Trying to change the world through philanthropy without data on what we do is like starting a journey without compass or map. This was the recognition that led to the collaboration between Pears Foundation and the Centre for Charitable Giving and Philanthropy (CGAP) on Family Foundation Giving Trends, which presents annual data on major family foundation giving in the UK, US and Europe. Now into its fifth edition, it has clear objectives: to provide a reliable, accessible and transparent benchmark of family foundation giving and to arouse the interest of wealthy families in philanthropic activities by demonstrating what many are already doing.
So what have the data revealed? That the largest 100 family foundations in the UK are responsible for between 7 and 10 per cent of all charitable giving; that giving through family foundations has been relatively robust through recent economic turbulence compared to individual and corporate giving. Over time, the data will provide an indicator of the response of philanthropy to a prolonged downturn.
These findings point to one major outcome of the project: it has helped establish family foundations as a distinct field of philanthropy in Europe, as it is in the US. More wealth managers and family offices are including family foundation philanthropy in their client advice, with examples including recent UBS initiatives and a seminar by the Institute for Family Business in the UK. The research has provided a platform to bring philanthropists such as Tom Hunter, Trevor Pears and the late Nigel Doughty together in discussion, as happened at its 2011 launch at Cass Business School. This has fostered donor networking and experience sharing while also highlighting the value of mutual learning among family donors, and a potential role for philanthropy advisers in creating appropriate networking opportunities. As one donor said: ‘it was as if I had set sail without a rudder.’
All of this depended on the project’s pioneering work in identifying family foundations and capturing data from disparate and fragmented sources. Learning from international comparison was limited because few European countries have the information available in the UK through the annual reports and accounts submitted to the Charity Commission. An important outcome, therefore, was highlighting the gaps in our knowledge. More academic research on foundations will become even more important as we move beyond individual foundation stories to a more systematic appreciation of the nature and impact of their work.