Philanthropy: so what’s it all about?

Philanthropy: so what’s it all about?

1310 portraits (99)
The word philanthropy has been bandied about a lot recently… but what does it mean? Well….

The word comes from the Greek for ‘love of humankind’. But I think that the meaning may have been lost somewhere. Perhaps we’ve been worn down by so much coverage of the arts funding climate in the media? Or how important it is to encourage philanthropy in a hope to address the deficit created by austerity cuts? If there’s one thing that I learned from attending the National Arts Fundraising School last week, it was that fundraising is all about people, so perhaps the Greek’s have it right after all.

I think that we need to concentrate more on why people give to good causes and why they should, rather than fixating on ‘the need’ for giving to plug the gaps. I can’t help but think that this is a much more appealing standpoint. (Another tip for a fundraiser – always start with a positive, concentrate on how your positive actions can address negatives in your locale, your sector, wider society etc.)

I was pleased to see some coverage from this angle in an article in the Guardian this week: ‘Andrew Lloyd Webber says successful artists must plug the gaps in arts funding’. In the article Lloyd Webber stressed how he, as a successful artist, felt passionately about ‘giving back’. Not only was this because he felt arts funding was under ‘unimaginable strain’, but because he felt lucky enough to have made a commercial success out of a career in musical theatre. I think that this article resonated with me because it written from the angle of the funder and how his passion fuelled his philanthropy (Andrew Lloyd Webber’s foundation has given around £8.5 million pounds worth of grants to the arts since it was established).

In my fellowship at the Barbican I have been assisting on supporting the training of ticket sales staff to ask for donations, and something we’ve been talking about this week is making sure that staff can relay the passion for the work of the Barbican Centre, in order to genuinely ‘make the ask’.

So from big donations to small – a passion and a focus on people is essential. What do you think? we’d love to hear your views.