Philanthropy – How to Make It Count

How Much is Considered Generous When Giving to Charity? The Oxford Dictionary defines philanthropy as “the desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed especially by the generous donation of money to good causes”; but how do we define generosity? For the individual, religions give very clear indications of what they consider to be generous. […]

By Jania Geoghegan

November 3, 2016

Photo from Fresh Milk Photo from Fresh Milk

How Much is Considered Generous When Giving to Charity?

The Oxford Dictionary defines philanthropy as “the desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed especially by the generous donation of money to good causes”; but how do we define generosity?

For the individual, religions give very clear indications of what they consider to be generous. The Christian religion commands a donation of 10% of wealth, which is the same in Jewish tradition. For Muslims, Zakat asks for a tithe of 7.5 %. But for the extremely wealthy would this be generous? It would hardly be a sacrifice.

From personal experience I have found, time and again, that it is the poorest who give the most. Theirs is true generosity. This, I am convinced, comes from a far greater level of understanding of the needs of others.

As regards corporates, to quote a recent Forbes article by Jake Hayman, “In the corporate sector, we’ve made some progress. The 1% club is for businesses that give at least 1% of pre-tax profits to charity each year. That’s what we see as generous. Above 0.5% is more than half way to generous. Below 0.25% and it becomes clear that however much you talk about it, giving to charity isn’t very important to you as a business. It isn’t a very high bar, but at least businesses can benchmark themselves to some extent.”

What Constitutes Effective Philanthropy?

Many individuals and corporates make monetary donations to charities which they choose because they like their aims, or the area in which they operate, or because they simply feel obliged to do so, but the fact is that some charities do a thousand times as much good with their donations as others.

Back to the word “philanthropy”; the Greek root , philanthrōpus means man-loving; no mention of money.

Truly successful philanthropists will look at all aspects of a charity before they choose to become involved. They will visit the charity, speak to the people who run it, get an understanding of their needs and problems and will use their money, but more importantly their expertise, to bridge the gaps and find ways of resolving the problems to help ensure the sustainability of their chosen project.

In the same way, a good philanthropic corporate will look for a charity which will fit well with the aims and interests of its employees and clients.

Philanthropy As a Tool for Staff Engagement

From personal experience I was tasked with setting up CSR for a major international bank which had bought out a failing local one in Brazil. Staff morale was at an all time low, many convinced that their new bosses would be asset stripping and moving on. Establishing a programme which tackled the severe problems of poverty and educational disadvantage stemming from the slums surrounding the city, convinced them that they had a future and gave them a real focus. We selected a number of orphanages and day care centres which we felt had enough infrastructure for us to make fully viable and sustainable.

As a first step, a Christmas tree was placed on each floor of the head office, with gift labels giving the name and age of a child from our chosen institutions. Staff could then take a label, buy and wrap a present and return it under the tree duly labelled. We asked for five hundred presents and received nine hundred. Staff then asked if they could organise Christmas parties at each of the institutions to hand out the presents. This then led to groups of coworkers voluntarily forming teams to renovate and redecorate dormitories in the orphanages. The IT department stripped out old computers and persuaded the software suppliers to install free educational software. They then formed teams of volunteers to run regular IT classes for the children.

In many cases we no longer needed to donate money, as the time our volunteers gave was of infinitely greater benefit to our charities, who leveraged the fact that they were being helped by us to get other local companies involved. In fact, match funding was always a prerequisite of continued funding. This meant we could fund other staff nominated projects, each of which would have an employee as a liaison to ensure that our charities were getting maximum benefit from the relationship.

Within six years the Christmas tree project had spread across all branches of the bank and annually 22,000 toys and 21,000 tons of food were supplied by staff to their locally nominated charities. Also, each of the 1,700 branch managers had a CSR goal assessed in their annual appraisal.

How Does Volunteering Impact My Bottom Line?

Fewer sick days, higher staff engagement, increased brand awareness, potentially lower taxation. Look at sites such as www.pointsoflight.org to see examples of how US corporates log and measure EVPs (Employee Volunteer Programmes).

A favourite quote of mine is ” Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count, everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.”

Helping the Charity Sector in Barbados

I am delighted to be a founding donor and chairman of ASPIRE Barbados, “helping charities help”. We have teams of dedicated professionals giving generously of their time and expertise to strengthen charities and to help guarantee their sustainability through our incubation and accreditation programmes. To find out more about us, or to become part of our corps of volunteers, check out our website www.aspirebarbados.org.

Jania Geoghegan

Jania Geoghegan has been involved in the third sector, with an emphasis on addressing educational disadvantage, for the past twenty years. She has lived in eleven different countries and has travelled extensively, visiting CSR projects across the globe. Whilst living in London she was on the board of governors of two Catholic, inner city schools and served on the advisory board of Teach First. She is an honorary Vice President of the Commonwealth Girls Education Fund and founder and chairman of The Madrinha Trust. She has recently been appointed chairman of ASPIRE Foundation (Barbados) Inc.

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