Amy Sweeting: How fundraisers can help inspire a step change in philanthropy

21 Jan 2019 Voices

The Beacon Collaborative hopes to make some big changes for philanthropy and we, as fundraisers, can help lead the way, writes Amy Sweeting.

Margaret Mead once said “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”. If that’s the case, imagine the difference that a bigger group of thoughtful, committed citizens could make…  

It wasn’t at all surprising to see fundraising from individuals as the most important source of income for charities in the recent Status of UK Fundraising Benchmark Report.  This tells us that: 

  • Charities are continuing to rely on support from wealthy individuals.
  • We need to grow this income stream to mitigate current risks to fundraising.
  • Excellent fundraising is vital to gain and retain support from major donors.

Private philanthropy has a long history of being an important source of income for charities in the UK. However, philanthropy in the UK has a long way to go before it matches the culture of charitable munificence in the US. In the US, if you make money then you are expected to contribute back to organisations and charities. How do we inspire this step change to our philanthropy here in the UK? Well, there’s a group that is doing just that by encouraging and celebrating philanthropy in the UK.

The Beacon Collaborative works to increase peer influence, develop public awareness of philanthropy, improve the quality and availability of professional advice, research the economic, sociological and behavioural aspects of philanthropy and improve political engagement. By doing this, the group of wealthy individuals aim to encourage their peers to increase annual charitable giving collectively by £2bn! 

I asked Sir Richard Stilgoe what made him sign up to the Beacon Collaborative and, in a way only Richard can, he said; “Winston Churchill definitely didn’t say, though lots of websites say he did, ‘We make a living by what you get. We make a life by what you give.’ I know a lot of unhappy people who don’t give. I also know a lot of happy people who do”. I get it - we all know about the positive effects that philanthropy has on a community, but the positive impact on the person donating is also huge. It’s a mutually beneficial experience and this group are encouraging those who may not have experienced a relationship with a charity to do just that.

Despite little prior knowledge of the Beacon Collaborative, I now have a new bounce in my step knowing that there’s a movement of philanthropists and organisations who are collectively committed to encouraging others in their philanthropy. One step further than the amazing individuals who have signed up to The Giving Pledge, this group aims to make it a norm for all wealthy individuals to give or invest socially by 2028. 

I think it’s safe to say that this paradigm shift in philanthropy in the UK will be welcomed with open arms by charities and organisations who understand that investment from major donors is vital. 

How can fundraisers get involved?

I’m glad you asked. We need to work alongside the Beacon Collaborative to raise the confidence of those prospective major donors, and I’m pleased that the Institute of Fundraising have signed their Manifesto for Philanthropy. They need to see their peers, alongside charities, organisations and policy makers, taking the lead. We need to be the absolute best fundraisers we can be. Be the best relationship managers. Be transparent and develop trust. Think of innovative ways to approach prospects. Show your donors the appreciation they deserve. Hold their hand as they go along their journey with your organisation. Most importantly, show them that investing time and money will be the best thing they’ve ever done.   

You can also share the manifesto with philanthropists, donors, supporters and social investors so they too can join a movement that has a real chance to make lasting change. 

One final remark from the Beacon Collaborative: ‘We are living in a great time of need, when inequality has led to deep divisions. Social and environmental needs are at crisis levels and those who have benefited from the opportunities to create wealth in our society should accept the responsibility of giving back as a civic duty.’ 
That’s something we can all get behind. 

Amy Sweeting is vice chair of the Istitute of Fundraising’s Major Donor Special Interest Group and head of major gifts at Missing People


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