Why I’ve joined a board of the Flemish Red Cross

I know. You’ve never heard of the Flemish Red Cross. You realise that such a thing probably must exist but you’d never hitherto realised it, right?

Well, you should know about it because it’s amazing. Of all the operational charities I’ve encountered, it is easily the most sophisticated in terms of use and production  of decent evidence – and seeing as I’ve been in this sector now for >18 years, I’ve seen a lot. A clue is that it has 12 post-doctoral researchers on payroll, most of whose output goes into the peer-reviewed academic literature. Continue reading

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Do Royals help charities? We’re finding out

Apparently ~3000 UK charities have Royal patrons. About 200 have this week lost their relationship with Prince Andrew. Securing and maintaining a relationship with a Royal is work, and is it worth it? It seems that nobody knows. Giving Evidence is going to investigate.

This is a question about donor effectiveness: the patrons probably think that they are helping the charities, but donors are often rather less helpful than they think they are. It’s reasonable – and possible – to assess the effectiveness of donors, as we have said elsewhere. It is also a question about charity effectiveness: how should charities best allocate their scarce resources? We will specifically be looking at whether & how much & when Royals patrons – and with luck other celeb patrons – help charities. Continue reading

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Can people tell posh champagne from cava in a blind trial?? – an experiment

{Warning: this post has nothing to do with philanthropy. It’s to do with science. Sort of.}

As widely discussed in the press (i.e., written about by me on Twitter), I recently ran a little trial to see whether people (specifically myself and some friends and family) could distinguish between posh champagne and much cheaper cava.

In short, we couldn’t. Well, *I* could, and my family could, but on aggregate the answers were barely better than random.

Because this is *science*, and not just a random drinking game, I’ve written it up. Not in the Journal of Champagne-ology, which surprisingly doesn’t exist, but below. Continue reading

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A life ended well

This article first published in the British Medical Journal.

My mum died in 2016, a more decorous and peaceful end of life would be hard to imagine. That she died well is a huge blessing: not everybody gets that privilege. I gather that there is discussion in medical circles about how to improve and de-medicalise ends of lives. In case it is useful to anybody, here is my mum’s story. Continue reading

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How to give well to charity?

This article first published in MoneyWise magazine.

MacKenzie Bezos, who recently divorced the world’s richest person, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, has pledged to give away at least half of her $37billion fortune. To whom should she give it?

I’ve advised charitable donors for many years and they’re often surprised to learn that the principles of giving well are the same, whether you’re giving a massive sum or your hard-saved £20.

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The second best thing to give to charity is feedback

This article first published in the Financial Times in May 2018

Donors can encourage charities to seek feedback

Oxfam’s UK chief executive announced his resignation last week, after a spate of damaging allegations of abuse by the charity’s frontline staff in Haiti. But would the whole issue have been avoided if Oxfam had had a decent and open process for hearing from the people it seeks to serve? Continue reading

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Charitable foundations: There’s an argument for spending it fast

This article first published in the Financial Times in January 2018

A growing number of funds take a shorter-term approach

Having spent its entire war chest of $100m, the Skoll Global Threats Fund closed last month. Jeff Skoll, eBay’s first employee and first president, created the fund to “make progress against five of the gravest threats to humanity” — climate change, pandemics, water security, nuclear proliferation and conflict in the Middle East — and gave it eight years.

It is one of a growing number of foundations which are “spending down” and disbanding. Atlantic Philanthropies, set up by Chuck Feeney, co-founder of Duty Free shops, finished spending its $8bn in 2016 and will close in 2020. A foundation created with public donations after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, closed in 2012. Continue reading

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Priority areas for research into charities & philanthropy

With Charity Futures, Giving Evidence has run two projects which combine to identify priority areas for new academic research into charities and philanthropy. These studies are prompted by the growing amount of academic research activity around charities and philanthropy, including Charity Futures’ announced intention to establish an Institute of Charity at Oxford University.

Our two studies were about:

  1. Demand: This asked UK charities and donors (of all types) what they want more research about. It was an open consultation process run over 15 months, through focus groups, surveys and a workshop, which invited any charity or donor to suggest questions for research, and then invited any charity or donor to vote to prioritise the list. It resulted in a prioritised list of 24 questions (listed here). It adapted a method developed in medical / health for consulting with patients and their carers about their priorities for medical research. Download the ‘demand’ findings here, and more details are here.
  2. Supply: This investigated what research already exists about UK charities and philanthropy; what topics it does and does not cover, and what methods it uses. It used systematic review methods, and was led by The Evidence for Policy and Practice Information and Co-ordinating Centre (EPPI Centre) at University College London, precisely because they are experts in systematic reviews but are outside the charity / philanthropy sectors. Download the ‘review version’ of the ‘supply’ findings here, and more details are here.

Combined, the two sets of results form a ‘gap analysis’ and show major areas where more research would be valued by charities and donors, who are among its intended users.

There were some surprises in terms of issues/questions that did arise, and some that didn’t arise. Continue reading

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The campaign for unrestricted funding needs to change tack

This article first published in Charity Finance magazine. A PDF copy is here.

Esmee Fairbairn Foundation released a report about its experience of providing core  funding. Entitled Insights on Core Funding, one of its aims is to “provide the organisations doing the work [with] the ammunition to continue to make the case for what they need to thrive” – in other words, to encourage other funders (and presumably also non-institutional donors such as wealthy individuals) to give better.

This joins many other reports and documents that have made that case – including my own book, It Ain’t What You Give, It’s The Way That You Give It and the 2009 Institute of Philanthropy report Supportive to the Core: Why Unrestricted Funding Matters. Yet, if we are really to reduce the harmful practice of restricted funding, we need to be more sophisticated than simply producing reports about not doing it. Reducing restricted funding involves an exercise in behaviour change, and we should treat it as such. Continue reading

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Charities should have kept Presidents Club donations

This article first published in the Financial Times in February 2018.

Much the same issues apply now to organisations declining funds from the Sackler Trust.

Among the many issues to have arisen from the FT’s exposé of the Presidents Club is whether charities that received donations from the controversial event did the right thing by returning the money.

Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity was one of the first to announce it would return funds promised to it from this year’s dinner, as well as previous years, citing the “wholly unacceptable nature of the event”. The charity said it was “shocked to hear of the behaviour” and would “never knowingly accept donations raised in this way”. Continue reading

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