Investigating what makes for successful giving

Giving Evidence is pleased to publish what seems to be unprecedented analysis of the success of a foundation’s various grants split by characteristics of the grants: such as size, duration, restrictions, and extent of non-financial support. We have analysed all of ADM coverthegrants made by the ADM Capital Foundation in its first ten years (2006-16).

The results and method are detailed here.

This analysis and these findings are important. As Giving Evidence’s Director Caroline Fiennes discusses in the scientific journal Nature this week, remarkably little is known reliably about how to do philanthropy well – how to use it to achieve particular aims – despite philanthropy’s long and varied history. A ‘science of philanthropy’ would help, by investigating empirically which ‘ways of giving’ work best in which circumstances. This analysis with ADM Capital Foundation is exactly that. We urge other foundations and funders to investigate their success similarly – and are happy to be involved. Continue reading

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How to give: how to do evidence-based giving

Ask an important question and answer it reliably‘: how to do evidence-based philanthropy. This talk was given to an invited group of major donors.

(18 mins)

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Help the homeless — don’t give them spare change

This article first published in the Financial Times

Support homelessness charities and send your money to where it’s really needed

It is the classic Venn diagram: not everybody who is homeless is a beggar, and not
everybody who is a beggar is homeless. Rough sleeping is different again: rough sleepers are a small proportion of homeless people; some of them beg and some don’t.

Crisis, the homelessness charity which this week marks its 50 birthday, says 114,780 people were homeless in England during 2015-16. Perhaps as many as 34,500 people sleep rough in England in any year; around 4,000 a night. Crisis says that for every rough sleeper, there are 100 people in hostels, and 1,100 households in bed and breakfasts and overcrowded accommodation.

Continue reading

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What is evidence-based philanthropy?

This five-minute video is Caroline’s take on what evidence-based philanthropy is, and how it’s similar to and different from evidence-based medicine. Filmed on a park bench…with Oxford-Cambridge boat race crews practising in the background.

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Breaking the hunger cycle for the price of a bus ticket

Modern philanthropists adopt an evidence-based approach

This article first published in the Financial Times.

The Christian tradition of giving things up for Lent comes, it is said, from making a virtueof necessity. Last year’s harvest, gathered in the autumn, would have sustained people through the winter, but by March and April, supplies would be running thin. Rationing and starvation were common. Hence, religious blessing was given to abstinence and forbearance during these bleak months.

The cycle persists. About 300m people globally still have an annual “hungry season” before the new crops are ready. They’ll often skip a meal each day, which is particularly dangerous for pregnant women and young children because it irreparably damages cognitive development. Yet this suffering can be prevented for just the price of a bus ticket.

Continue reading

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Why are there so many charities?

This article first published in the Financial Times.

Donors encourage smaller organisations — but does that help beneficiaries?

There are 165,000 registered charities in England and Wales alone, which people often say is a lot. But is it? Moreover, it is too many? It’s not clear what “the right number” of charities actually means. By comparison, the UK has nearly 30 times as many companies

The reason there are so many charities stems from the economics and dynamics of the charity sector, which are worth understanding as they’re completely different to those underpinning how businesses work. When entrepreneur and former mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, embarked upon philanthropy, Richard Riordan, then mayor of Los Angeles, advised him: “You are going into another world. It’s like going to Mars — [there is] a different logical and mathematical system.” Continue reading

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Don’t spread the love with your Christmas charity giving

This article first published in the Financial Times.

One big donation will be more effective than several smaller ones

Would you prefer to receive one big present this Christmas, or lots of little ones? Your
inner child will tell you that holding out for one major gift that you really want is often the best choice. And the same goes for charities, who will benefit from one big donation this Christmas rather than numerous small gifts.

In my last How to Give it column, I told you how the insurance group Aviva has been inviting public involvement to give away £1.75m to “at least 800” non-profit organisations. Yet the evidence suggests that making numerous small gifts is not a good idea. Continue reading

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How we could can impact measurement more useful

This article first published in Civil Society Magazine

Most of the impact data charities gather does not help raise funds or improve performance

This opinion piece is a response to an article titled How do you measure the value of impact measurement? by David Ainsworth.

David’s article is actually mis-titled. It’s not a discussion of methods for measuring the


You don’t fatten a pig by weighing it every day

value of impact measurement, but rather stating a view that there may be none, which may explain why nobody seems interested in measuring it. I broadly agree with that. His article raises many points, so we’ll go carefully through them.

First, let’s be clear that “impact measurement” has two completely different purposes: first, helping to raise funds, and second, improving performance. Let’s consider them separately. Continue reading

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What makes philanthropy succeed? – potentially revealing analysis

Remarkably little is known reliably about how to do philanthropy well – how to use it to achieve particular aims – despite philanthropy’s long and varied history. Giving Evidence (and others) is trying to fix this – to create reliable data and insight about which ways of giving work best in particular situations. And we have a new analysis underway to that end.

Donors choose (often unwittingly) between various ways of giving, e.g.,

  • being hands-on vs. hands-off
  • working solo vs. with other donors
  • whether to make many small grants vs. few larger ones
  • how and whether the grant is tracked
  • whether the donor gives, lends or invests
  • how grantees are chosen – how prospective grantees are sourced, the selection criteria, the application process, who’s involved in the selection process
  • and so on.

Probably some grants work out better than others. It would be useful to know which types of grant work out best in which circumstances. {We have now heard two stories of funders whose application processes are no better than random in terms of predicting grantee success, and one where one stage of the application process reduces the accuracy of predictions of grantee success. It’s worth knowing how to judge applications!} Continue reading

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When charitable donations cost more than they give

Popularity contests for funding waste time and resources

This article first published in the Financial Times.

Some charitable donors are a net drain: they cost organisations they seek to help more than they contribute. Others come pretty close, costing nearly as much as they give. 

When I was a charity chief executive myself, I personally handled a gift from a foundation. Dealing with it before and after we received the money cost us 90 per cent of amount it gave us.

Aviva’s Community Fund may be another salutary example. It has recently been inviting “community projects” to apply for a share of £1.75m, and says it will fund “at least 800” of them. We’ll return to the question of whether splitting funds into numerous small grants is a good idea. For now, let’s focus on the fact that Aviva’s applicants must get loads of people to vote for them in an online poll. This is partly a popularity contest; nearly 4,000 organisations have registered.

Continue reading

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