“Philanthropists: Them and Us”. In her latest blog, philanthropy adviser Emma Beeston looks as some of the motives behind philanthropy

We regularly feature blogs by Emma Beeston of the Emma Beeston Consultancy and Sarah Taragon and Steve Woollett of Clarity CIC as part of our daily grants bulletin and website posts. We have some fantastic blogs scheduled for the next few months, starting with this one from Emma, which explores the motives behind philanthropy and is entitled:

Philanthropists: Them and Us”

“I have recently spent a couple of days working with the next generation of a wealthy family. When I was recounting this to one of my own relatives (who shall remain nameless), their view was that I was supporting people who have got rich through extractive means and tax avoidance to feel better about themselves and look good to others by giving some money away. In a similar critical stance, according to various sector articles, I have been enabling ego-driven imperialists to undermine democracy and exert undue influence.

“My experience has been different to these perspectives. I spent time with a group of delightful young people who are – voluntarily – embarking on their philanthropic journeys. They are thoughtful people who care about the planet and the people on it facing adversity and hardship. They understand the complexity of the issues they seek to tackle and are keen to work with others to try and address the root causes. They respect those working on the frontline and are keen to learn and help. They have – through good fortune – an opportunity to do good and a huge sense of responsibility.

“How do we bridge this gap between critical narratives and my more positive experience?

“In her new book, In Defence of Philanthropy (which I urge you to read), Beth Breeze sets out the very real danger that the negative discourse could put people off giving. What struck me most was the criticisms that ‘other’ rich donors. In a nutshell othering involves attributing negative characteristics to people or groups that differentiate them from the perceived normative social group. It is an ‘us vs. them’ way of thinking about human connections and relationships. … Othering is a way of negating another person’s individual humanity. [https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-othering-5084425#what-is-othering] It is usually thought of as a way of dehumanising marginalised groups such as migrants but it is also applied to philanthropists.

“Is a rich donor’s giving really so different to our own? Imagine you have just won a significant amount of money. What will you do? My guess is that you will probably treat yourself to something whether that’s a holiday, a car, or a chihuahua and handbag (the choice of a recent winner). Then you might think about securing your long-term financial future and looking at how you can help those around you, especially any children you have. Next, you may think about giving your money away to charity. People who are or become wealthy also give from their surplus when they have ‘enough’. How we view ‘enough’ varies and may lead us to think that the wealthy should be giving more. But I am not sure how many of ‘us’ actually think about our own wealth and what enough is for us. There are some tools that can help us all do this. Using them we can calculate how rich we are in comparison to the rest of the world:



“Many of you reading this will be in the top percentages. (Some, of course, will not be in this position.) For those who are, it might be uncomfortable. We can think of lots of reasons why we are not as generous as we could be and why we need to redecorate part of our home or take that holiday. Othering is a psychological way to deal with our discomfort and feel better about ourselves. In this case it takes two common forms: criticising others, the rich donors, who we think should do even more; or ascribing suspect motives to those who are doing good things, philanthropists, because their generosity make us feel bad.

“One of the ways to mitigate our tendency to other those ‘not like us’, is to meet and get to know them. In my role as a Philanthropy Advisor, I am lucky enough to do just that – to spend time with individuals and families who are wealthy and philanthropic. Of the ones I have met, their giving is often motivated by the same things yours and mine is – gratitude, compassion, anger at injustice, a sense of duty and a desire to make a positive difference in the world. The other thing we can do is challenge ourselves – how does our own giving hold up to our scrutiny? We can then extend the understanding we have about our own – perhaps imperfect – giving decisions to others. As Beth Breeze concludes “philanthropy is imperfect, messy and complex, but it is better than a world without philanthropy”. When it comes to our own choices about giving, we are perhaps not so different from wealthy philanthropists so let’s focus more positively on how we might all do more and encourage those who don’t yet give anything to join in too.”

Image: Emma Beeston. Emma is a Philanthropy Adviser who advises grant-makers,
companies and families on creating and implementing giving strategies.