What is a philanthropist?
When many people hear the word, they usually think it’s an Ultra High Net Worth Individual  giving millions of pounds or dollars to a charitable cause – people like Warren Buffet or Bill Gates.
However, the word comes from the Greek – the love of humanity. Nowhere in its origins does it mention money – it means the giving of time, talent or resources to improve a situation. It differs from charity, primarily because philanthropy is more planned and considered, with the aim of having specific outcomes that you identify in advance. This is in contrast to charity, which is usually reactive – for instance, someone asks you to sponsor them for a marathon. This is not to say that either is in any way better, merely that they are different.
I believe we do need more philanthropists in Yorkshire (and, indeed, the rest of the world), both for society and for the individual.
We live in unprecedented times with “needs” in local communities increasing. Rather than being an exception, foodbanks are now becoming the “norm”, with many families relying on them to feed their families. There is a significant rise in “hidden homelessness”, as well as those living rough on the street – one in five young people in the UK have sofa-surfed in the past year and almost half have done so for more than a month . In Leeds, 37,000 of our older residents are experiencing social isolation and loneliness, which can be as bad for their health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Our great welfare system – established in 1911 and often the envy of those in other countries – is struggling to cope with increased demand. The UK population has grown significantly, from 36m in 1911 to 66m today, and an estimated 70m by 2020.
Advances in medicine and treatment mean that many people are surviving illness and disease that would formerly have killed them, and the life expectancy of older people is also increasing, resulting in more people living longer with greater support needs. Coupled with this, we are experiencing the biggest reduction in public sector funding in most people’s lifetimes, which is beginning to have an impact on the support that can be offered to the most vulnerable.
And what did we have before we had the welfare state? Philanthropy! It was the county’s businesspeople and tradesmen/women who built the hospitals, made sure that the poor were fed and that young people were educated.
I believe it’s time to re-think the social contract, the relationship between the individual and the state. We need to go back to the time when communities looked after each other, where those who had more readily shared with those who had less.
I am not condoning moving people from being dependent on the state to being dependent on philanthropy. 21st century Britain requires a different type of philanthropy. One that is built on the concept of giving a hand up, not a hand out. One that provides opportunities for people to do more to help themselves; to learn new skills; to get a job. One where the responsibility to look after fellow citizens is shared between the public, private and third sectors and by each of us, as individuals. One that puts the U and I back into commUnIty.
But philanthropy is not just one-way. It’s proven to be personally rewarding to show compassion for those around you – be they in your local town or city, in other parts of the UK or across the globe.
Recent research has shown it’s also good for your health! Giving time and/or resources activates the reward centre in your brain, which elicits a surge of endorphins that make you feel great. Those that give are seen to have greater satisfaction in life and feel happier than those that don’t. Giving has even been known to help reduce stress!
I have been fortunate enough to meet Dame “Steve” Shirley, who arrived in Britain as a 5-year old on the Kinderstransport in 1939. She is delighted that she is no longer on the Sunday Times Rich List because she has given so much away to charity. She says that giving her wealth away has been the most rewarding stage of her life: “The money I have let go has brought me infinitely more joy than the money I have hung on to.”
As the CEO of a Charitable Foundation that encourages local community philanthropy, this is where my personal passion lies. Being able to walk through the streets of this great city, knowing that the time and money I give through my own philanthropy – albeit a modest amount – has helped to improve the life of even one person is priceless. It’s something that money just can’t buy, but you can obtain by giving it away. The Leeds Community Foundation team love talking about philanthropy and showing its potential impact on society and on the individual philanthropists.
To find out more, please visit www.leedscf.org.uk or give us a ring on 0113 242 2426.
 An UHNW individual is someone with a net worth of at least US$30m (after accounting for shares in companies, residential and other investments). There are estimated to be approximately 70,000 in the USA and 4,700 in the UK. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ultra_high-net-worth_individual