribute funding equitably and competently.
  2. We are still in a situation where black people generally have to ask white people for money. Trust and honesty will always be problematic because of this dynamic. On the whole, funders’ inability to boldly invest has shown that they do not trust us. If they did, there would be more action and less fragility.
  3. Racism only ever springs to light when focussed on our pain, and never on our abundance or our innovation. Civic Square’s Immy Kaur and MAIA’s Amahra Spence appeared on my Just Cause podcast last year. They spoke of ground-breaking work in black and brown communities and how so few funders understood this. Thus, donors ignore our innovation, or we are subject to different ‘rules’, a narrower lens, longer processes, little trust, no risk.
    It shouldn’t take George Floyd’s murder for there to be an interest in or concern about racism or investment in black or brown-led social change. Over the last three years, we’ve had numerous reports about structural racism and the lack of diversity in the charitable sector. We have yet to see significant change or investment, barring the work of a few smaller foundations.
  4. We’re living through unprecedented times, which calls for unprecedented responses. Are we sure that funders have started to do anything fundamentally different or radical to respond to this issue adequately?
  5. FFUK, #CharitySoWhite, Ubele and others have all tried various tactics to try and get the funding sector to move. We’ve sat in on endless consultations. We’ve been polite. We’ve been antagonistic. We’ve provided practical solutions. We’ve supplied endless lists. We’ve provided data. Through it all, we’ve endured painful conversations and little action. Quite frankly, it has probably been one of the most undignified periods I’ve suffered in my professional career.
  6. Evidence, data and learning have been ignored, which makes it a fallacy that the funding sector values these things. The lack of urgency is a conscious act. We’ve gone through Brexit, Grenfell, Windrush, George Floyd, Covid-19 — it has been a relentless onslaught over the last four years, and I’m not even going to go into the historical injustices. It is a conscious act to ignore it, to ignore us. When we look at racial disparities in society, and when race intersects with other issues and other identities, then the inequalities faced by black and brown people are frightening. But apparently not scary enough.

I think back to an incident when I turned down two older white men for funding. One of them responded by saying: “Do you realise that black people were happier when they were in subservient positions?”
I didn’t know who to speak to about this comment within my organisation. I didn’t know whether anyone in power would understand. There wasn’t a safe space. Every day, people of colour in funding are experiencing racism; seeing actions and inactions that are harming communities of colour. Structural racism runs through the lifeblood of Britain, so anti-racism needs to underpin philanthropy’s approach to tackling racial injustice.

In terms of solutions, here are some suggestions:

  1. Reconciliation —  Chris Grant, a trustee at Sport England, talks a lot about the need for a truth and reconciliation commission in sport to support radical change. There has to be an acknowledgement and admission of the systemic failures around funding and structural and historical racism. And I’m not talking about a 10-day consultancy gig. A commission wouldn’t only address the governance and investment legislation required for change but also support the shift towards the anti-racist mindset and leadership needed to deliver this work well.
  2. Reparations — we cannot wait for foundations to work this out before there’s change. So there needs to be a substantial investment, which is long-term, flexible, and varied (not just service delivery, but research, start-ups, infrastructure, capital, tech, etc) to black and brown-led organisations. The wealthy are beneficiaries of an economic system where the exploitation of people of colour and our natural resources lie at the heart of their success. Funding is not about giving but redistributing.
  3. Divestment — stop investing in companies and charities that exacerbate racial inequalities.
  4. Independence — trusts and foundations have the wealth to create an independent endowment or national body, led and governed by black and brown people. Hackney CVS ceo Jake Ferguson, CORE (Coalition of Race Equality) members and others have, in various discussions, mentioned the need for the creation of an independent entity.
  5. Infrastructure — long-term support to regional infrastructure bodies led/governed by people of colour.
  6. Partnerships — funders could easily add money to funding pots that are already distributing funds to black and brown communities such as Resourcing Racial Justice and Kwanda.
  7. Fund the organisations on the lists we send — like Racial Justice Network, Healing Justice London, Black Thrive, Ubele, You Make It!, Project 507, #CharitySoWhite, Rekindle, Centre for Knowledge Equity, Made Up Kitchen, Power the Fight, Glitch, StopWatch, Black Land & Spatial Justice, Granville Community Kitchen, Black Cultural Archives, Amahra Spence, brap, Civic Square, Voice4Change, Solve and Free Black University, etc.
  8. Give up power — because that’s what real change takes; anything less will not be sufficient.

We have just seen Black Lives Matter UK raise over £1m from the public. Often, funders will say, ‘we don’t want to go against public will’. But now, funders’ inactivity is actively ignoring public will. It is ignoring data and evidence. I wonder how much of the £3.3 billion or so invested by the top-300 UK foundations goes to black and brown-led organisations? Would it match the 13% of minoritised racial groups who make up the UK population?

I wonder if any independent foundation has ever invested as much as £1 million to a black or brown-led organisation?

As a final point, I think back to the Civil Rights Movement. Civil Rights theorist Lani Guinier once used the comparison of black men as ‘canaries in the mine’. When bad things happen, they tend to affect black and brown and indigenous communities first. The Civil Rights Movement didn’t just benefit black people. It benefited everyone. Its success liberated everybody, particularly the marginalised. I, like many others, always say that our liberation and our dignity are tied together.

To reinterpret Guinier’s words, if black and brown people are the ‘canaries’, then we need to heed the canary ‘not focus on simply fixing the canary’. And I don’t just mean heeding the canaries in their pain, but to heed the canaries in their abundance.

Derek Bardowell is a writer, philanthropy adviser, and former director of programmes at the Stephen Lawrence Trust and Laureus Sport for Good. As a journalist, he has contributed to Time Out and BBC World Service, in philanthropy he has directed funding portfolios for Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and the National Lottery Community Fund, among others, distributing over £150 million to good causes in 34 countries

Derek is a founding member of Future Foundations UK, a trustee of ACF member Thirty Percy Foundation, and he currently hosts the podcast Just Cause, exploring the intersections of race, culture, and social justice. His first book , No Win Race, was a Sunday Times and Financial Times Book of the Year in 2019.

Twitter: @DerekABard

Why Great Philanthropists Make Great Poker Players (And Vice Versa)

Warren Buffett, center, stacks his chips at a charity poker tournament in Omaha, Neb. (AP Photo/Dave Weaver)


by Jake Hayman

There are no two better ways of getting an insight into someone’s personality than watching them play poker or do philanthropy. Trust me, it’ll save you a fortune in psychometric testing and be much more fun.

What’s more interesting is that you only need to watch someone do one of these activities to know how they will approach the other.

The reasons why people lose money at poker are normally the same reasons as why people fail at philanthropy — fear, failure to walk away from a bad hand and poor bankroll management.

The key traits of successful poker players mimic those of top philanthropists and vice versa. The top actors at each become experts in the fields they care about and never stop improving their game. They have the humility to study every table they sit at and are always looking for information that can give them an edge further down the track.

The leading actors also understand risk. The poker players who make the most money are not the ones who understand odds better than the others or who read people better than the others, they are the ones who manage their bankrolls better than the others. The best poker players would never sit down on any table, anywhere with more than 10% of their total poker bankroll at risk. They limit their exposure by choosing which table to sit at.

Once they sit down, however, they are able to play with complete freedom and without the fear of losing any individual hand or game. As their bankroll grows, higher and higher stakes become available to them without increasing their percentage exposure. For philanthropists this means being prepared to say, “I’m going to make 10 big bets over the next five years, so why not be ambitious,” rather than saying “I’m only giving away $100,000 this year so I need to be very careful with it.”

Finally the best philanthropists are able to show strength. If you really want to change the world then philanthropy, like poker, is a contact sport. Being able to stand up for yourself and make things happen even if you don’t 100% know what everyone else is holding, is something that a form of bravery necessary for both activities.

Here are five of the most commonly cited types of poker player and how they translate to philanthropists.

The Elephant
The elephant is a responsive player. They rarely fold a hand but rarely raise, they just keep calling. In philanthropy this is someone who gives money whenever they are asked, at the level they are asked to give. They don’t like to say “no” but don’t have the agency to make anything happen themselves. Slowly but surely their money disappears without them every having made an independent decision.
The Mouse
At the poker table the mouse is someone who plays incredibly tight, protecting their chips and waiting for the best possible hand. In philanthropy and poker they seek complete information in a world of variables and unknowns. At a poker table when at last they do bet, everyone else immediately folds so they can never get any value. In philanthropy they spend their time supporting what worked last year, rather than thinking about what could work next year.
The Eagle
The eagle gets their edge through patience and hard work. The eagle spends their time intently studying what is going so that they can develop insight. This is the philanthropist who spends time with communities they wish to serve to better understand them and who avidly digests information in order to build a picture against which to map opportunities.
The eagle swoops not because they have the “perfect” hand, but because, unlike the mouse, they are prepared to make use of insight into others as well as their in order to fuel activity.
Most importantly the eagle does not think they are “good” at poker any more than a philanthropist thinks they are “good” at philanthropy, they simply understand that if they work hard, they can perform well.
The Jackal
The jackal is often contrary. They will, from time to time, win big because the rest of the table doesn’t know what to expect from them. In philanthropy they are out backing mad-scientists, off the wall ideas and counter-cultural thinking. The problem with the jackal is that they often just like the buzz of risk and can not walk away from opportunity. They are so caught up in wanting to manipulate something big to happen, that they waste huge amounts unnecessarily along the way.
The Fish
The philanthropist fish is the fundraiser’s dream. If you dangle something shiny for them and they will get completely distracted from the reality of their bad cards or your bad charity and end up giving you all their chips.
A simple shake of your head and a “I’m sure you got me beat” before you bet your aces and the fish will come calling. Not only that but a three-second memory means they’ll do it again and again. Year after year fundraisers will make promises they can’t keep to this type of philanthropist and yet the donations will just keep coming until they realize that they just don’t enjoy this game any more.

The Frustrated Philanthropist

by Jake Hayman

Philanthropy is evolving. More and more business people are becoming active philanthropists and more and more people from business are moving into the non-profit sector. Frustrated by the perceived inefficiencies of the ‘traditional charity’, philanthropists are seeking to drive ‘value’ from their philanthropy.

This approach, however, leads philanthropists to safe decisions, capped outcomes, and ensuing feelings of dissatisfaction. A move to ‘professionalise’ philanthropy has undermined the very role it exists to serve – to innovate.

Today’s philanthropists are increasingly stuck within a false narrative about the charity sector, believing a series of myths that are preventing them from having the impact they could have.
The first of theses myths is that charities without track records should not be trusted. This perception leads to the mistake of seeking charities only with well-known supporters and proven ‘social return on investment’ – we know it works. This is the investment equivalent of investing in aFTSE 500 company: safe, secure, virtually guaranteed results.

This strategy works well if your ambition is to ‘help some people’. You are almost guaranteed to succeed in this. But if you are giving away £50k to £5m a year and looking to make a major impact on national problems, it’s a terrible strategy. The purpose of philanthropy is not to replace, top-up or replicate government expenditure which invests using the same criteria: funding proven programmes at scale. Except whilst an individual or small family foundation might fund £25,000 or even £1,000,000 into a programme, government has billions to spend. The Department for Education’s budget is close to £50bn and yet foundations are springing up that replicate its mission statement and strategy almost word for word.

No, the purpose of philanthropy is instead to do what government is traditionally bad at – translating national services to local communities and innovating. The charity sector can go to government for contracting services at scale but it’s through early-stage, angel-style investment that high net worth individuals can make their biggest difference. £100k to a proven programme might extend its reach by 1%, while £100k to a new idea with no track record, could lead to the development of a new programme that government picks up and eventually spends tens of millions rolling out. The risk increases, but the returns do also and with the amount of social innovation currently taking place, it’s a buyers’ market for early stage ideas withthe potential to have national and international impact.

Myth two is that charities are wasteful, and that waste is defined as dreaded ‘overheads’. A good business might aim for a 25% cost of sale, 75% gross profit, and 25% net profit. Sometimes this 25% net profit will be reinvested in growth and innovation. This is a strong operating model by anyone’s books. Yet the second we look at a charity, we lose all sense of what a robust organisation looks like and instead we seek charities that are operating at 80% cost of sale. It makes no sense. Philanthropists are unwittingly using their resources to stifle innovation and create under-resourced organisations that are incapable of growth. To really solve problems, the charity sector needs much larger amounts of money for testing, researching, partnering, and learning – we need to empower leadership teams, not tie them in to factory-style production. This can go for innovative big charities as well as smaller ones, but is most important for smaller organisations.

The third myth is that running grant application processes for causes you actually know very little about is a worthwhile methodology. Good angel investors base investments on their own expert insight into the market need for the proposed product/service, their faith in the leadership team to keep innovating, and the potential for exit.
Of course you want to see that work has gone into a business plan and programmatic plans, but the idea of making sure people enter into an agreement to stick to that plan – or indeed only making a judgment based on that plan – is not how angels make their money (not effective ones anyway). Yet in the charity world philanthropists are increasingly sponsoring programmes (activity that leaves little flexibility) and rarely backing entrepreneurs.
People are dictating how their money is spent because they don’t have confidence in themselves to make educated input on changes to direction and don’t have faith in the leadership teams they are investing into to either. This is a huge problem and stems from the fact that philanthropists tend to start spending before they start learning – when it comes to business they are savvy, do their research, look at competitors in the marketplace, understand how to judge leadership and yet when it comes to charity, they ask for a grant application, a ‘site visit’ and go to a charity ball. All this tells you is how smooth their fundraiser is and very little about the likelihood that the group of people you are considering supporting has the potential to make a critical difference to the problem that they seek to solve and, indeed, whether your money can significantly increase their odds of success.

We need philanthropists capable of making expert decisions, and the only way to do that is to meet experts, practitioners, read, and listen and – most importantly – spend real time with the communities you wish to serve.

Creating social change through philanthropy is hard. However, philanthropic failure should not be defined as giving to charities that have too high overheads, but rather as making gifts that constrain rather than enable.
The move toward ‘professionalising’ philanthropy and assessing a non-profit organisation with a balance-sheet approach is to misunderstand the role it plays in the ecosystem of change. Philanthropists don’t have the resources to reach market penetration of programmes so fund a solution for a fraction of a percentage of those that need it. So 12 months later when they find out they have had next to no impact on the national problem they care about, and the charity asks them for the same amount again to have another fraction of a percentage penetration against the problem, they become frustrated.

New philanthropists need to take the time to really educate themselves about the communities they care about, the problems they wish to solve and, most importantly, the range of solutions and ideas that they could test to have an impact. If they do this, then they might begin to have the confidence to back an idea that could change the world but currently sits without proof, without funding and therefore, without hope.

The Five Habits Of Effective Philanthropists

by Jake Hayman

Philanthropy is a strange field in that very little is done to examine what “good” looks like. Unlike in business where there are common models for effective practice, philanthropists tend to make it up as they go along – how can you go wrong giving money to charity? Good or bad, you tend to get showered in praise either way. But what does good look like? Those looking to practice good philanthropy need to practice five key habits to stand a chance of success.

Firstly, they become and remain experts on the causes or communities they wish to focus on. Just like a commercial investor benefits from understanding the markets they operate in, philanthropists need to know the communities they wish to serve and stay on top of the changing faces of them. Most philanthropists will pop along to an annual celebration, meet a charity CEO and hear a “beneficiary” talk at a gala, but none of these engender actual expertise. Great philanthropists are the ones who spend real time in the communities they wish to serve, time understanding the external pressures and changing environments that they are operating in, reading books, policy papers and pieces of historical philanthropic and governmental endeavours that will bring colour to their insight. The best philanthropists become true geeks on their chosen subject areas.

Secondly, they use philanthropy as a tool for discovery and dissemination. Great philanthropy is not about the ever-lasting provision of services that government ignores – it is about learning, innovating, research, testing and normalizing new and better ways of doing things. Philanthropists who are prepared to sacrifice the delusions of simplicity sold to them by fundraisers and exchange them for a dose of complex reality are those that will make the biggest difference in the world. At the end of the year some philanthropists will tell you how much money they gave, others will tell you how many kids they “impacted” but it’s the smart ones who can tell you what knowledge they have contributed to the field.

Thirdly, they share agenda-setting power with the communities they wish to serve. Most philanthropists make decisions from afar about communities that they know little about. In order to benefit from the insight and buy-in that will give new models and approaches a chance of success, power needs to be shared. The movement towards participatory grant-making is leading the way on this front.

Fourthly, they play to philanthropy’s strengths. How is philanthropic capital different from government budgets? Well, it is unaccountable, it is long term and it is independent. Given this, any philanthropist who uses their resource to pay for temporary sub-scale services against permanent problems, are acting without strategy. Those that act boldly, think long term and are prepared to do things that are untested, unpopular and brave are the ones who make a real difference.

Finally, they understand the economics of grant-making. This final part is so often overlooked. People find a cause they like, a number of charities that tick their boxes, and they gift almost random sums of money to them, depending on what a fundraiser asks them for. Philanthropists need to understand the power of money to different organizations and ideas at different stages. There are times when restricted funding is a more powerful tool than unrestricted and vice-versa. There are times when you find a fantastic charity doing great work who ask you for money but do not need it. Philanthropists should understand how their specific pool of capital can interact with a wider eco-system of capital to make the most change possible. The best philanthropists do not gift as “reward” but instead use money strategically to generate the learning they want to achieve. They are versatile to an organization or idea’s current state and future potential and react with a range of tools from major multi-year commitments to one off $10,000 gifts that they know could propel an idea forward.