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The art of giving


There’s a growing and admirable desire among wealthy individuals to support charities and other deserving projects. Sound interesting? David Craik helps you get started


A


T 78 YEARS of age, Dame Stephanie Shirley says she could easily spend most of her days playing bridge with friends. But as the former child refugee from


Nazi Germany and founder of a multi-million pound IT business says: “It takes something more worthwhile to get me out of bed in the morning”. Dame Stephanie has been one of the UK’s leading philanthropists for the last 40 years, pledging to give away 100 per cent of her wealth. Her charitable Shirley Foundation is one of the top 50 grant-giving foundations in the UK. In the last 10 years it has given over £50 million in grants to projects promoting and supporting IT, but it now works solely with charities and schemes tackling and trying to find the causes of autism – the condition suffered by her late son Giles. “It’s my repayment to society,” she explains. “I am giving back, and I get an enormous feel-good factor from doing it.” The philanthropy landscape has changed greatly since Dame Stephanie began her journey all those decades ago. According to the Institute for Philanthropy, there are simply more privately wealthy individuals today who, for a variety of reasons, such as a history of family hardship or personal connections to a social cause, want to give something back to their community. The Institute’s Press Director, Musa Okwonga, says:


“The new philanthropist is younger – usually in their mid-forties or fifties – and wants to see their money go to work in their own lifetime and not leave it to be allocated in their will or passed on to family members.” These donors are also keen to be more active in their giving, and work closely with the charity or scheme


concerned. Many don’t want to see their funds ‘get lost’ in administration and are keen to support a specific project – such as buying a new piece of hospital machinery – instead.


Philanthropy is also garnering key political support with the UK government’s recent Budget pledge that from next April, people who donate 10 per cent of their legacy will be eligible for a 10 per cent reduction in inheritance tax bills. This builds on plans announced last year by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport that there should be ‘more visible public recognition’ for philanthropy, including through the honours system.


Getting involved So if you’re motivated to become a philanthropist, either to give back to society, to save tax or to become a Lord or a Lady, how do you start? According to the Institute for Philanthropy, the first thing to do is to ‘step back’ and not let your heart rule your head. “Treat it as you would do the stockmarket,” Okwonga says. “You wouldn’t rush in and buy the first shares that you see so don’t do it with your first grant or payment. You need to do a bit of homework and work out how your money can make the greatest impact.” This means interested donors doing their own form of ‘due diligence’ by visiting and talking to charities to assess what they could help with. This can be done by the individual or by bodies such as the Institute for Philanthropy. “You may want to eradicate poverty in East Africa, but that’s a very big project, and you’ll have to look closer to see how you can really help. Perhaps you could support micro-finance projects or help build a school,” Okwonga adds.


➔ October/November 2011 businesslife.co 43


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