Altruism, apprehension and accountability: Finding your philanthropic approach
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.”
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.