Foundation of Giving: Motivations, Values and the SDGs

Within the act of philanthropy, motivation and values are key to the foundation of giving as they heavily influence the result and impact of philanthropic activities.

The motivation for philanthropist to setup a foundation in order to reduce taxes by tax-deductible donations to the foundation, is a legitimate one. The motivation for philanthropist to improve their own reputation and set a monument for oneself is understandable. The motivation for philanthropist to execute power through capital injection in programmes, may bring the strength for action and is legitimate. However, all three motivations are not enough for values-driven philanthropy and cannot be the primary motivations. The first motivation in ethical terms should be to serve the community, to aid the progression of common good and humanity, and to give back to society. A good example of this is the Mo Ibrahim Foundation’s motivation for focussing on governance and leadership in Africa – “The Mo Ibrahim Foundation (MIF) is an African foundation, established in 2006 with one focus: the critical importance of governance and leadership in Africa. It is their belief that governance and leadership lie at the heart of any tangible and shared improvement in the quality of life of African citizens”.

Values are then guiding principles in philanthropy. We as human beings have common values and virtues. The debates about clashes of civilisations, the conflicts around nationalism and protectionism to protect own ethnic or national values against foreign value systems, are mainly power struggles to defend particular interests. But as human beings we all have basic human needs such as food, water, shelter, security, community, fair treatment, education and some space of free decisions to take life in his/her own hands and to structure community. In ethical terms, these needs are then expressed in guiding values such as protecting life, freedom, justice, equality, community, peace, security.

Virtues are corresponding personal attitudes in implementing the values which are broader orientation for persons, institutions and society as a whole. In order to build community, members of the community need to trust each other. Honesty is necessary virtue to build trust and community. Peace is not possible within an ongoing power struggle, a win-win mind frame is paramount to obtaining peace. The virtue of modesty helps overcome endless power games that undermine peace. Additionally, the virtue of courage is then, at the same time, needed in order to ensure that modesty does not lead to submissive attitudes. Courage has the ability to evoke empowerment and the courage to resist injustice and inequality. The value of freedom is necessary for entrepreneurial and innovative decisions and actions. But maximized freedom, which is not linked to responsibility, leads to “wild west capitalism”, exploitation of nature and threatens community life.

Values and Virtues can be shown as a tree as in the following graph. It depicts the interdependent relationship between the different values (as the virtues) and how they are linked. It is important that  values and virtues are viewed in a holistic way like a tree which consists of different branches stemming from one whole entity. This can also be displayed in the form of an interconnected  circle with relations between all the different values (the same can be done with the virtues).

This relational perspective on values and virtues is very relevant for a balanced vision and mission of a philanthropic institution and programme: it leads to a holistic view. Even when focused on a particular aspects such as peace or freedom, philanthropy does not forget the other dimensions. For example, ‘there is no peace without justice, no justice without peace’; refers to the fact that contributions peace and conflict resolution in a community can only be sustainable and successful if inequalities are reduced and fair, just as access to resources are established. On the other hand: justice cannot be reached by dictatorial forced equalization if there is no participatory process to reach fair access to resources.

Values are also at the core of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG): equality, inclusivity, common good (community), freedom (e.g. in entrepreneurship), peace and others of the above listed values. The SDG’s were formally adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in September 2015 with a target to reach all of them by 2030. It is a great success, that the majority of the world’s governments agreed on a set of 17 goals, 169 targets and 270 indicators to measure them. These goals,(significant progress compared to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have been developed in a large participatory process and are seen as interdependent.

For philanthropy, the SDG’s are a global, politically agreed framework for orientation and action of all sectors of society, be it the public, the private, the educational, the philanthropic, the religious or the NGO sector. A philanthropic foundation or programme of a foundation will become more holistic by showing this interdependency and will become more communicable by linking it with the SDGs. At the same time, philanthropic programmes needs a clear focus as a company or a brand needs clear product lines. This is not a contradiction: focussing and connecting are the two poles of the eclipse.

The road to effective philanthropy begins with a donor’s motivation. Most of us can say what we care about. But can we explain clearly what we want to achieve with our giving? Such knowledge can help define a philanthropic plan of action and maximize its impact. A thoughtful approach to philanthropy does more than incorporate research, analysis and experienced advice. It helps donors discover their motives and then connect them with their goals. This kind of clarity can save large amounts of money from being wasted. Programs can be matched with inspiration—leveraging not only philanthropic impact but personal fulfillment.