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EXCLUSIVE GUEST COMMENT: Reflections On What It Takes To Achieve Real Change

Rebecca Eastmond and Sheryl Fofaria, JP Morgan Private Bank, 24 October 2016

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In this article, JP Morgan Private Bank passes on lessons learned in philanthropy.

Philanthropy has become an integral component of a private bank or wealth manager’s proposition, especially in light of research that shows high net worth individuals are increasingly aligning their investments, business activities and lifestyle with their philanthropic goals, through for example impact investing and collaborative philanthropy.

In this article, Rebecca Eastmond, head of philanthropic services, Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and Sheryl Fofaria, vice president, philanthropy, at JP Morgan Private Bank discuss the top 10 lessons they have learnt about philanthropy from recent conversations with clients and philanthropists.

“If we direct all our human creativity to solving problems, step by step we can solve all the problems of the world.” Nobel Peace Laureate, Professor Muhammad Yunus.
 
Professor Yunus’ claim is inspiring but also daunting. What does it really take to solve a problem? What are the hurdles? Where are the opportunities? Is there a sweet spot for philanthropy? Discussing philanthropy is an important part of the work we do and we recognise the need to discuss this on larger scale. At a recent J.P. Morgan client event we brought together a number of the most experienced and effective philanthropists and investors in our network for their thoughts and advice.
 
Lesson 1: Begin with an end in mind. Have a vision and make it a bold one

Do you want to clean the Baltic Sea? Transform literacy rates in Liberia? Provide ways for every severely-troubled family to rebuild a life of purpose? You must keep hold of that golden vision as it will ensure that the highs and lows don’t throw you off-course. It will keep you going when things get difficult and will give you a yardstick to measure your progress against.
 
Lesson 2: Focus comes from passion and often, surprisingly, anger 

What makes you angry? What do you care most about? What do you want to change? What do you want to protect? You will begin to get more out of your giving as you continue learn, and as you learn more, your passion and focus will grow too.
 
Lesson 3: Stay humble and listen
 
It’s crucial to remind yourself to leave egos at the door when making philanthropic investments. Philanthropy is a game of humility and there is a great importance in listening and trusting other.
 
Lesson 4: Get out and speak to people
 
Speak to people and listen to them, trust them to tell you how they feel, where you’re failing and what is missing. Give agency to your beneficiaries and, at all costs, avoid becoming an over-demanding donor who doesn’t understand the realities on the ground.
 
Lesson 5: Don't expect it to be easy
 
It is vital to keep your optimism in times of difficulty and you must understand that philanthropy is not an easy process. You may feel that you take one step backwards for every two steps forward – but always dig in, keep hold of your passion and persistence – and you’ll get there in the end.
 
Lesson 6: Use every tool in your toolkit
 
You will be devoting more than just money to the causes you truly care about. The very nature and complexity of the issues that philanthropists seek to address mean that they cannot simply be fixed with grant money alone. You must explore personal connections and harness technology to ultimately build programmes that can engage governments from the very beginning and scale up success.
 
Lesson 7: Be honest with yourself and others and replicate success
 
There are two particularly pernicious biases in philanthropy which combine to encourage the replication of failure. The first bias is that, if something is going well, we don’t fund it. We assume that the non-profit organisation running the programme has everything it needs and doesn’t need us, so we look around for untested alternatives where we can feel special because we are funding something “new”. The second is that when we make a gift or investment that fails, we bury the results. The charity we are working with also buries the results. We all move on and try something else.
It requires intellectual courage to face up to our own failures as well as to recognise that other people may have already found the answer that we should understand, support, scale up and perhaps improve upon.
 
Lesson 8: Build coalitions
 
You will need to think early on about who you need to take with you to solve the problems that you care about. It is better to get buy-in at the ideas stage, understand what a “win” looks like for your potential partners and take them with you from the beginning. Make sure they have skin in the game too. When you have navigated mistakes in partnership with others and jointly achieved small-scale success together, you will be far more likely to be able to replicate and scale up in partnership too.
 
Lesson 9: Remeber the planet
 
Whatever you do, in your philanthropy, in your business, in your private life, the critical importance of the environment is a cross-cutting theme that underpins it all. This is a reminder to make sure that environmental considerations make it into every decision and, in particular, to ensure that your philanthropy doesn’t inadvertently cause harm.
 
Lesson 10: If you're not having fun, stop and start again
 
Philanthropy is exhilarating. Sometimes it’s frustrating, sometimes things move slowly, but fundamentally, philanthropy is always fun. It gives you the chance to learn about issues that you care deeply about, to meet amazing people who are trying to move the world in a positive direction and to connect with real people whose lives you really can improve.
 
If you aren’t enjoying your philanthropy, something has gone wrong and it needs a reboot.
 
There is no one recipe for philanthropy and no one will be able to provide all the answers. The key to philanthropy is really to get stuck in and do something.
 
As Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said, “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” We can’t give you better advice than that.

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