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Now & Next: Charity - how effective is giving?

Posted on 29 January 2020

What does philanthropy look like today? Between billionaires giving away more than ever before and the creative ways encouraging the rest of us to give money, how altruistic is this new age of giving? 

Today’s super wealthy are richer than ever and they are giving away their billions like never before.

Facebook’s Founder Mark Zuckerberg promising to give way 99% of his shares of the company to charity.

Philanthropists are putting record sums into tackling the world’s most pressing problems.

This is an effort of love.  This is an effort of compassion.

And unlike the mega donors of the past, today’s philanthropists want to see the results in their lifetimes.

Michael Bloomberg’s philanthropy is a gift to this planet.

But how altruistic is this new golden age of giving?  Have these mega donors become too powerful?

We have created a separate none equal system where billionaires can influence it by just buying social change.

The way charities work is increasingly under the microscope. Long delayed reports into sexual abuse by Oxfam workers in Haiti.

We are a non-violent peaceful protest.                                                                               

Donors large and small are demanding better bang for their buck.

Caroline 100.

390. 100.


This is leading to innovative new approaches to doing good which are redefining notions of altruism.

100 million dollars has been given thanks to the effect of altruism.

Manhattan, New York.


Hilton Douglas is an outreach worker for Urban Pathways, a non-profit benefiting from a recent explosion in charity amongst wealthy Americans.

Take a card out, check it out. Monday to Friday, 12.30.

And Hilton is on a mission to tackle one of the countries toughest problems.  One rough sleeper at a time

Do you need a place to stay this evening? Okay. It’s not an issue, they have a few vacancies.

There are record numbers of homeless people in New York and every day Hilton tries to help some of the worst affected.

There you go sir, there’s a card.  That’s the drop in centre, you go there 9.00 o’clock.

In 2018 spending by charitable foundations reached a record 75 billion dollars in America.  The charity Hilton works for is one of 250 that are backed by New York’s largest and best known foundation, Robin Hood.  Robin Hood provides a small percentage of Urban Pathway’s total income but the foundation also donates strategic and operational assistance.

How we support the funders is essential.  They have a buzzer for Robin Hood, I am not sure where we would be at this particular time.

Urban Pathways runs outreach programmes and a drop in centre and provides a roof for around 850 men and women each night.

Yes it can be dangerous man.  Other people in the streets can take advantage of you.

Rufus has been on the streets for 6 years. 

I’ve got some good news for you.  I have a placement for you at the Safe Haven today.


Today.  We are going to do it today so you can finally come off the streets and get you a new chapter.  A new chapter, alright?

Yeah, I’m ready.

For long-term rough sleepers like Rufus, the charity has set up three Safe Havens as an alternative to city funded dormitory style shelters.

Alrighty brother.  Start at the beginning, a new beginning.

Alright.  Thank you so much.

Alright, so now you can put that bag down finally because you’ve been carrying it around for 24 hours a day.

Rufus has lost contact with his family and is hoping his temporary home could help turn his life around.

Sometime you have to, you have to act hard when you are not hard.  There are a lot of cut throats. Sometime when I see people just step, just step over somebody, they are just laid out in the street you know. I would love to get back to work. Do things for myself, so I can get back with my family man.  I miss my family.

The ultimate aim is to get Rufus and other homeless people into permanent affordable housing.

That was a gift right there.

Alright brother take it easy.


I see you out there again.  Take it easy.

Hilton believes the Robin Hood Foundation is helping his charity find a long-term solution to New York’s homelessness crisis.

I can say if I wasn’t here there might be 200 plus more people on the street that you might be stepping over.  So Robin Hood is saving lives, because I am saving lives.

55% of the room, 5.8 million dollars.  That is stunning.

Every year Robin Hood stages America’s biggest, glitziest fundraising gala where it raises over 60% of its annual funding in 3 hours.

Whatever amount that you feel whether it be 100 dollars to house a family for one night that they otherwise would be homeless.

While the average annual donation to the foundation is 108 dollars, the gala has helped Robin Hood become renowned as the charity of choice for hedge fund managers and bankers. Over the past 30 years it has raised and spent around 3 billion dollars fighting poverty in New York.

We have helped hundreds of thousands of people change lives, improve lives.

Paul Tudor Jones founded Robin Hood, an investor and hedge fund manager worth around 5 billion dollars.  He believes private philanthropy leads the State in dealing with society’s problems.

If we had a perfect world where Governments were going to actually act in the best interests of the people, where they are actually going to represent what local communities need and address those problems then no we wouldn’t have a need for philanthropy but that unfortunately is not the case.  The innovation as it does in virtually everything in the world comes from the private sector and quite often it is often either sanctioned in or adopted by the public sector.  I don’t think fighting poverty is any different.

Real altruism for most people at the Robin Hood gala would be to stop doing business the way they do business.

Journalist Anand Giridharidas spent 3 years exploring the motivations of America’s wealthy philanthropists.  He has concluded that some of their business practices create the very social problems their philanthropy tries to address.

Well what I see is a room full of people who think they are helping but are working at much greater scale to maintain and entrench a system that frankly dooms the people that they are helping.  Real altruism would actually be doing less harm, not running working people into the ground through the pressure they put on the companies they take stakes in.

In the past 30 years the number of foundations in America has almost tripled.  Since 1978 the proportion of overall giving that’s come from those foundations has also tripled.  But the US Treasury estimates philanthropy will cost it 740 billion dollars in lost tax revenue over the next decade.  Anand claims this giving by wealthy Americans is more about tax breaks than charity.

Poor people, people who make 20,000 dollars a year are paying higher taxes than they otherwise would to subsidise about 50 billion dollars in tax breaks every year that we give people for donating money.  You are injecting harm into the society, you are making more money and then you are going to the Robin Hood gala to donate 1% of what you have stolen from the common good to a fraction of the people whose interest you have harmed and you feel so proud of yourself.  It’s an arsonist convention in which everybody is under the mistaken impression that they are firefighters.

Whilst some are questioning the motivations behind large charitable donations, others are taking action to stop what they see as tainted philanthropy.  It is Monday night in London. A  group of activists are protesting outside one of the Cities most prestigious art galleries.  They are angry that the National Portrait Gallery is sponsored by BP, one of the world’s leading fossil fuel companies.

Do you not think that the arts organisation could be much better getting their money directly from the Government? 

Have a good evening sir.

One of the group’s founders, Danny Chivers has chosen the opening night of a new exhibition to chain himself to the gallery’s railings.

BP gets to associate itself with this great art.  It gets to associate itself with these leading artists. Gets to present itself as this sort of positive company that is doing something useful in the world when in reality it’s actively lobbying spending tens of millions of pounds every year blocking climate laws, slowing down the growth of renewable energy, making the world a much more dangerous place for everybody and in the middle of a climate crisis the idea of taking money or in fact helping to promote an oil company just seems more and more indefensible.

Since 2012 these protestors have been invading spaces and performing gorilla theatre, like this protest against BP’s sponsorship of the British Museum.

We are the ghosts of climate present.

They call themselves BP or not BP and describe themselves as a theatrical protest group of actorvists.

The methane is rising up and killing us.  What do we want?

We want their justice.

What do we want?

We want their justice.

Tonight’s protest is another attempt to shame a major art’s institution into refusing philanthropic money from big oil.

These institutions need to actually have a conversation with themselves and with their stakeholders and with their publics and with their staff about what are their values and what are their ethical red lines.

Just as a reminder if you could please have your invitation and your photo ID as you come to the front please.  Thank you very much.

Many of the guests don’t seem to agree with the protestors.

What do we want?

We want their justice.

What do we want?

I think the sponsorship of something like this has helped artists immeasurably over the last 30 years has it been going?

Some feel art’s institutions have little choice but to accept sponsorship money in an era of austerity.

The arts have been consistently cut by the public purse, they have to generate income from other sources and sponsorship is undoubtedly one of the sensible ways in which they can do it.

Five locked on Adam, five locked on.

The gallery’s security try to prevent the protestors disrupting the night.

We are a non-violent, peaceful protest.

But BP or not BP continues the protest.  The group argues that for some major corporations philanthropy is primarily about whitewashing their reputations.

They are buying a cleansing of their image and they are doing so at a very cheap price. 

It is not appropriate for overwhelmingly publically funded institutions to be laundering the images of corporations that are working actively against the public interest.

Around the world revered arts institutions are now questioning the sources of philanthropic donations they received.

As in storm the Guggenheim museum to protest a donor’s alleged ties to the opioid crisis.

In 2019 the Guggenheim New York, The Tate and The National Portrait Gallery refused grants from the Sackler Foundation because the Sackler family are widely perceived to have profited from America’s opioid crisis.

Shame on Sackler, shame on Sackler.

In today’s world perhaps the most effective checks on the motivations and impact of big philanthropy come from other big philanthropists.

Today billionaire Michael Bloomberg announced a 500 million dollar pledge to support efforts to phase out the nation’s remaining coal fired plants.

Since 2011 former mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg has donated over 500 million dollars to campaigns to replace coal with clean energy in the US by 2030.

I am pleased to announce that Bloomberg’s philanthropy is making a pledge of 50 million dollars over the next four years to support The Sierra Clubs new grass roots Beyond Coal campaign.

But in taking on the battle against climate change Mr Bloomberg has also taken on other billionaire philanthropists on the opposing side of the debate.

The Koch brothers are among the Nation’s best known politically active families, the billionaire’s network of political action committees and advocacy groups will spend…

For decades oil barons, Charles Koch and his late brother, David have given billions of dollars to non-profit organisations in order to promote scepticism about global warming.

What I give to my foundations is, is all public information.

The Koch’s donations have had a huge impact on strengthening the climate change denial lobby in America.

Their money has helped attack scientists who work in the climate change field.  Their money has helped underwrite an army of policy 15.07 and lawyers who poked holes in different efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.  The Koch’s have pulled all the levers of power with their wealth to try to stop the momentum to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

What do we want?


When do we want them?


But Michael Bloomberg’s donations to his campaign Beyond Coal have proved an influential counterbalance.  So far these have helped retire 289 coal plants, more than half the country’s total.

Michael Bloomberg’s philanthropy is a gift to this planet.  Thanks to the coal plants that we have retired through the Beyond Coal campaign, the US still has a chance of meeting its commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement even despite Trump.  It’s philanthropy that’s harnessing the will of the American people and our desire for a better world for our kids.

America has witnessed the spectacle of its most renowned philanthropists battling it out over one of the world’s most important political issues.

The story of philanthropy and climate change is the story of kind of billionaire versus billionaire.  It’s like watching these Greek Gods throw thunderbolts at each other.  The Koch’s versus Bloomberg and that’s increasingly a story about a lot of issues today. That you will find billionaires on both sides of the issue.

It raises a fundamental question.  How much political power should wealthy but unelected philanthropists wield?

I think Bloomberg is doing great work.  I am worried about climate change.  I also think Bloomberg has way too much power for a single individual.  You can cheer somebody on in their philanthropy even as you are concerned about their power in a society which is supposed to be a democracy.

Even do-gooding, even philanthropy, even supporting non-profit – it is still an exertion of power even when it’s good and the whole point of modern democracies is to limit the power of private individuals or a public life.  That’s the whole game.  That’s why we did this and now we have created this separate non-equal system where billionaires can also influence it by just buying social change.

While powerful and wealthy philanthropists are increasingly giving away their money fewer people on average are giving in the developed world than two decades ago. 

A long delayed report into sexual abuse by Oxfam workers in Haiti says…

It’s a decline that has coincided with scandals that have rocked some of the world’s best known charities.

You have not only taken people’s money, you have taken people’s sympathy and you have betrayed them.

Little wonder charities are now experimenting with innovative new approaches to persuade donors to part with their cash.

I am really excited about tonight.  It is going to be great fun.

In London project manager Jennifer Johnston is about to give away her money but she doesn’t know how much nor to who.

I am not a billionaire.  I don’t even consider myself a philanthropist really.

Good evening everyone.  Thank you for coming this evening.

Jennifer is one of 80 people attending an event organised by The Funding Network.

We are looking to… we need to grow and we need to try and you know, get ourselves some more funding’s.

Charities here have to compete for donor’s bids.

Wave Café’s goal is to set up a vibrant community arts café in North London.

Hi everyone, my name is Sarah and I am the Founder of the Kids Network.

It is a live auction with a difference.

Now you put your hand up and when I point to you, you say your name and the amount you would like to give.

Caroline £100.

Octopus £100.


Serena £200.


Martin £100.

Up the back?


Francesca £100.

Francesca £100 thank you.

Jennifer £200.

Jennifer £200. I would say in about 12 minutes we ratchet it up 15 grand.

Charities have just a few minutes each for their pitch.

Mothers and babies are dying.

At an average event The Funding Network raises between £25,000 and £35,000 in about 40 minutes.

We want to reduce those maternity debts and you can help us please.

I have blown my budget already but that is inherent when you come to events like this.

Someone could come along tonight and contribute £200 but they will leave saying ‘I was part of a group of people that raised £30,000’.

It’s a dynamic model of giving and it is making philanthropists out of anyone with some cash to spare.

We believe we are democratising philanthropy, something that we all not only can do but have a responsibility to do and that’s what we take great pride in.

You should learn new things and you should leave feeling empowered and inspired.

There’s lots of people from different backgrounds here tonight.  I think what we have all got in common is wanting to engage in the community, in the issues that world faces today.

I feel really inspired.  That is the point of a Funding Network, you come here with your small contribution to contribute to the greater good.

The Funding Network runs events across 25 countries worldwide and hopes to buck the trend in the developed world of fewer individuals giving to charity.

I think it is why it is beholden on all of us who are working within this area to be transparent, to be open, to build trust with our donors and to look at innovative ways of engaging or re-engaging people.

With rising demand for transparency and accountability some charities are offering potential donors a clearer incentive.  Results. 

Konakry, Guinea, West Africa.  The frontline in the fight against a disease that kills over 400 thousand people worldwide every year.  Kubala lost her 2 year old son to malaria last year.

But this is also the frontline in a new approach to giving that is rooted in hard economics.  Here one charity, Against Malaria Foundation is distributing mosquito nets.

In Guinea they have handed out 4.8 million nets this year alone and they are doing it because by analysing data they have calculated this is the most efficient way to save lives.

Rather than attracting donors using marketing techniques that play on emotion, the charity relies instead on arguments based on hard data.

It is a growing model known as effective altruism.

Effective altruism is a movement and a philosophy that aims to use reason and evidence in order to do the most good possible.  Data is absolutely fundamental to everything we do.  Critically it allows us to say ‘how many nets need to go to each household so that there is universal coverage achieved?’

Donors have confidence that we are going to do what we say we will do so every 2 dollars, every dollar really counts.

Effective altruism relies on charity evaluators which search for and assess non-profits that save or improve the most lives per dollar.

The charities achieving the best results are published in a league table to help donors identify which will make best use of their money.

Against Malaria Foundation is consistently ranked as one of the highest for impact and accountability.

If we were going to buy a car we would look at all the different options and try to work out which is the best suited and which has best value for money.  It is bringing that same scrutiny that we bring to other economic areas into the charity sector.

In the past 10 years effective altruism has contributed over 100 million dollars in donations towards Against Malaria Foundation.  The charity says this has helped fund the distribution of 50 million bed nets worldwide protecting 90 million people and saving around 30 thousand lives.

Economically when you are ill and suffering from malaria you can’t work, you can’t teach, you can’t farm, you really can’t function and so it puts a burden on the economies of these countries and it is estimated that for every dollar spent in combating and fighting malaria through bed nets, 12 dollars is generated in GDP for that country.

But effective altruism, EA, has its critics who saying giving is not a science and that there is more to charity than cold hard numbers.

Critics are of EA have said that it appeals maybe to logic and not emotion and we are here at the hospital today and there are numerous young children who are suffering from severe malaria and you can see worried parents everywhere. I don’t see a lack of emotion in any of that at all.

This scientific approach to charitable giving and work is on the rise and is assuming innovative new forms.  It is being used by some of today’s class of billionaire philanthropists.  How this plays out alongside their rise in power will help to re-define the impact of altruism.

And how it is perceived.


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