Why everybody’s talking about philanthropy

Stephanie Shirley philanthropy

To mark the United Nations’ International Day of Charity on 5 September, leaders shared their views on the all-round benefits to be gained from giving back to the community


DAME STEPHANIE SHIRLEY CH (main picture), entrepreneur, philanthropist and IoD Lifetime Achievement Award winner

I was once the recipient of charity – coming to the UK as part of the Kindertransport programme before the second world war – so I started giving back quite early. Even as a child, I always tried to do my bit.

In the 1970s I took my company into something called the Percent Club. This was a collection of firms that had committed to giving one per cent of their profits to charity. But business leaders need to appreciate that it’s a question of working in partnership with charities, rather than simply giving them money.

The culture in the UK has always been “we don’t discuss what we do with our money”. I didn’t want people to know how much I had and how much I was giving away. I wanted to erect a barrier to depersonalise the process, which is why I started the Shirley Foundation. I also took my business into co-ownership, giving away a quarter of it to my employees.

We know that corporate social responsibility is a good recruitment and retention tool. It also goes straight to the bottom line, because customers buy more from companies they know to be socially responsible. That sort of branding is very important for an organisation.

I also believe philanthropy can introduce new concepts to a business. I learnt about values-based recruitment, for instance, through one of my charities. Working with the third sector, you come into contact with a lot of people you’re unlikely to encounter otherwise. This gives you access to a more diverse pool of talent.

The research finding that rich people donate a smaller proportion of their incomes than lower earners do to charity disappoints me. I couldn’t understand it at first, but now I think that people who are poor (or were poor, as I was) better understand poverty and its difficulties, so it’s more automatic for them to give.

When it comes to persuading better-off people to give, the most crucial thing – as I stressed when I was the UK’s ambassador for philanthropy in 2009-10 – is to show that giving is not a duty; it’s actually a sheer pleasure.

Dame Stephanie Shirley’s memoir, Let It Go, is to be made into a film


Tom Ilube philanthropyTOM ILUBE, CEO of Crossword Cybersecurity and an educational philanthropist

Philanthropy adds meaning and purpose to my life. Making money is all very well, but putting it to work in ways that improve people’s lives is incredibly rewarding, as is inspiring others to join me on a philanthropic journey.

I decided to focus my charitable work on education in science and technology, so there’s a close link to my career. Engaging actively in philanthropy – and I mean actively rather than simply writing cheques – brings you close to people. It opens you up to their lives, which makes you more aware of the challenges that your own employees and customers may be facing.

You grow as a leader by taking on challenges far beyond your experience and comfort zone. Launching a charity is like doing a real-world MBA – one that directly affects people’s lives.

I see business people getting into philanthropy and scattering money around without having an impact. My advice would be to choose the area you want to target, do your homework, map out a five- or 10-year plan and then go for it full on. It will be the most rewarding thing you’ve ever done.


Nicholas Ferguson philanthropyNICHOLAS FERGUSON, chair of Savills and founder and chair of the Kilfinan Trust

What is our purpose? Why are we here? I’ve concluded that it’s for three things: to use our talents, to enjoy ourselves and to put a brick in the wall. If we think of the world as one big wall, each of us needs to add a brick to leave it slightly better than it was before we arrived. The great joy of philanthropy is that it lets you do all three.

I’m not telling anyone what to do with their money, but people should think carefully about whether their funds exceed their needs. If they do, there are so many other needs in this world to be satisfied.

The view of Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman that the only role of a company is to serve its shareholders is no longer widely shared. Of course, shareholders are fundamental, but you also have to look after the community around you. My advice would be to find a cause that really interests you – it can be great fun learning about it – and treat it as you would your own business investments. Strategic giving, or giving with thought, will give you the most satisfaction.

Nicholas Ferguson also founded the Kilfinan Group, which offers free mentoring for charity directors


Matthew Bowcock philanthropyMATTHEW BOWCOCK, tech entrepreneur and founder of the Beacon Collaborative

The Beacon Collaborative brings together philanthropists and organisations with the shared goal of encouraging wealthy people in the UK to get involved in charitable giving and social investment. There is no silver bullet, but we believe that we can be effective in five areas: peer influence, public promotion, professional advice, political engagement and research. The biggest impact is most likely to come from professional advisers who can engage with rich clients.

Philanthropy is in essence a counterpoint to government, providing a different form of capital, but the state can do much to create a climate where giving is celebrated rather than treated with suspicion. The government must avoid repeating policy mistakes based on ignorance about philanthropy, such as the one that occurred when the 2012 budget proposed to cap tax relief on charitable giving.

We also have to address ill-informed comments that crop up from time to time from politicians and journalists, who have conflated charitable giving with tax avoidance. No one ever got richer by giving away 2.5 times the amount of tax they otherwise would have paid.


Dina Henry philanthropyDINA HENRY, COO of CAF Bank, a provider of financial services to British charities

During my 32 years in private banking I worked with many philanthropists and looked after charity accounts and SMEs with corporate social responsibility programmes. Moving over to the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) meant that I was dealing with the same people, but at a bank that actually specialised in helping those wanting to make a social impact. It’s been a really good experience.

Philanthropists are becoming more willing to talk publicly about their activities, which can be a powerful way to encourage others to give back. Philanthropic companies are increasingly focusing on the impact of what they do, which is proving an important part of helping them to win and keep customers. It also helps with recruitment and retention – an employer with purpose and values is particularly attractive to younger people.

One example of good corporate philanthropy is where a company supports its employees in helping local charities. This can give the business a better position in the community it serves.

Dina Henry is a member of IoD Kent

Click here for an extended Director interview with Dame Stephanie Shirley

About author

Ryan Herman

Ryan Herman

Alongside his work for Director, Ryan has written for SportBusiness International, VICE Sports, Populous, Audi and Gallop Magazine and was previously editor of Sky Sports Magazine.

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