The Blog

Family Foundations - The Gift That Keeps on Giving

If you're stuck for a Christmas gift this year, you could do worse than consider setting up a family foundation - for once a gift that really does keep on giving.

In a climate of reduced government spending and weak economic growth, many more people are recognising their increasing obligation to society through philanthropy - and I'd like to explain why establishing a Family charitable foundation could be the most beneficial contribution they make, for themselves, their families and most importantly for society at large.

Family foundations are providing a robust, consistent and vital form of spending on charitable causes - growing much faster in their scale of giving than corporate and public giving - and they have an advantage in addressing social needs over ad hoc giving by wealthy individuals, which is more vulnerable to economic change and generally less strategic.

Foundations are able to focus on addressing specific social issues that they are close to or knowledgeable in, they are able to work in areas that government can't (and often shouldn't) go and, crucially, foundations can take a long term view and stay the course.

The family foundation which I run, the Pears Foundation, is rooted in Jewish values. We are dedicated to promoting positive identity and citizenship and building respect and understanding between people of different backgrounds and faiths.

Our work ranges from more traditional philanthropy, such as supporting a day centre in our local Hampstead community, to creating posts at universities to help better advance debate and understanding about Israel.

We hope that by being transparent about our work, we will be able to help inspire others.

With that in mind, our foundation supports the production of the annual report - Family Foundation Giving Trends - from ESRC Research Centre for Charitable Giving and Philanthropy at Cass Business School. The report provides a reliable, accessible and transparent barometer of current philanthropy - about which there is much speculation but little good data.

One of the key findings I want to share with you from this year's report is not just the huge contribution such foundations are making (the top 100 foundations made up 7% of all UK giving last year) but also that there are many people who would like to enter philanthropy but do not know how - philanthropists face new challenges for which the business world only partly prepares them.

There is a great deal of potential out there that we need to tap into. And given the value of family foundations to society, we need to see more support for their establishment, to ensure they can become fundamental and widespread in the UK and not just seen as the preserve of the very rich - we need charities, professional advisers and policy makers to develop many more imaginative and supportive ways for potential philanthropists to share experiences and learning to ensure the bridge is crossed and more foundations are established.

At the event supporting the report launch, there was a debate involving four prominent philanthropists with their own foundations: Nigel Doughty, Co-Founder of Doughty Hanson, one of Europe's largest venture capital groups and Trustee of the Doughty Family Foundation; Thomas Hughes-Hallett, chief executive of Marie Curie Cancer Care and former international investment banker; Sir Tom Hunter, entrepreneur and founder of the Hunter Foundation; and Trevor Pears, Executive Chair of the Pears Foundation.

All had children and all highlighted the positive impact their foundations were having not only on their beneficiaries but also on their own families; helping them to develop their social responsibility and educating them on the positive impact of philanthropy and the opportunities it creates for them to make a real difference. All disagreed with the suggestion from the floor that their children would be angry at being "disinherited" in this way - the reality was quite the opposite.

So, if you're stuck for a Christmas gift this year, you could do worse than consider setting up a family foundation - for once a gift that really does keep on giving.