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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Choosing causes and charities: look for problems that are big and under-funded

A version of this article published in the Financial Times in January 2019

My financial resolution for this year – as flagged by FT Money earlier this month – is to review the charities in my will.

I wrote my will a while ago in some haste, and chose the charities in the way that I suspect many people do: I listed the causes that I care about, then wrote down the first charities working on those issues that came to mind.

This is a pretty rubbish process, as we shall see. Continue reading

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Introduction to knowledge management, for foundations and donors

With Keystone Accountability, we recently worked for a funder who was relatively new to knowledge management. We created for them a ‘primer’ to introduce some of the key concepts, and are publishing it because we feel, and hope, that the material is useful for a wider audience of funders and implementers.

Download the document here.

We also published an introduction to monitoring & evaluation: downloadable here.

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Study of the existing research about charities and philanthropy

New report! demand-vs-supply1

Giving Evidence has been mapping the existing research around strategic and operational management of charitable and philanthropic activities. We are today (2nd July 2019) launching a ‘review copy’ of the findings, which you can download here.

This sits alongside a separate project which we have done to understand ‘demand’ for further research into charities and philanthropy: that was a large-scale consultation exercise, detailed here, asking charities and donors to list and prioritise the topics on which they would like more research (/ evidence / data). The results of that ‘demand’ study are here.

The press release summarises the findings of the two studies. Continue reading

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Evidence-based philanthropy made easy

This talk explains what evidence-based giving is, why it matters, and how it needn’t be soooo complicated. Even the first 30 seconds here show why minimising administrative costs to keep an aid programme ‘cheap’ is a bad idea.

This talk was given in Vienna (notice how Caroline had accidentally turned up basically wearing the Austrian flag…), which is why bits of it are in German:

The main points were:

  1. Why should you care about evidence?

Because evidence (alone) will save you from wasting your money / time, and possibly making a problem worse

  1. On what do you need evidence?
  • Where is the problem and why is it there?
  • What is effective at solving it?
  1. Most charities shouldn’t do evaluations
  2. Use what already exists, esp. systematic reviews
  3. If no decent evidence, either do something else, or fund the production of it. Don’t guess!

Watch more about doing evidence-based giving…>

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Top charities to support this Christmas: giving recommendations

Whom should you support this Christmas (or in your will)?

As we’ve discussed here before, the data on charities’ effectiveness is really ropey, so this question is harder than it should be.

In international development, there are some reliable independent analysts which recommend high-performing charities. The Life You Can Save (disclosure: in which I am involved), founded by the ethicist Peter Singer, recommends 21 charities, each of which either delivers work based on decent evidence, or creates new evidence about what works. Continue reading

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Empowering the poorest of the poor

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

The global ‘gig economy’ is awash with the downtrodden and effective campaigners

The council wanted them out. The Grand Parade area in front of Cape Town’s City Hall needed to be clear for filming one day last month, so the market traders who have their stalls there would need to disappear. There have been traders on that stretch of ground for hundreds of years and, for them, a day without trading is a day without income.

But they had taken a lesson from the previous month. In February, they were to be removed for the then-president Jacob Zuma’s “state of the nation” address, as the Grand Parade area might have been needed for a helicopter landing.

In the end the whole plan changed because of Mr Zuma’s resignation. By March, though, the Grand Parade United Traders Association and its member stallholders knew about their legal rights, and, by showing that the council had not followed “due process”, had the clearance halted. Continue reading

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