A Window on Philanthropy in Italy

Another window on high-value philanthropy just opened in Italy thanks to UNHCR and Gruppo Kairos, a private banking and wealth management firm. In March, UNHCR published the results of a survey carried out with the finance firm. I am grateful to Giovanna Li Perni at UNHCR for a copy of the report, and for her presentation of the results at last week’s Festival del Fundraising.

During October-November 2015 Kairos asked its HNWI clients to complete a questionnaire; 91 of them, 44% women, 56% men, did so. This is not therefore a balanced representative sample of people of wealth in Italy (so we cannot safely extrapolate the results) but does give us at least some insight into how this group of people reacted. The group included a wide range of wealth levels from €1m to more than €30m, and a spread of age groups with, as you would expect, a bias toward middle age and older (85% were aged 46 or over). Almost all of the group were donors – 91% had made at least one donation to a social cause in the previous year (against 26% of the general population). The percentage who gave rose with increasing wealth, reaching 100% of people with wealth over €30m.

When asked about their largest gift during 2015 to any one organisation, most reported €5,000, with 73% of women giving at this level and 49% of men. Older people tended to give more, so 22% of the over-65s gave €25,000 and 11% gave €50,000. Of course these people were giving to a number of organisations, so 30% of this older group gave away a total of between €50,000-€100,000 in 2015.

Asked about the causes to which they made their largest gift in 2015, 21% chose scientific or medical research, 19% favoured children’s causes, and 16% poverty in Italy. Importantly for UNHCR, 10% chose help and protection for refugees as their top cause. 62% gave principally to causes in Italy.

Why did they give?

More than half (52%) said that their main reason for giving was because they felt privileged. 26% said it was giving made them feel useful. Interestingly just 4% of donors said that they gave because of their religious values, with 9% saying that they want to change things, to make a difference and the same percentage saying that they gave to continue a family tradition of philanthropy.

In choosing a non-profit, two major reasons stood out; the cause, and ‘transparency of the organisation and exhaustive documentation on results.’ This focus on transparency is interesting and is part of a trend we can see across Europe toward greater transparency in the non-profit sector. New laws (for example, in Holland) and new organisations (for example Fundación Lealtad in Spain) are encouraging this trend toward transparency.

Italians will tell you that business in the country is based on personal connections, and it seems that this might be true for philanthropy also. It is certainly the case for this group of philanthropists, who say that the most common channel for hearing about the organisations they support is via their personal network (28% of respondents, the largest single group), while 15% say that they chose the cause because they knew the leader of the organisation in person.

What does this tell us about strategy?

The information in this report is gathered from the clients of one bank, so we should be careful about extrapolating from it. But given that there is almost nothing else available on HNWI philanthropy in the Italian market, we might at least test some conclusions.

The research should help push up the pricing of ‘major donor’ programmes. Individuals responding to this survey have made gifts in excess of €100,000 to single organisations, and 20% of them have made gifts of €25,000 or more. We can even venture a Gift Capacity calculation for this group, defining ‘Gift Capacity’ as ‘The largest total gift that one person could give to any one cause, in ideal conditions, over five years’ (see my previous blog on this topic.) Five of the respondents with net worth of €5-€10m made gifts to single organisations of €100,000 or more, between 1% and 2% of their net worth.

The research makes the case for prospect research. It shows that personal networks are the means by which these HNWIs have been reached by their non-profit partners, and that these networks are their primary source of information. Prospect research has the tools to identify personal networks. Sadly, the number of prospect researchers in Italy is still in single figures.

This research was carried out in partnership with Gruppo Kairos, and we have here a strategic clue that a number of NGOs in Europe are starting to follow up. Private wealth managers and bankers are increasingly interested in philanthropy, and we would all do well to focus more attention on this key group of intermediaries.

This is the second year in which UNHCR and Kairos have carried out this study, and the plan is to continue the annual series; another opening window on the world of HNWI philanthropy in Europe.


The Edge of Privacy

We live in interesting times, privately.

Confusing, contradictory times, when lawmakers require us to lock-down data whilst revealing their intimate thoughts on Twitter. Times when it is OK for a dominant search engine to track our billions of tiny searches, for our wrist watch to measure and transmit our sleeping and walking in the name of fitness. Times when we choose to tell our life stories in Facebook.

And times when our private underbelly is revealed to the world. Two stories have exposed privacy in all its moral complexity; the Panama Papers, and the Ashley Madison data breach. Both have been stories about activities that are legal (being a director of an offshore company and having an affair, or both simultaneously, are not illegal activities.) Both are about normal immorality.

Both stories are to some degree about power. The Panama Papers show us that the powerful are willing to mix their businesses with drug dealers, dictators and money launderers in order to avoid taxes. If you need to be reminded about just how powerful these people are, bear in mind that just one person was prosecuted out of the 1,000 UK names released in the last big tax-related data breach; the Falciani/HSBC affair [Source: ‘Tax Havens don’t need reform, but abolition’, Richard Brooks, Guardian Weekly, 8/4/16]

Both the Panama Papers and Ashley Madison are about relationships, a subject at the heart of prospect research. John knows Jane because both of them invest in the same company in the British Virgin Islands. And John knows Mary because he signed up for Ashley Madison and she’s his new friend.

John is a donor to your charity. He’s in your database, and he has turned up in a screening (carried out, naturally, by Factary). We’ve spotted him in Companies House, a public domain data set, as a director of an investment firm in Holborn, so we have flagged him as interesting.

When you transferred the data to Factary you took the utmost care over the process, using our sFTP (secure FTP) site and thus ensuring that John’s details were encrypted and safe. You checked that the computer link was over a HTTPS network. You made sure that the data would be stored in servers in the UK, in a physically safe and secured building. You did that because you are a conscientious prospect researcher, using the best practice required by the law.

John did not take the same care. When he invested in the British Virgin Islands via Mossack Fonseca he did so through the open web, by email. He joined Ashley Madison the same way, signing up on their website; no encryption, no security. Worse, he was voluntarily exporting his data outside of the protection offered by the European Union through its Data Directive.

And now John has a photograph of him and Mary together at a work conference and he’s posted it on his Facebook page.

Where is the edge of privacy?

Is it the frontier between long standing public domain records and the new stuff, between Companies House and Facebook, for example?

Is it between voluntarily released information and stuff that is Wikileaked?

Is it between Victorian morality and modern – between a marriage notice in the Telegraph, and Ashley Madison?

Above all, is it where people of power dictate it should be? So that we are allowed to see the company directorships of the little people, but cannot see into the murky world of British Virgin Islands connections? Or into the equally dark corners of political connection and patronage?

This is where we are, like it or not, in prospect research. Prospect researchers live on the edge of privacy, using personal information that is in the public domain, for public good. We research John Doe in order to help our fundraising colleagues reach out to him for a donation that will benefit a poor person, or a scholarship kid, or an eye-opening cultural event.

But the power of research comes with a responsibility; it is our profession that must lead the debates on power and privacy, on public domain and private.

Thank goodness it is us, because prospect researchers have a special moral compass. We have chosen to work for causes we believe in, to make sacrifices (anyone want to talk about pay rates for researchers?) for something we believe to be right and good. We have chosen not to sit in the glory seat in fundraising; we are clearly not in this for vanity or fame. We know the value of information, and we have seen the intimacies and the inanities that people are willing to share on the web. We chose every day between information that is right and relevant, and rubbish.

Prospect researchers are the best placed people in the non-profit sector to describe where a private life becomes public.

But we had better get out there and get talking; our donors, our colleagues and our organisations need our guidance as we walk, together, along the edge of privacy.