There are plenty of reasons to be thankful for Scotch whisky this Christmas and New Year. But perhaps one of the most neglected is the significant contribution that the industry makes to Scotland’s charities and voluntary sector.
Charitable trusts and foundations funded by Scotch whisky profits are among the most generous grant-givers. Sample these two. In 1961, three sisters – Elspeth, Agnes and Ethel Robertson – re-named their father’s and grandfather’s whisky businesses after a local farm.
At the same time, they donated their shares in the business, now called The Edrington Group, for a new philanthropic initiative that they called The Robertson Trust. The sisters insisted that donations made a notable difference to the benefiting charities.
In 50 years of grant-giving The Robertson Trust has distributed more than £100m. Last year alone it helped nearly 750 charities in Scotland. Like Robertson, The Gannochy Trust is a stalwart of the Scottish voluntary sector.
The Gannochy Trust is the philanthropic legacy of A K Bell, the son of Arthur Bell who started his whisky business in Perth. The Trust that A K Bell created is 75 this year, and charities in Scotland celebrate receiving over £4m from it annually. Robertson and Gannochy are just two examples of mature, traditional approaches. Of course, it’s not only the whisky industry that has been generous.
Other major grant-giving foundations in Scotland exist because of wealth generated through banks, buses, books, oil, and family businesses. Philanthropy practised by the larger grant-makers is still developing. Kenneth Ferguson, director of The Robertson Trust, emphasises the pro-active nature of the Trust’s approach today.
“There is definitely a move away from just funding projects. Now, it’s about giving more than the money. It is about sharing contacts and helping charities with capacity-building.
"It’s important that core costs are supported.” But many leading and aspiring philanthropists are not excited by the idea of giving their money away to an endowed trust or foundation that spends only a small percentage of its net worth each year.
They want to see the impact of their philanthropy in their lifetime. One philanthropist who holds the ‘take action now’ point of view is the French hedge fund manager and co-founder of the international children’s charity Absolute Return For Kids, Arki Busson.
For over ten years, Busson and his colleagues have successfully mobilised the financial services industry to raise between £15m and £25m each year from a single, star-studded gala dinner in London.
When I interviewed him for Seven Pillars Of Philanthropy*, he was adamant about the need to address the needs of humanity today: “People are dying now. And so when you see these big, endowed organisations with billions, you wonder why they barely give the money out and what they are doing with it.”
Pierre Omidyar, the co-founder of e-bay is another who questions the spend-it-gradually tactic. He has pledged to give away 99% of his wealth over the next twenty years, and is willing to spend in excess of US$100m a year to help solve today’s social problems.
His approach is admired by Sir Richard Branson, Bill Clinton and Bill Gates who said of Omidyar in a USA Today interview earlier this year, “Pierre approaches his philanthropy with an innovative and entrepreneurial spirit that we can all learn from.” Omidyar himself has observed, “Philanthropy is not just about giving money. Money matters, but impact matters more.”
These are just some of the different ways of embracing and delivering philanthropy. There is no immediate prospect of models of social impact investing or hands-on venture philanthropy replacing the more traditional, stewardship models of charitable trusts and foundations like the Robertson and Gannochy.
Each can be inspiring to other business sectors and would-be philanthropists. And if they lead to more generosity in society and more partnerships across the public and private sector for local and global needs, then we can all celebrate with a dram.
In 2013, it would be inspiring for all of us to hear of more Scottish businesses and successful Scots embarking on innovative and dynamic giving that is strategic and with a long-term impact.
Whatever their passion and formula for philanthropy, their generosity is needed in Scotland and around the world. Here’s to them.
*Seven Pillars of Philanthropy by Laurence Brady is available now as an e-book. Laurence Brady is a writer, adviser and blogger on inspirational philanthropy at www.sirthomasliptonfoundation.org