How Giving Makes You More Attractive
Head of Philanthropy Advisory EMEA, J.P. Morgan Private Bank
I am a philanthropy coach. I work in a team that helps philanthropists and potential philanthropists think through how they can find a place in the world where their wealth might make a positive difference.
We hold their hands as these philanthropists develop in their charitable journey, helping them think through their problems and cheering their successes.
We also watch them as they grow into amazing human beings. Without exception, the most engaged philanthropists are interesting conversationalists; they see unlikely connections between issue areas, they read widely, they become friends with surprising and interesting people. They are the kind of people you want to spend hours listening to. They are fun, they smile a lot, and they achieve important things.
The role of the philanthropy advisor is to give potential and established philanthropists the space and the tools to understand what makes them angry about the world as it is now, and to come to an understanding of how an individual, with limited capital, networks and expertise, might be able to do something real and positive about a problem that needs fixing.
I have witnessed some of the near miracles that well-targeted and patient gifts of money, time and expertise can catalyse, and on a good day, I hope that I can help more people get started in giving, keep going and ultimately achieve real good.
The interesting thing about giving is that when what you give starts to make a difference in the world, the effect that this has on you as an individual is far greater than you might expect. In my 20 years in and around the philanthropy space, I’ve seen it over and over again.
Philanthropy often starts off catering to one deep, human need in the giver and ends up fulfilling another - and it is philanthropy’s ability to jump from one “basic needs bucket” to another that makes it so addictive, and so important.
Back to basics first: the first philanthropist was a Titan. Literally. A Greek deity called Prometheus. This marvellous Titan scaled the heights of Mount Olympia and returned with a burning torch, which he presented to humanity. His twin gifts, of fire and of optimism - the belief that we can shape our own destiny - effectively completed the creation of mankind as a civilised being and they flowed from his “philanthropos”; his love of humanity.
Some of the people who ask us for help with their giving, start clearly with a Promethean motivation of love. Sometimes, it’s a love of the community where they grew up, or the community that welcomed their family in when they needed shelter; sometimes their giving starts very directly as a way of doing something positive with their deep love for someone they lost or of externalising overwhelming gratitude to a person who saved them, or to God who spared them. Often, philanthropists talk about love for their children, and how this love is mingled with concern that their children don’t get spoiled by wealth. …. You could bundle all of this Promethean-type giving together and call it something like “giving from the heart”. It’s a great place to start and, for all philanthropists, holding on to the deep impulse to help is critical. It keeps us honest, and humble.
More often, the reasons people give me for starting out as philanthropists are about tribe and community, but in a less direct sense : they’ve reached a certain status in society and it’s expected of them that they should give; their friends ask them to support their causes and they need to have more of a thought-through strategy to when to say “yes” or “no”; they run a company and it is expected that they take their corporate responsibilities seriously in the towns/countries where they have business interests ; or they have retired from business and need to construct a new community around them where they will be valued and can make a contribution.
All of this is fine and good too. What you could call “community-driven giving” fulfils our basic need to understand our place in society, to create new relationships, to honour existing ones and to build the broad network of obligations and counter-obligations that keep our society oiled and running smoothly.
Where philanthropy gets really exciting is when philanthropists move beyond writing cheques based on emotions and community obligations and start to use their giving to push themselves and others mentally and emotionally. They use their giving as a way to learn, to experiment and to stretch their understanding of the world. They move into a new paradigm: you could call it “growth giving”. It’s very powerful and it’s addictive.
These philanthropists understand just how difficult their work is, they grapple with the complex causes of poverty and environmental degradation, they understand how education and population control connect, they see the links between supporting gritty resilience in children and preventing crime in adulthood, they understand that not all things that are “good” are equally effective, that improving education on a national scale is very, very difficult, and that things are rarely as black and white as marketing literature would have you believe.
They innovate, because they have to in order to get to the results they want to achieve. They take risks, they use ideas from other sectors. They listen carefully, and with humility, to their “customers” rather than dispensing money blindly without regard to those who will benefit. They try to use their money to catalyse changes in government spending in order to achieve scale.
These people find that their philanthropy gets pretty tough sometimes; they battle with bureaucracies, with the mistrust of those they hope to help, with the sheer lack of hours in the day to deal with the stuff they need to get done. However, they keep going - partly because they can see the importance of the light that might be at the end of their particular tunnel, but partly also because there is more to learn and the experience of learning is fun.
These people are always interested in meeting other philanthropists and social entrepreneurs, they are happy to talk about their mistakes as well as their successes and they see the interconnectedness of the difficult problems that they and others are working on.
They are open to ideas and partnerships. They are generous in sharing their experiences with less experienced givers.
They see the potential and the dignity of individuals, rather than being overwhelmed and scared by the “issues” those individuals represent. They set themselves big, courageous goals and adjust course when obstacles appear.
They become the kind of people you want to spend hours listening to. They are fun, they smile a lot, they achieve important things.