The first of a series of events for The Philanthropy Programme, produced by Philanthropy Impact (the new organization combining EAPG, Philanthropy UK and the Philanthropy Advisors Forum) and the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) and held in London, looked at the business of philanthropy advice. Is there a business case for giving philanthropy advice? And who exactly is a philanthropy adviser, given that there are so many professions that can potentially offer advice to high net worth individuals.
The diversity of professions this could apply to was illustrated by the range of backgrounds of attendees at the event. This was backed up by New Philanthropy Capital’s Plum Lomax when she broke down who attends their training on giving philanthropy advice — tax advisers, accountants, lawyers, private bankers. Moderator Clive Cutbill of Withers LLP stated his view that there cannot be one definition of a philanthropy adviser, as all these have slightly different, yet overlapping, roles.
Sue Daniels of Philanthropy Impact and Cath Tillotson of Scorpio Partnership presented the results of their 2012 survey. The results also showed that there is an increasing awareness that philanthropy advice is composed of many specialist areas. Respondents mentioned outsourcing or working with third parties on subjects such as, among others: social impact investment advice; providing evaluation, monitoring and impact assessment services; or finding projects or organizations for philanthropists to support. This serves to highlight that while one professional offering advice to a philanthropist may be an expert on the tax implications of donations, or the legal aspects of legacy giving, they may not be best placed to offer recommendations for specific projects — and indeed it will likely not be their place to do so.
It was felt that it would be helpful if there was more acceptance that advice on philanthropic activities is valuable and that it is therefore worth paying for this service. Lomax advocated more transparency about charging for advice. However others felt that this may depend much more on the relationship with each client — some may work with individuals on more of a transactional basis, while others develop a deeper understanding over time.
David Rowe of UBS described the UBS Philanthropy Compass, an 11-step programme that provides structure and framework to guide those considering philanthropy and values-based investing towards the best option for them. He described this as a journey and said that for philanthropists to be effective, they find it best for them to work through the Compass programme step by step so that they have fully considered all the key questions that could affect their philanthropic activities before making decisions. An ongoing process such as this allows for a deeper relationship to develop between the philanthropist and the one offering them advice.
Some questioned whether advisers should steer clients away from ideas that may not be the best course of action. After all, large amounts of capital can actually do damage if used in the wrong way. Countless examples can be found where the NGO community has condemned how misguided but well-meaning individuals have come up with an aid initiative that does more harm than good – such as donating clothes or other items to a ‘developing’ nation without thought for how this will affect the local economy or whether these things are even needed in the first place. Again, panellists stressed the importance of relationships with clients that are rooted in an understanding of their values and motivations. For example, a philanthropist may wish to set up their own charity because they wish to have an impact on a particular cause, but their capital could have more of an effect if they invest in existing programmes. As was pointed out, there is no shortage of charities out there, and the advantage of the UK is that the charity sector already has regulatory structures in place. Rather than telling clients what they can’t do, advisers can demonstrate how philanthropists can achieve their vision in ways that could be more effective.
It was generally acknowledged that philanthropy programmes are not high on the agenda of large financial organizations, which makes it difficult to even begin speaking about defining or regulating this. As was pointed out, it took seven years to get a definition of investment advice – how much longer will it take for a definition of philanthropy advice? It is a sector which is still learning and developing.
The conclusion seems to be that while many can offer advice to philanthropists, the specifics that people advise on appear to be more tangible than a definition of what a philanthropy adviser actually is.
Jenny Conrad is Communication & Circulation Officer at Alliance magazine.