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“Philanthropists can add value to giving by asking for impacts.”

A recent study on family philanthropy in Asia reveals a difference in attitudes towards giving between two generations. The older generation takes more to the idea of giving as an end in itself while the younger generation emphasizes more on the impact of giving. (Note1) This is an interesting finding. For the time being let’s not look into why there is a difference between the two generations but give a little thought to the notion of giving.

  

For many philanthropists or ordinary people, giving is a spontaneous act of the heart. It is triggered when they see some other people in a desperate situation or a problem for improvement. In most of the cases what usually follows is the benefit (even though short term) revealed directly by the people or the situation being helped or indirectly interpreted by the givers themselves. They are in turn benefitted by a sense of contribution and pleasant feelings induced by the benevolent act. The more they give, the more benefits they see in both the receivers and themselves. Giving then gradually becomes habitual and is taken as an end in itself. For some people, though, giving is their natural instinct. Whatever the case the giver is as blessed as the receiver.
 
So there is absolutely nothing wrong with “giving as an end in itself”. The point is, can we afford to give in this way? To most people money is not an unlimited resource; and there are too many issues/ causes worth giving for in just one country or region, not to mention around the globe. When a person chooses to donate for these causes, he/she may decrease or even cease donation for the other causes, at least for a certain period of time. Even billionaires may not afford to give for every problem or cause without asking, “Does it make a difference?” In many successful cases giving does make a difference but in many other cases it does not, especially when long-term impacts are concerned. The helping process or improvement process regarding any issue is a complicated matter, particularly in big cities. As many problems and deprivations are resulted from deep-rooted causes, it requires not only the heart but individual attitude, skills and knowledge on the micro (practitioner) level; and professional planning and monitoring, strategic collaboration and resource allocation, and organized actions on the macro (organizational) level to help deal with the problems and make improvements.
 
Practitioners know it just too well that achieving the desired impacts and illustrating them is never easy. The more long-term the operation and the wider its scope, the harder. What is the driver of achieving impacts and where does it come from? Although we very much want to see it as a “natural instinct” of an organisation (i.e. stemming from an organisation’s internal built-in mechanism), it is not surprising that this is far from being a general scenario in the social service and public sectors (including NGOs, NPOs(Note2), education institutions, government and pseudo-government institutions, etc.). Rather, it is fairly common that many organisations do not have a policy or an effective mechanism in place to evaluate the impacts of its operations. Very often evaluation is an isolated effort dependent on a few conscientious practitioners in the organisation; or even worse, remains a wishful-thinking manifestation of the practitioners, a lip service, or a superficial public-relations assignment of the organisation.
 
It is under such circumstances that philanthropists can add value to giving by asking for impacts. Questions lead to reflections and reviews; and monitoring leads to improvements. When not being asked or queried, one can easily stay in a comfort zone of self-efficacy. Philanthropists’ concerns on impacts can turn donations to a positive incentive, if not a requirement, for a grantee to recognize the importance of measuring impacts; to explore and to take serious and well-planned actions of measurements, not just one time, but as an ongoing process and policy. The inquisitive minds of philanthropists as an outsider are often conducive to unveiling long-hidden inadequacies or errors in operations which are otherwise buried in routine or “taken-for-granted” practices. It would be even more fruitful when the philanthropists possess professional knowledge in management or relevant fields. Through candid sharing with the philanthropists the grantee organisation will take the opportunity to help itself in uplifting its planning, management, implementation, evaluation and monitoring abilities. In turn the philanthropists will also learn and benefit from such an exploration process. Above all, beneficiaries will be more effectively helped in the way they should be; and service quality and efficiency will be upgraded based on more solid evidence of impact measurements. Going further, good practices can be established on this basis; and there will be better hope that impacts can be sustained and long term impacts can be achieved too.
 
In the realization of limited resources, one will donate to those organisations for programmes that have proven impacts or those that can at least demonstrate the determination and right method in achieving and measuring impacts. Undoubtedly this is the best value for donation because this will lead to a higher possibility of greater benefits for the people or problem one wants to help. Thus eventually what matters most will be whether giving can lead to a desired impact.
 
Now coming back to the question of why there is a difference between the two generations of philanthropists, the reasons are definitely manifold. However after the above discussion, does it not transpire that the answers to this question is less important than those to the question of why philanthropists should ask for impacts and how impacts can be achieved and measured?
 
Connie Tsang, Executive Director of Fu Tak Iam Foundation
 
 

Note 1: “UBS-INSEAD Study on Family Philanthropy in Asia”, UBS Philanthropy Services and INSEAD, 2011.
Note 2: NGO---non-government organization; NPG---non-profit organization

 

A recent study on family philanthropy in Asia reveals a difference in attitudes towards giving between two generations. The older generation takes more to the idea of giving as an end in itself while the younger generation emphasizes more on the impact of giving. (Note1) This is an interesting finding. For the time being let’s not look into why there is a difference between the two generations but give a little thought to the notion of giving.

  

For many philanthropists or ordinary people, giving is a spontaneous act of the heart. It is triggered when they see some other people in a desperate situation or a problem for improvement. In most of the cases what usually follows is the benefit (even though short term) revealed directly by the people or the situation being helped or indirectly interpreted by the givers themselves. They are in turn benefitted by a sense of contribution and pleasant feelings induced by the benevolent act. The more they give, the more benefits they see in both the receivers and themselves. Giving then gradually becomes habitual and is taken as an end in itself. For some people, though, giving is their natural instinct. Whatever the case the giver is as blessed as the receiver.
 
So there is absolutely nothing wrong with “giving as an end in itself”. The point is, can we afford to give in this way? To most people money is not an unlimited resource; and there are too many issues/ causes worth giving for in just one country or region, not to mention around the globe. When a person chooses to donate for these causes, he/she may decrease or even cease donation for the other causes, at least for a certain period of time. Even billionaires may not afford to give for every problem or cause without asking, “Does it make a difference?” In many successful cases giving does make a difference but in many other cases it does not, especially when long-term impacts are concerned. The helping process or improvement process regarding any issue is a complicated matter, particularly in big cities. As many problems and deprivations are resulted from deep-rooted causes, it requires not only the heart but individual attitude, skills and knowledge on the micro (practitioner) level; and professional planning and monitoring, strategic collaboration and resource allocation, and organized actions on the macro (organizational) level to help deal with the problems and make improvements.
 
Practitioners know it just too well that achieving the desired impacts and illustrating them is never easy. The more long-term the operation and the wider its scope, the harder. What is the driver of achieving impacts and where does it come from? Although we very much want to see it as a “natural instinct” of an organisation (i.e. stemming from an organisation’s internal built-in mechanism), it is not surprising that this is far from being a general scenario in the social service and public sectors (including NGOs, NPOs(Note2), education institutions, government and pseudo-government institutions, etc.). Rather, it is fairly common that many organisations do not have a policy or an effective mechanism in place to evaluate the impacts of its operations. Very often evaluation is an isolated effort dependent on a few conscientious practitioners in the organisation; or even worse, remains a wishful-thinking manifestation of the practitioners, a lip service, or a superficial public-relations assignment of the organisation.
 
It is under such circumstances that philanthropists can add value to giving by asking for impacts. Questions lead to reflections and reviews; and monitoring leads to improvements. When not being asked or queried, one can easily stay in a comfort zone of self-efficacy. Philanthropists’ concerns on impacts can turn donations to a positive incentive, if not a requirement, for a grantee to recognize the importance of measuring impacts; to explore and to take serious and well-planned actions of measurements, not just one time, but as an ongoing process and policy. The inquisitive minds of philanthropists as an outsider are often conducive to unveiling long-hidden inadequacies or errors in operations which are otherwise buried in routine or “taken-for-granted” practices. It would be even more fruitful when the philanthropists possess professional knowledge in management or relevant fields. Through candid sharing with the philanthropists the grantee organisation will take the opportunity to help itself in uplifting its planning, management, implementation, evaluation and monitoring abilities. In turn the philanthropists will also learn and benefit from such an exploration process. Above all, beneficiaries will be more effectively helped in the way they should be; and service quality and efficiency will be upgraded based on more solid evidence of impact measurements. Going further, good practices can be established on this basis; and there will be better hope that impacts can be sustained and long term impacts can be achieved too.
 
In the realization of limited resources, one will donate to those organisations for programmes that have proven impacts or those that can at least demonstrate the determination and right method in achieving and measuring impacts. Undoubtedly this is the best value for donation because this will lead to a higher possibility of greater benefits for the people or problem one wants to help. Thus eventually what matters most will be whether giving can lead to a desired impact.
 
Now coming back to the question of why there is a difference between the two generations of philanthropists, the reasons are definitely manifold. However after the above discussion, does it not transpire that the answers to this question is less important than those to the question of why philanthropists should ask for impacts and how impacts can be achieved and measured?
 
Connie Tsang, Executive Director of Fu Tak Iam Foundation
 

Note 1: “UBS-INSEAD Study on Family Philanthropy in Asia”, UBS Philanthropy Services and INSEAD, 2011.
Note 2: NGO---non-government organization; NPG---non-profit organization