Keeping philanthropy’s promises – today’s austerity, tomorrow’s riches?
CGAP Conference May 2013, Conference Report
Professor Ian Diamond, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Aberdeen opened the conference by suggesting that in this age of austerity, philanthropy has an increasing role to play as an equalising force in society.
The first session explored the role of philanthropy in generating a more democratic society. Professor Angela Eikenberry presented her research into giving circles in the US. She argued that philanthropy in the UK was largely anti-democratic in character with people supporting causes they knew rather than giving to further social justice. Only about 30% of money donated in the US is spent on the disadvantaged.
Professor Cathy Pharoah asked if philanthropy should seek to redress imbalances in power, wealth and need or should it be funding initiatives that promote democracy in society. Tom McKenzie then presented an analysis of donor demographics in the period 1978-2008.
Dr Beth Breeze gave a talk on her research into donor choice. She suggested that people gave for a variety of reasons that had little to do with social justice.
Delegates discussed whether tax relief should be targeted to encourage giving that promoted social justice. However, it was generally felt that choice, freedom and plurality were essential parts of philanthropy and that targeted tax relief might constrain these. However, some argued that tax breaks should be focused on the areas of most pressing need.
Another session looked at local philanthropy and the opportunities and challenges presented by emerging models for community foundations. Professor Susan Philips from Canada presented her work on the role of Canadian community foundations in community leadership. This was compared with the UK experience.
Professor Charles Harvey kicked off a session on entrepreneurial philanthropy by noting that the wealthy in society were not especially generous and that there remained tremendous scope for greater philanthropy. Sir Tom Hunter talked about his own approach to philanthropy.
Other sessions looked at diversity, diaspora and transnational philanthropy, corporate responsibility and measuring the impact of philanthropy.