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November 29, 2012

Caroline Fiennes' 'It Ain't What You Give' Is the Indispensable Philanthropic Guide

By Spear's

A slap around the charitable chops, Fiennes dispels the fog around philanthropy which can prevent faint-hearted would-be donors from getting involved

Philanthropy has too often tended to the airy-fairy: aspirations and promises lead not infrequently to self-satisfaction but not action. The excuses are easy: it’s too hard to get involved. I don’t believe the charity will use my money well. How can you tell if you’re getting results?

Caroline Fiennes feels this is feeble, and that’s why she’s written It Ain’t What You Give, It’s The Way That You Give It: Making charitable donations which get results. A slap around the charitable chops, Fiennes dispels the fog around philanthropy which can prevent faint-hearted would-be donors from getting involved. This is not a philosophical vagation but a practical handbook.

Read more: A beginner’s guide to giving away money

Take picking your charity. People often worry that a charity which has high administration costs doesn’t use your donations effectively, but Fiennes in her no-nonsense style reports a study which showed that ‘…drum roll… the high-performing charities spend more of their budgets on admin than do the lower-performers.’ When you want to find out which charity is the best (‘you’re not just looking for charities that do some good’), she has a checklist of six questions about goals and progress. These sound like obvious concepts to evaluate but they can be submerged in an emotional appeal.

Read more: The Spear’s 1 Per Cent Campaign

In her section on major gifts, Fiennes, who runs philanthropic consultancy Giving Evidence, is unsparing about the mistakes people make: ‘Be hard to find, and unresponsive to enquiries; make charities apply to you, and have a complicated and bespoke application process; attract far more applications than you need; make small grants, and lots of fuss.’ These have all happened — and continue to happen.

It Ain’t What You Give… is exactly the guide that donors need. The refreshingly rigorous approach Fiennes brings to the science and art of philanthropy is long overdue.

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