Effective giving for all?

Michael Liffman

For those of us who seek to take grantmaking from charity to social investment, there has been some good news recently. Particularly heartening was the splendid and comprehensive supplement to the recent edition of The Economist.[1] Even more important than the quality of its analysis was the fact that the issues about which we have so long been concerned have now been brought to centre stage by so influential a journal.

Likewise, it has been good to read, in the last two issues of Alliance, of two programmes which offer university-based courses on grantmaking – at Grand Valley State University in the US and at Cass Business School in London. In both cases, the writers had faced similar challenges to those I faced when setting up the Asia-Pacific Centre for Philanthropy and Social Investment at Swinburne University in Melbourne five years ago, and both have confronted the same issues as their programmes unfolded. In particular, I feel I have grappled with similar issues to Joel Orosz (Grand Valley), and come to similar conclusions.

Having been CEO of Australia’s leading family foundation, the Myer Foundation, I was aware that the idea of grantmaking education was new to Australia. I imagined this was because of the smallness of Australia’s organized philanthropic sector, but I was surprised to discover subsequently that opportunities for formal study in grantmaking are almost as rare elsewhere – perhaps because, as Orosz suggests, there is some basic ambivalence about intruding upon the virtuous act of giving.

The demand

Given the smallness of the professional grantmaking sector (those I call ‘philanthrocrats’) here, I felt that a continuing graduate programme was unlikely to be viable. However, there seemed to be a far larger potential social investment constituency. This led me to approach the target market for the Centre rather differently from the way Joel Orosz and Peter Grant (Cass) have.

There are, it is increasingly recognized, a range of forces driving the new philanthropy – changed patterns of wealth generation and transfer; corporate social responsibility; altered roles and capacities of the state; and overwhelming social challenges – and professional grantmakers are only one of the players. With this in mind, the Centre has sought its students from three other sources, just as important, in numbers and enthusiasm, as the philanthrocrats.

First, there are individual donors. Some of these are second generation members of philanthropic families, others are new entrants, be they inheritors, retirees, or mid-life review success stories wishing to find new meaning to their success. Not all seek a formal qualification (and it is therefore important that our subjects can also be taken as non-credit-bearing workshops), but all bring energy, life experience and great commitment. Included here is the new breed of venture philanthropists of whom so much is currently expected.

A second group are those working in businesses who either have been told to develop a corporate community partnership programme for the business or wish to introduce the idea into an ill-prepared corporate culture.

Third, there are client advisers in financial institutions who recognize that increasingly their clients are looking for advice about social investments as well as commercial ones.

Professional grantmakers – the ‘philanthocrats’ – comprise the fourth cohort, and their experience of translating generosity into decisions adds essential elements of reality and experience to the mix.

It is here that the difference between our programme and those at Cass and Grand Valley seems to lie. Our programme seeks to be equally useful to professionals and non-professionals (or, more baldly, to those who are giving away their own money and those who are giving away that of others).

A course for all

The obvious question this raises is whether there is sufficient commonality between the needs of professional grantmakers and those of individual donors to be able to satisfy both in one course. Our experience so far suggests that it is possible.

We offer a number of core subjects drawn from the basic menu of grantmaking issues which are relevant to both individual donors and professionals. These include an Introduction to Philanthropy and Social Investment; practical issues in grantmaking (including taxation matters); research; and ethical and policy issues in philanthropy. However, different backgrounds and interests are recognized through the offer of two subjects from which most students select only one: Private and Family Grantmaking, and Corporate Social Investment.

As a recent innovation in a field that is yet to be seen as a distinct profession or intellectual discipline, the qualification is too new to have become established as an accreditation, or to be required by employers. Rather, students see themselves as the vanguard of an emerging field, and bring great personal enthusiasm, as well as professional ambition, to their participation. (Our first intake has recently created an alumni group which is setting up its own fund, from which it will practise what it has preached!)

The amount of grantmaking funds they have available doesn’t appear to affect students’ attitude to the course. Those whose philanthropic investments are modest take them just as seriously as those with more to give – especially when it is their own money. Purpose and engagement are the prime motivators, and it is perhaps not surprising that those with less to give feel they must guard those investments more carefully.

An even wider constituency

And there is an even larger constituency for our programmes as there seems to be a dearth of serious teaching about social investment. The same forces of wealth generation, corporate citizenship, changing roles of the state and social challenges are at work in our Asian neighbourhood. Judging by a recent workshop we conducted in Kuala Lumpur, their grantmaking and philanthropic communities will be receptive to our ideas. Of course, we need to ensure that local culture and content is taken into account, and that our offerings are seen as a helpful intellectual framework not a prescriptive formula. This is particularly so in the case of personal and family philanthropy, although even here the impact of globalization and wealth generation appears to increase the need for skills development in social investment.

Grantmaking as investment

I share entirely Joel Orosz’s and Peter Grant’s view that grants and gifts should be seen as investments, and be made with similar clarity and rigour. As with the grantmaking programme at the Cass Business School, our Centre is now housed in the University’s Business School, appropriately so for several reasons. Many of those likely to study social investment do so through their involvement in business. Much of the discipline we recommend to students (strategy development, performance indicators and the like) draws on the basic canons of business education. Finally, we believe that the social investment imperative ought to be presented to all business students, even if their career may not involve them in grantmaking.

To those who still question the potential demand for courses which advocate a critical approach to gift-giving, I would recount the tale of the two shoe salesmen who were sent to a tropical island where everyone went barefoot. One came back defeated: ‘There’s no market for shoes on this island. Nobody wears them.’ The other came back successful: ‘This island is a shoe seller’s paradise. Everybody needs shoes!’

We need not apologize for suggesting that those who would make the world a better place through their own generosity should scrutinize, and be helped to improve, their effectiveness. God knows the challenge they have set themselves is hard enough!

1 ‘The Business of Giving: a Survey of Wealth and Philanthropy’, The Economist, 25 February.

Dr Michael Liffman is Director of the Asia-Pacific Centre for Philanthropy and Social Investment, Swinburne University, Melbourne. Email mliffman@swin.edu.au

For more information
Visit http://www.swinburnephilanthropy.net and click on ‘Teaching’

The qualifications obtainable

Our programme is based around a four-subject Graduate Certificate, which can be extended, through a further four subjects, into a Graduate Diploma. Some may not be looking for formal qualifications, or even formal study, so subjects may be taken as individual units. Indeed, as many students appear to prefer the single-subject option, or even the non-accredited workshop, as wish to complete formal qualifications.

Comment – David Bonbright
Professional education in grantmaking may always be something of a sensitive subject. Michael Liffman’s article refreshed my memory of this – when I first began to offer workshops in grantmaking in South Africa in 1992 I was satirized as a kind of modern day snake oil salesman in one of the national newspapers!

But the main thing that occurred to me – besides admiration for what Liffman is doing – was the hope that he and his colleagues are using the programme to enable grantmakers to learn what it means to be a beneficiary. What a fabulous learning experience it would be for the programme participants to be involved from the outset in setting the indicators of success, and then subsequently evaluating it against those indicators. The more ‘learning about learning’ that goes on in the programme, the more likely that the students will become thoughtful practitioners who enable their grantees to learn effectively with and from the ultimate beneficiaries of their work.


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