Five insights from advising philanthropists to do good


Nina Hoas and Silvia Bastante de Unverhau


For the last twenty years, we have been working on philanthropy from different angles in the international development and private sectors. We have also been advising wealthy individuals and families all around the world on how to realize their philanthropic aspirations. We have welcomed seeing that many philanthropists are increasingly looking for new ways to change whole systems and align their businesses and investments with their philanthropic aspirations.

Author Silvia Bastante in Liberia

In order to share our experience and desire to support more and better philanthropy in the world, we recently published the LGT Guide to Strategic Philanthropy, co-authored with Philanthropy Insight (Pi). This Guide aims to support philanthropists at any stage of their philanthropic journey and covers a strategic framework for philanthropy and more advanced topics such as supporting systems change, framing, scaling, leverage, philanthropic leadership and reckoning with one’s own power and privilege. The Guide features the voices of over 30 influential and diverse philanthropists who share, in the first person, their experiences and learnings.

The key insights we have gathered over our years advising wealthy individuals, and in preparing this Guide, include:

  • Philanthropy has so much more potential. We welcome the increased interest in philanthropy but fear the actual amounts flowing to philanthropy have not increased commensurately with the increased wealth creation we have witnessed, even during the Covid-19 pandemic. Furthermore, existing philanthropy is often reactive and not aligned with the growing urgency and scale of the environmental threats and social polarization around the world. It is addressing symptoms rather than treating the root causes. Philanthropy can do so much more, and many philanthropists want to do more. We support and encourage philanthropists to be bold with their giving and to become philanthropic leaders using their voices to inspire others.
  • There are many ways to do good – listening and being open to learning are key. Philanthropists often choose the areas they want to support for good and personal reasons. There is no right or wrong way to make these choices. Yet once a philanthropist has chosen an area, we strongly advise to start by listening to those that have lived experience of the issues. There is not just one solution but a multitude of different approaches, which may change and evolve over time. Seeking to learn from and build on the work of others, and bringing in experts where necessary is key. Thereafter, we can advise on the approaches to maximize impact, based on our experience and following evidence of what actually works – or suggest approaches to fund listening, evidence and learning in ways that strengthen the ‘philanthropy ecosystem.’
  • A holistic approach is crucial – Market-based solutions, gender-lens and climate-lens investing, and impact investing are the language of today’s philanthropists, who embrace a holistic approach by aligning their giving closely with their businesses and investments. Not everyone, especially in the established philanthropic sector practices this approach yet, but we believe the trend is growing. And for us, how you make your wealth is almost as important as how you chose to invest it and give it away. As holistic philanthropy advisors, we have expertise in various ways of utilizing wealth for positive impact, above and beyond giving.
  • Author Nina Hoas in Iceland

    With privilege and power comes responsibility. The philanthropic sector in many parts of the world has had to reckon with the systematic racial and gender discrimination, and the overall inequality and injustice in our societies. Many philanthropists we have advised, do not believe it is enough to give to address a specific issue but to consider whether they have, inadvertently or structurally, contributed to the problem through their own behaviours, privileges, or wealth generation. We advise philanthropists to be aware of the power dynamics at play and how to actively counter them in their giving.
  • Collaboration and systems change are the way to go. Collaboration can lead to a larger and more sustainable impact on some of the world’s most difficult problems. But deep and meaningful collaboration is difficult to create and manage overtime, and most philanthropy is still very dispersed at the level of individual projects. Similarly, not enough philanthropy focuses on addressing root causes in a systems-changing way. We advise philanthropists to dedicate at least a part of their philanthropic portfolios to collaborative and systems-changing approaches. Collaboration also helps mutual learning and can help philanthropists who are starting out to leapfrog their philanthropic journey. And it can also help drive so much more efficient in the system.

Over the next few years, we will continue to advise philanthropists who want to contribute to making our world more just, fair and sustainable. By sharing our insights, we hope to encourage open discussions, some of which are already taking place in the philanthropic sector. We strongly believe that philanthropy can be a force for good in our world.

Nina Hoas is Head of Philanthropy Advisory at LGT. Silvia Bastante de Unverhau is a Senior Advisor to LGT Philanthropy Advisory and an independent philanthropy expert.

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