The COVID-19 crisis prompts a rash of philanthropic giving

Robert CaringtonOn 13 May 2020 the STEP Philanthropy Special Interest Group (SIG) in partnership with Philanthropy Impact hosted the first of its 2020 Philanthropy Programme series of events with a webinar entitled ‘Core Components of a Professional Philanthropy Advisory Practice’.

The event attracted a number of delegates from 18 different jurisdictions, and discussed a range of issues for philanthropy advisors. It was ably hosted by George King IV, Partner, MASECO Private Wealth; with Jo Bateson TEP, Partner, KPMG; Cath Dovey, Co-founder, Beacon Collaborative; and Alana Petraske, Partner, Withers Worldwide LLP, on the panel.

The current COVID-19 crisis and the deep and radical changes in society it has brought has prompted an increase in people wishing to give, and brought about a more important role for the philanthropy advisor. This means it is essential for advisors to have the right tools in place, and to be aware of clients’ shift in attitudes towards philanthropic giving, and what it involves.

Advisors need to feel comfortable about providing advice, especially while getting used to new ways of working. While much work can be done online, there are still concerns over physical actions, like signing cheques for clients, although on a positive note, many regulators have taken a pragmatic approach, recognising the need to work remotely.

A number of reasons were given for the increase in charitable giving. Clients want to be seen to be doing something, or they are using the increased ‘spare time’ to reflect on their place in society and how they could better themselves, with charitable giving being a solution. Many are acting in response to the current situation with a sense of urgency, and want to donate as quickly as possible.

During the first two weeks of the crisis, established infrastructure funds were able to utilise pre-existing networks and donate immediately and strategically. Subsequently there was a broader response, with non-regular clients and new donors emerging. Many of these had used the first few weeks to get their own affairs in order, and then wanted to act with speed. Anecdotal evidence showed that donors range from those with structures in place, to those who need preliminary hand-holding.

Even though the crisis is a generation-defining moment and clients want to donate quickly, several on the panel urged advisors to recommend clients should hold fire, and instead research their charities of interest, with a view to deploying their wealth strategically over a longer period (6 -12 months). It’s vital to manage clients’ anxiety and also assess the risk factors, as charities will be in distress for some time, and many will not survive at all. Reports show that in the UK, 40-70 per cent of charities may be dissolved in the next 12 months.

Another key, and indeed quite obvious issue is whether the client has sufficient money to give. The outbreak has brought out basic level survival instincts (such as the run on loo paper) and if someone feels under attack from the virus, they may not want to give, or feel they can’t.

The panel also suggested advisors be mindful of their own businesses, and review what they expect to happen in the next 6 months – 2 years. Points to consider include: where their work comes from, what will future working will look like, and what clients will be seeking from them. However, now is the perfect moment for advisors to be the philanthropy champion at work and integrate philanthropy into wealth planning.

The event ended with the panel highlighting what they felt were the key skills required for advisors in the industry:

  • Collaboration and the importance of building up a community which you can utilise and engage with.
  • Honesty regarding your skills, and being prepared to practice and train those who need further improvement.
  • To focus on a useful knowledge base, such as understanding what grant makers and other key players are doing.

 

 

Robert Carington is Policy Executive at STEP

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