Notes from Philanthropy event at Newcastle University, 8 June 2017

Notes from the Centre for Research on Entrepreneurship, Wealth and Philanthropy  Annual Symposium held on 7 June 2017

I attended this with Sandra. The event was held in the Newcastle University Armstrong Building.

There were four speakers, and I summarise the key points they made below:

Prof. Roy Suddaby, University of Victoria (Canada)

He is an organisational theorist working with the Community Foundation in Victoria. However, his background is that he was a lawyer specialising in setting up trusts.

His research focuses on family trusts, particularly the largest whose GDP exceeds that of many smaller countries. He suggested that the focus of these was in some ways the preservation of wealth, rather than a Carnegie-esque desire to give it all away:

“Wealth is like an orchard. You have to share the fruit but not the trees” (Carlos Slim)

Globally he found the growth of such trusts a cause for concern: these are organisations with huge assets, and very little accountancy or transparency that can operate across national borders.

It rather made me value the Charity Commission – for all its faults. Only in the UK is the tendency to size trusts by what they give rather than what they own.

He also noted that although these organisations tended to have lots of big ideas for changing our lives, their owners have very little interest in changing their own view of the world. In part this reflected the fact that the trusts’ purpose focuses on preserving the status quo for the ultra-rich. In this context Community Foundations could be seen as a radically alternative model of philanthropic organisation: much more democratic, accountable and effective. I had a long conversation with him about this prior to the meeting, and in particular the lack of research that has been published on the benefits of our model.

Alison Gibson, year 2 PhD student

Working on University endowment building. She discovered that the vast majority of the funds in HE are held by Oxford and Cambridge, with new universities doing very badly on alumni fund raising. One of the interesting points she made in discussion with me was about how Universities are not good at managing the charitable funds they hold, largely because they tend to end up being nobody’s responsibility. A similar message was given at the University of Kent event I attended a few years’ back. They couldn’t even audit the funds they had, and they were set up in 1965! Is there an opportunity for us here?

Roumei Yang, year 1 PhD student

Working on events, hospitality and unique networking in China and the UK. She will be doing research on some of our events as part of this. The intention is to produce a practice guide.

Dr Michael Price

A case of an academic explaining something to you that you already know, using language you cannot understand. By careful word analysis of key texts (i.e. word clouds) he discovered that there is a pattern to the way corporate governance is regulated in the UK. It is basically a 4 stage process:

1. There’s a scandal, and the press call for huge changes;
2. a report is commissioned which takes years to produce, by which time the world moves on;
3. the report is very neutral in tone, and suggests that things are basically OK
4. nothing changes. Return to stage 1…

Prof. Charles Harvey, Newcastle University and our Board

Very entertaining speaker. Started with a definition of philanthropy: “a gift of resources from private wealth to promote a particular charitable cause”.

Like a lot of the speakers, seems to be heavily influenced by Bourdieu ( whose work suggests that philanthropy is basically a form of trade: by setting up a fund a donor loses money but gains things of value such as status, contacts, personal development etc.

An interesting point made by Charles was that the NE had an abundance of what he called the “modestly wealthy”. Perhaps this provides part of the explanation for our success: people have enough to want to give, but not so much they want to set up their own trust.

Finally he suggested some key roles that philanthropy can play:

– Setting the ball rolling on particular types of initiative
– Gingering up social activism
– Supporting partnerships.

Mark Pierce

8 June 2017

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