22 April 2024

This article was first published in eprivateclient.

Expertise questions:

1. Why do you specialise in this area?

I first became involved in philanthropy about 20 years ago, when I was working in Cape Town at a large South African law firm. A colleague left the firm, and I inherited her charity and philanthropy law practice, and that was my first introduction to this area of law.

South Africa is an amazing country in so many ways, but due to its very complex history, it has the highest income inequality in the world[1] and that inequality has become worse over the years and is highly racialized and gendered. It was difficult to witness such inequality on a daily basis (although clearly much harder for the millions living in extreme poverty) without trying to do something to address it, even in a very small way.

Whilst at the law firm, I was approached by a global charity to help them establish their African headquarters. The charity’s main focus is ensuring all children have access to free healthcare and surgery (especially cleft surgery). They later asked me to join their board and I had the pleasure of sitting on the South African, and then UK, boards for about ten years. Whilst on the South African board I went on a medical mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the charity performed surgery on over a hundred children in a couple of weeks. It was a life-changing experience and that was what triggered my passion for philanthropy.

2. What are the main challenges facing philanthropy?

There are of course a few challenges. The UK is a generous nation. The CAF World Giving Index 2023 has the UK as the world’s third most giving nation, with 71% of people regularly donating money to charitable causes, up from fifth last year. However, a separate report by the Law Family Commission on Civil Society[2] has identified that the UK is falling behind countries such as Canada and New Zealand, which are seen as realistic comparisons in terms of socio-economic circumstances. The report suggests we are falling behind in two ways: the pool of donors is narrowing, and giving by the wealthiest in society is not keeping up with income growth. The total annual income of the top 1% of earners was 22% higher in real terms in 2018-19 than in 2011-12, but total donations by this group fell by 7% over the same period. 

This downward trend is worrying and needs to be examined and interrogated. Although it is also worth being aware that there are concerns around the accuracy of the data on the amounts the wealthy are giving, and this is another challenge which is discussed below. The wealthy provide a range of reasons for not giving including feelings of financial insecurity, a lack of faith in charities, and a lack of knowledge or experience with charities[3]. Focusing on the falling level of donations by the wealthy is not about shaming them into giving more (when has shame ever really been a successful motivator) but it is about understanding the reasons for it so they can be addressed.

As a counter to the findings by the Law Family Commission, the Beacon Collaborative has recently published a report[4] on high net worth giving data which suggests that there are significant limitations in current methodologies adopted by existing surveys to estimate levels of giving in different segments of the UK population. They estimate that giving by the UK’s wealthiest in 2022 could have been worth as much as £7.76 billion (and possibly much more) and that this figure is largely missing from current estimates of giving in the UK. The Beacon Collaborative quite rightly point out the need for developing financial models and methodologies which allow for accurate estimates of giving by the wealthy for numerous reasons. Not least among them is that, without accurate data, it is easy for the media to seize on a narrative that the wealthy are not pulling their weight and that “Behavioural economics tells us this type of narrative is catastrophic if our goal is to stimulate more giving from this segment because it reinforces a herd mentality that philanthropy is not a normal pastime for the rich”.

Another challenge is the public perception of philanthropy in the UK. Unlike the United States, we rarely celebrate philanthropy in the UK, indeed it is often criticised, including arguments that it helps perpetuate social inequalities. Wealthy individuals, and high-profile individuals, are particularly exposed to negative public perceptions of philanthropy. Research for Prism the Gift Fund[5] has noted a number of paradoxes around philanthropy in the UK, including that “the public holds a generally positive view about the things philanthropy pays for, whilst at the same time holding many negative opinions about those doing the paying”. These in turn influence giving behaviour: almost 20% believe negative perceptions of philanthropy are likely to deter people from giving.

3. What most excites you about philanthropy at the moment?

There is so much to be positive about. I am in the lucky position of being regularly astonished by the generosity of some of my clients and get to witness some really exciting, highly scalable ideas, particularly in the field of the environment and combatting climate change.

Philanthropy can be innovative and can allow charities to take risks which the public sector and businesses often cannot. A number of the societal and environmental challenges we are facing require big risks to be taken. There is a recognition of the unique role philanthropy can play in addressing these challenges from a number of quarters, not least the Charity Commission.

The chair of the Charity Commission, Orlando Fraser KC, recently gave the Dame Shirley lecture at the University of Kent where he spoke quite passionately about the important role philanthropy can play in society and that he sees the Charity Commission playing a key role in promoting it. In furtherance of this, Rory Brooks CBE, a committed philanthropist, has joined the board of the Commission and is providing a crucial philanthropic perspective on board decision making. The Commission intends to support and promote philanthropy in a number of ways, including developing a programme to better share the significant amount of data they hold on charities to help philanthropists choose which charities to support, and to understand the impact their support is achieving.

It is also a priority for organisations such as the Beacon Collaborative and the Law Family Commission on Civil Society. They are doing ground-breaking research and producing some really interesting policy options which could be transformative if implemented.

Fun questions:

1. When’s the last time you failed spectacularly at something?

I feel slightly spoilt for choice with this question and it has taken me a while to go through my catalogue of epic fails, but I think the last time I failed at something spectacularly was surfing. I started surfing with some friends in Cape Town, and despite surfing for many years, I am still rubbish at it. Apart from the time the shark alarm went off when I was in the water, I mainly struggled to catch a wave without an “assist” (big push) from a friend. 

If I am honest, I think I enjoyed sitting on my board at the back line chatting to my friends more than the actual work involved in surfing. And nothing beats that first cold post surf beer.

2. What’s your go-to karaoke song?

I don’t have one. I am proudly Welsh, but I did not inherit the singing gene. I would so love to be able to sing. But I can’t and I have too many siblings to be under any illusions.

3. If you couldn’t do your current role, what would your dream job be?

Well, I love animals, wine and cheese. I lost an hour of my life on the weekend watching videos of people looking after baby pandas and that looks endlessly entertaining. So maybe I could be a wine making-cheese mongering-baby panda nanny. That would be pretty special.

[1] World Bank Gini index 2023.

[2] Mind the Giving Gap: Unleashing the potential of UK philanthropy December 2021, Anoushka Kenley, Jamie O’Halloran and Karl Wilding.

[3] See Barriers to Giving, Barclays. The survey was of over 400 high net worth individuals in key wealth markets outside the US, including the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Hong Kong, Singapore and India. All participants held assets of £5m or more.

[4] Beacon Collaborative: HNW giving data, Reports, Research and Updates 18 October 2023.

[5] B Breeze, The Philanthropy Paradox: Public Attitudes and Future Prospects for Planned Giving, Prism: The Gift Fund, November 2020.

This article was first published in EPrivateClient magazine.

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Catherine de Maid Partner

  • International tax and trusts
  • Head of Philanthropy
  • Succession Planning and Wills

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