Top of main content
 Altruism apprehension and accountability Finding your philanthropic approach

Altruism, apprehension and accountability: Finding your philanthropic approach


Altruism, apprehension and accountability: Finding your philanthropic approach

May 19, 2022

In a world where the humanitarian, environmental and social issues in need of support are seemingly endless, how can you find peace of mind through your philanthropic approach, managing the complicated feelings it can stir, whilst creating a positive impact?

Committing your time, money or other resources to a charitable cause can bring with it a strong emotional connection and sense of purpose. But it can be difficult to know where to start, or how to pinpoint the causes closest to your heart.

The power of “why”

The key starting point, says Russell Prior, Head of Philanthropy at HSBC Global Private Banking UK, is in asking yourself some simple questions.

“I always start by asking ‘why?’” he says, going on to explain that the key questions to ask yourself upfront are:

  • Why do you want to be philanthropic?
  • What are you hoping to achieve?
  • What is your motivation?

Being in tune with your motivation will connect your philanthropy more purposefully with what you then do. It’s a big anchoring point.”

The more you can get in tune with why you’re doing what you’re doing, the more you will be able to focus on what you can do. - Russell Prior, Head of Philanthropy at HSBC Global Private Banking UK

The HSBC approach to philanthropic giving is about asking three questions. When you have the “why”’ pinned down, then you can start looking at what you want to do, and how you’re going to do it, with much greater clarity.

“A lot of people start with ‘how’,” says Prior. “We speak to individuals who tell us they want to set up a charitable structure and ask us how to do that, but for me that’s usually the wrong first question. That’s why we try to generate a strategic dialogue around this question of why, and it can have amazing results.  

“The reaction that people have to that question can really help them make a connection with the deep inner motivation they have around why they want to do something, and what it is that matters to them. Whilst this process seems to be about the philanthropist, it usually ends with them centring their proposed philanthropy around the beneficiary.”

Being accountable

With so many worthwhile causes bidding for your attention – and your cash – it can be easy to feel weighed down by the projects you can’t help. Taking time early on in your philanthropic journey to get clarity on why you want to take a certain route can help reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed, and even a sense of misplaced guilt. 

More importantly, it should allow you to explore issues of accountability.

“There are different motivations for philanthropic actions, be it altruism, a sense of duty, or even guilt,” says Prior. “Guilt is a word I try not to use, but I do understand the sentiment expressed behind it and where it comes from. 

“There are a lot of issues in the world that people care deeply about, and people want to make a difference in society with their giving. The more you can get in tune with why you’re doing what you’re doing, the more you will be able to focus on what you can do, and you are also more likely to be accountable for that.” 

Accountability brings wider responsibilities as well. The philanthropist should also be thinking about their accountability to the beneficiaries. Is there equity in the relationship between donor and beneficiary? Is the accountability mutual?

Ask your own questions

When it comes to charitable giving, digging deeper into exactly how your donations are being used can cause feelings of discomfort. But, when taking action on issues that we care deeply about, it’s more important than ever to ask questions and find a way of measuring or reviewing the impact being made.

Prior continues: “I have seen reticence to ask how a charitable donation is being used, or where it’s going. My view on this – particularly when meaningful amounts of money are involved – is why wouldn’t you? You wouldn't spend that amount of money on something else without checking the results, so why wouldn’t you want to do the same thing when it comes to projects supporting a charity. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, but also don’t be afraid to do your own research.

“How you approach this will depend on what project, fund or initiative you choose to support, and there's no right or wrong answer. What I try to do is encourage people to be passionate, purposeful and focused in their charitable efforts, but equitable too.”

Create a strategy with impact:

1. Hold yourself accountable

In order to make a real impact in your philanthropic strategy, accountability around your goals and actions is vital. So how can you ensure you’re holding yourself, your team and other stakeholders accountable for the commitment you’ve made to the causes you care about?

“Accountability has to come from within,” says Prior. “If people set up a structure to support that philanthropy – a donor-advised fund or charitable foundation, for instance – they need to set out their own accountability principles to ensure their philanthropy is effective and equitable.”

2. Pause for reflection

Weaving regular pauses for reflection into your giving strategy and putting the necessary tools in place to ensure accountability are hugely important. But it’s also helpful to remind yourself that the most effective philanthropic ventures come from a place of genuine compassion and a desire to make real, lasting change.

3. Make it matter to you

Prior concludes: “There’s a lot of commentary out there around things like altruism and finding the very best thing you can do but, at the end of the day, giving is an act of generosity. That’s brilliant. We have a culture now where charity really matters. Anchoring philanthropic ventures in things that matter to you as an individual will help ensure there’s ongoing accountability, and that you contribute to something that is more likely to make a bigger impact.”

If you’re looking for guidance to help develop your philanthropic approach, please contact us or speak to your Relationship Manager.

This communication is produced by HSBC Private Banking, a division of HSBC Bank USA, N.A.


Where your location of residence differs from that of the HSBC entity publishing this communication, please refer to the Cross Border disclaimer at


This communication is provided to you for informational purposes only and is not a recommendation, offer or solicitation to purchase or sell any service, product, security, commodity, currency or other instrument. This communication does not consider your specific objectives, circumstances or needs, does not provide legal or tax advice, and does not identify or define any or all of the risks that may be associated with the purchase of products or services described herein. The information contained herein should not be construed as investment advice or a recommendation to purchase the products or securities described herein. Prior to making a financial or investment decision, you should conduct such investigation and analysis regarding the products described herein as you deem appropriate and to the extent you deem necessary obtain independent advice from competent legal, financial, tax, accounting and other professionals. No person is authorized to use this communication for any purpose other than the purpose stated above.


The information contained in this communication is derived from a variety of sources we believe to be reliable; however, we cannot guarantee its accuracy or completeness, nor shall we be liable for any incidental or consequential losses or damages including but not limited to errors (including errors of transmission), inaccuracies, omissions, changes in market factors or conditions, or any other circumstances beyond our control. The information, analysis and opinions contained herein constitute our present judgment which is subject to change at any time without notice.


HSBC Private Banking is the marketing name for the private banking business conducted by the principal private banking subsidiaries of the HSBC Group worldwide. In the United States, HSBC Private Banking offers banking services through HSBC Bank USA, N.A., trust services through HSBC Bank USA, N.A., Delaware trust services through HSBC Bank USA, N.A. – Delaware Trust Office and HSBC Trust Company (Delaware), N.A., securities and brokerage services through HSBC Securities (USA) Inc., member NYSE/ FINRA/SIPC and an affiliate of HSBC Bank USA, N.A., and traditional insurance products through HSBC Insurance Agency, (USA) Inc. affiliate of HSBC Bank, USA, N.A. HSBC Bank USA, N.A. is a Member FDIC. Private Banking may be carried out internationally by different HSBC legal entities according to local regulatory requirements. Some services are not available in certain locations.


Investment and insurance products are: Not a deposit or other obligation of the bank or any affiliates; Not FDIC insured or insured by any federal government agency of the United States; Not guaranteed by the bank or any of its affiliates; and are subject to investment risk, including possible loss of principal invested.


HSBC Private Banking does not provide legal, tax or accounting advice. Please consult with your professional advisors before making any financial decisions.


Copyright © 2024 HSBC Bank USA, N.A.

Listening to what you have to say about services matters to us. It's easy to share your ideas, stay informed and join the conversation.