Is it easier to give or to get?

At Quartet Community Foundation’s recent annual philanthropy debate, the question posed was:

This house believes it is more difficult to give money away intelligently than to earn it in the first place.

 As someone who earns my living advising donors which charities to invest in, I had a foot in both camps. It is hard to make a living as a philanthropy advisor in the UK. But the very reason I do get paid to do my job is it is not easy to give to charity, if you want to do it well.

 Speaking for the motion were philanthropist Helen Wilde and Bevis Watts from Triodos Bank. They made a good case for the difficulties that come with giving intelligently:

  • How do you find effective charities that are not the big high profile ones?
  • How do you choose which ones to support?
  • How do you sift through the poor proposals to find the quality ones?
  • It takes time and effort to spend wisely.
  • It takes experience and good judgment to identify those charities that need money but are not about to fold.
  • You need to find out which are meaningful, credible, ethical, will have impact and are working with others to maximise resources and avoid duplication.
  • Backing a charity involves taking a risk and that is a hard thing to do with your money.

And surely this is harder than making money by sitting in your house whilst it values accrues?

 But it was the case against that won the vote by 73% to 27%. Stephen Fear and Andrew Garrad’s basic argument was that making money is hard work. Yes there is an element of luck and it helps if you are born into social advantage or inherit. But it is down to putting in the long hours and surviving that leads to business and financial success. Whilst giving to charity? Well, they argued that that is easy – it is just common sense and uses the same skills anyone would use to decide what project to run with.

 So I ended up in the minority. I agreed with the winning speakers that it is easy to give to charity. But only if you go along with their premise that any charity is worth giving to. I still take the view that giving intelligently is harder to do as charities are not all equal. If you want to maximise the benefit from your gift then you have to put in the work to discriminate between the many options.

 It was a lively debate and a good evening. And I left suspecting that those not at the table - the charities out there delivering - probably have it hardest of all.