The realm of philanthropy presents abundant opportunities to support inspiring people and organisations dedicated to driving social change. It can also be full of a daunting number of choices regarding how and where money can make a positive impact.

The role of a philanthropy advisor guides philanthropists through all the options, yet it can be likened to a film producer – behind the scenes, often unknown, yet integral to a blockbuster movie!

In this Global 20 interview, our CEO and Founder Ben Morton-Wright talks to Emma Beeston about her new book ‘Advising Philanthropists‘, which she co-authored with Beth Breeze. They discuss the emergence of philanthropy advising as a not-at-all fluffy profession, unpack how the sector is evolving with collective collaboration and Emma’s optimism for the younger generation creating impact with their lives.

Ben Morton-Wright 0:00
I’m very pleased to be joined by Emma Beeston who’s written, or co-edited I should say, with Beth Breeze, a brilliant book, which if you haven’t seen it, please do get a copy, called Advising Philanthropists. So Emma, thank you very much for joining us. I know the book was launched a few months ago, and it’s been really well received. And you, as I, have been involved for many years in the philanthropy advisory business, but it is wonderful to have a book that sets it all out. But first of all, perhaps, Emma, you could just share with us, what for those that are new, what is philanthropy advisory? What is this all about?

Emma Beeston 0:36
Thanks, Ben. And I guess put simply, the philanthropy advisor guides and supports philanthropists with their giving. It’s kind of that straightforward. There’s more to it than that, obviously! So they’re acting both as an expert, so they’re bringing knowledge and insight into the non profit sector and how to achieve impact, and then they’re also there as facilitators of the process. So guiding philanthropists from identifying their values and their motivations, right through to turning their giving into action, and helping them navigate all the many choices along the way that philanthropy kind of presents.

Ben Morton-Wright 1:17
It’s very interesting reading the book, the first classic quote, is a good old Carnegie saying “it’s harder to give it away than it is to actually make it”. And since Carnegie was quite a few years ago, last time I checked, it’s amazing that this is the first time we’ve actually got a book that documents this. I think, it’s the only book of its kind, possibly in the world, certainly outside the US, that actually tackles the big subjects, and it makes me wonder, given the billions that around the world that are given, why is that? Why has it taken so long for you to put this together and others to put this together?

Emma Beeston 1:52
It’s a really good question. I mean, when I started out as a philanthropy advisor, I didn’t realise there was so little attention on the profession. And then at the University of Kent, I co-created a module there on advising donors on their Masters programme. And again, when we were putting that course, together, there was so little data and research to pull on. So there’s loads of books about philanthropy and there’s lots written about what philanthropists should be doing or shouldn’t be doing, but very little about advisors themselves. So I think it’s because we’re a behind the scenes role. It’s like knowing the name of the director of the film or who the lead actor is, but you haven’t got the faintest idea who the producer is, or maybe even what a producer does. And I think we’re like that. So we’ve heard of MacKenzie Scott and her giving, but not who was advising her. And it doesn’t take much thought to realise she won’t be doing that on her own. She will be asking people for advice, but we, for whatever reason, we’re just behind the scenes, and we’re not getting that attention. We just haven’t.

Ben Morton-Wright 3:04
MacKenzie Scott’s very interesting. She came up in a previous interview with Landessa, as part of our Global 20 series, so we were talking about that gift. So clearly, there is advice out there. But you know, why, despite all that’s going on in the world, has it taken so long for us to work out how to actually do this or have one book that tells people how to do this? I mean, it seems very strange in a way, given the billions that are given around. Have got any more thoughts, having put this together, why? Is it because people weren’t willing to share or is it because it’s a profession that’s in an early stage of development? Why do you think it’s taken this long to get this group of essays and collection of expertise together?

Emma Beeston 3:52
The book was very much that, it is about an introduction to this profession, because it’s so little known. And that’s what we set out to do, to kind of say, who are these people and what are they doing and how do they do it? And what are the issues? And we know that philanthropy advice has been around for hundreds of years but you’re right, we’ve got some courses, we’ve got some networks, but nothing like the kind of standards, or codes of practice, or training or the standing even the other professions have. And I wonder if advisors have been caught up in that myth that charity and giving is this fluffy, easy thing. That sense of it’s not a serious part time that takes real skills. So there’s not a recognition that advice will be needed. And I guess just as some people don’t want to pay for charity overheads, you know, some of those misconceptions, they also don’t want to pay for advice. It’s seen as I don’t know this, yeah, ‘fluffy’ is the word that I use, you know, it’s not seen as something that’s a proper profession in some way.

But I know, recently, both Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk have been quoted as saying that philanthropy is really hard. And you just think, well, if it’s hard for them, and they’ll need advice, then surely everybody does. But for some reason, I guess because it’s partly about the heart, this idea that you therefore get official, experienced people to help you somehow just doesn’t seem to fit with some people’s expectations.

Ben Morton-Wright 5:28
And it is strange given the amount of advisors Ultra High Networths have on so many different subjects that in the context, the amount of given and the context, the fact that this book has only just arrived, it seems that this whole profession is developing relatively late compared to other advisory professions. And yet, as we well know, giving the money away, is not easy. And without the right advice it’s very, very difficult and it’s easy to get wrong. So it’s quite bizarre, maybe unpacking that is part of our job in the future. But anyway, it’s a fantastic book, really great models from around the world.

One of the things that I wanted to explore a little further is that we always think that the US is the most mature philanthropic market, it’s always ahead. What I thought was nice about your book is it drew from around the world. What was your observation about the US and is it so far ahead? Or is it actually lots of the learnings that we can get from the US, we can also get from other parts of the world? How do you see the US in the context of global philanthropy advice?

Emma Beeston 6:30
In the book we did have the really nice privilege of interviewing philanthropy advisors from, I think, 15 different countries. The reality is still that America is dominating a lot of the kind of report and the research and the thinking. And so that kind of more US centric thinking still dominates a lot of the literature. And I think still dominates people’s sense of what a philanthropist looks like, and how they operate. Although obviously, in America, there’s still diverse approaches as well. But there’s this kind of dominant, one right way, that can put people off because they go well, I’m not a billionaire, tech philanthropist so it’s not about me.

But I think if, this is a big if, because it’s the first book I ever wrote and it’s a challenge, but if we wrote it in 10 years time, I’d like to think that that will have changed, and that we’ll be hearing from more different cultures or different countries about their style of giving, and their approach to giving and therefore what that advice needs to be. And for me, I think there’ll be a shift to more collective and collaborative practices. I hope that advising will be involved in that space a bit more. We don’t know how it’s going to evolve. But you know, if you think about the need, we’re facing such huge challenges to deal with social justice and climate change, as well as how do we pay for the things that matter, like, hospices or things that bring us joy, like art and music and philanthropy can’t fix all of those. But more wealthy people can step up and can give more. So there’s a huge opportunity here. So outside, still in America, but across the world, to have people that are benefiting and are wealthy to think about what they do with their money, and how they can use that to do good in the world. And I think philanthropy advisors are part of unlocking those resources, because they can help people move from that fear of getting it wrong, or that complete sense of overwhelm and where do I start, so they can really get in there and unlock some of that giving, and also advise on good practice and how best to support change.

So I think that will look different in different countries. And I’m looking forward to seeing how it evolves. But I definitely think we’ll see more of it, and it will be growing as a profession, hopefully more diverse, hopefully more specialisms in there. And one thing that was interesting from doing the interviews with the 40 advisors, (yourself included, thank you very much, was great to have you in there), but everybody that we spoke with said that there was a need for more philanthropy advisors. And that’s quite unusual if you think of a profession effectively welcoming competition. So you know, that was striking because everybody can see that there’s a huge need for more people to come into the space to encourage and advise philanthropists to give as much as they can.

Ben Morton-Wright 9:49
I think what’s fascinating is though, obviously, the US reference is very important and the US content is very important and a lot of the principles and guiding principles and your conceptual diagrams and all the great stuff in there that you can actually deploy, are very appropriate to deploy around the world. I think what’s interesting is the cultural differences you talk about, and certainly our work in Asia, you see it emerging, but it’s still very early stages, the idea of actually paying for good advice around philanthropy is very early, but it could really take off.

And I’m also mindful, even in the UK, it’s been relatively slow. I was sat next to a high net worth individual and they were saying, well, you know, I think I ought to do something for the environment and one of our kids has got sick so we think we should do something in the medical healthcare, but we’re really not sure. And that individual was paying through a donor advised fund as a means to kind of buffer that whole decision making process. So even now it’s pretty evident that people really struggle with how to put their arms around this and actually invest in good advice. So I think this is a really incredible step in the right direction.

So you’re thinking that this will grow around the world then? And are you bullish? And how big do you think it could grow? I mean, where is it now? I think you had a very nice reception when you launched the book and I think there were about 50 or 60 philanthropy advisors, and it was very kind that you asked me as well. I mean, probably that’s the core. But I mean, how big could it get? How big could this profession get? Is it something that we should look to in terms of career development? How big is this going to develop, do you think?

Emma Beeston 11:25
I am bullish because as you say, it’s hard to work out (and that is the thing that shared around the world) how do you work out where you’re going to focus your attention and your efforts, given everything you could possibly do? And then how do you not do that in a silo on your own? How do you make that meaningful by joining and connecting with others? That’s not an easy problem to have. It’s important, and it matters, but it’s not easy. So yes, the book was well received, which has been lovely. We still have work to do on raising awareness, which was one of the jobs that we hoped the book will do. So just as you’ve sort of talked about someone you spoke to recently, I’ve recently had a conversation with an advisor to wealthy individuals, not a philanthropy advisor, who was basically going well, what do you do that I can’t do? And not really recognising the difference that a philanthropy advisor brings to a wealth manager, whereas I think they’re very different. And I’d like us all to be working together alongside clients rather than feeling that philanthropy advice is just a small thing that can be added.

So that low awareness, I think, is a barrier to my bullish vision of growth because that means there aren’t any clear routes into the profession. I mean, people are interested and moving in and it’s great that we have people that have come from International Development, or fundraising or different routes into the profession. And they’re self motivated, because there hasn’t been a clear career progression but I think we should be doing more to support people into the profession through more training and developing share standards of what quality advice looks like. And I think that would help donors and philanthropists too, to kind of see what’s possible and what their options are in terms of advice. And we also need to help those who are working with wealthy people so that they understand the value of philanthropy advice so they can refer their clients with confidence to philanthropy advisors. And I think clients want to talk about things like impact and legacy and purpose and making a difference. And it’s about supporting them to do that with a more collective mindset where all the different professions bring different aspects that are needed, but philanthropy advice is definitely part of that.

Ben Morton-Wright 14:05
And what other big barriers are there to entry in this space?

Emma Beeston 14:12
I think those are the main ones. I think this lack of awareness underpins a lot of it. And then there are some courses but not much at the moment. So I think you would feel like you were taking a risk if you were kind of saying, I want to be a philanthropy advisor, I’m not sure anyone at school is standing up.

Ben Morton-Wright 14:36
It’s not on the national curriculum quite just yet!

Emma Beeston 14:39
Not yet! There’s not particular role models because it’s that behind the scenes profession. So I think the main one definitely is that lack of awareness and that need for, I would say, professionalisation. Without turning it into an elite, you know, with barriers to entry, but definitely helping people to do the role, both the sort of technical aspects but also, as you know, a lot of it is about emotion, because you’re working with people and their money and how they feel about money and their wealth and their children. And they may have come into money through loss or other difficult circumstances. So there can be quite a lot of emotional aspects. It’s not just a straightforward transaction that we’re talking about. It’s about a journey and learning and evolving. And then there’s also the ethics of it as well. And I think that’s the other aspect around that, it’d be good to teach that aspect as well and get people to reflect on some of the tricky challenges that the role brings, as you know.

Ben Morton-Wright 15:54
Absolutely. Well, it’s been an absolute delight, Emma, to talk to you about this. And as I say, congratulations on giving brilliant tools in the book, but also giving so much to the profession by documenting it and bringing this all together. Are you bullish about the whole philanthropic sector and how it might develop and the role of philanthropy advice? Or are you a little bit more doom and gloom, given the recent stats. Do you think this is going to really take off? Or is it going to just chunter on? Because it has chuntered on a bit.

Emma Beeston 16:25
I’m optimistic. I think the younger generation gives me a lot of causes for optimism about their sense of how they want to create impact with the whole of their lives. And those that are therefore coming into family foundations and family wealth are doing things differently. I think I have a lot of optimism about that.

I think also, in part of the book, chapter seven, we look at some of the criticisms of philanthropy advice. So you know, I’ll characterise it very crudely, but we’re a privileged elite serving wealthy tax dodgers to feel better about themselves. That’ll be kind of a very flippant way of putting it! But actually, I think people are reflecting on our role and what the boundaries are and how much it’s about serving, how much it’s about informing and educating and challenging and there’s people doing some really interesting work around disrupting the status quo. So it’s moving beyond what do you want to do with your spare money, to thinking much more about what does the world need you to be? And I think some of those shifts are really interesting. I don’t know how they’ll go but I definitely think I would invite people to enter the profession now, because I think it’s really interesting. And I think it’s really important, and it’s a growth area that needs professionalising. But if we get it right, the prize is huge that we can help unlock some money that isn’t being spent at the moment because people aren’t giving for all sorts of reasons, and increase the funds that are available through philanthropy through our roles.

Ben Morton-Wright 18:19
Very positive note to end on, Emma so thank you very much. Directory of Social Change is where we go online, I’m sure you can find the book, please do. For those that haven’t read it yet, please do get a copy. It’s a really great read as well as very instructive and informative, giving all those tools. So well done to you and Beth for putting it together and to everyone that’s contributed. And it’s also wonderful to see everyone working together as a profession. All the philanthropy advisors, ourselves, you, all the others coming together and actually contributing best practice and our thoughts on it. So thank you very much for participating in a Global 20 interview and really shining a torch on what an interesting subject area and congratulations again on the book. So thank you very much, Emma, and I’m sure we’ll hear more in the future.

Emma Beeston 19:05
Thanks, Ben.