Interview: Kurt Hoffman

The new chief executive of the Institute for Philanthropy tells Sophie Hudson the sector could think about more than money

Kurt Hoffman
Kurt Hoffman

Kurt Hoffman has become chief executive of the Institute for Philanthropy at a time of increasing focus by government and parts of the sector on the role and behaviour of philanthropists in the UK.

Much of his recent work has had an international focus - he's worked as a director of the Shell Foundation and on a project in South Africa for the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation - but he says the UK is an exciting place to be at the moment.

"What fascinates me is that there's so much innovation happening in the UK, such as social impact bonds and early intervention programmes," he says.

Hoffman thinks it is time for the institute, which has an income of nearly £1m and concentrates on educating donors, providing networks for philanthropy and promoting the understanding of philanthropy, to move further into the public arena.

"We have an aspiration to become a thought leader in the sector, but that needs to be based on good, sound, evidence-based research," he says.

Impact measurement is one area it could work in, he says: "The sector's been overwhelmed by a rush to measure. It's really quite notable that there seems to be far more writing about the importance of impact measurement and how to do it than there has been measuring. So there might be an opportunity there to look at what has been the performance of the so-called impact investors so far."

Hoffman is an advocate of impact measurement, saying it can encourage innovation, and that when people are not asked to focus on concrete results, there is nothing to force them to explore new ways of doing things. But he would like the institute to check that the various impact measurement methods coming forward are fit for purpose.

"I fear that a lot of the effort that's going into impact measurement could be wasted, to the extent that it's not necessarily measuring those variables that define the efficiency or the performance or the quality of the product," he says.

Hoffman also wants the institute to be at the heart of the debate about philanthropy and giving. He says it should be about getting people to give time and effort, as well as more money. "Money is tight, but people have time," he says.

"I think the charity sector could think about more than money. I think it could think about what it needs to do a good job and about the resources that go beyond the financial."

On giving money, Hoffman is sceptical about urging people to give a minimum proportion of their income to charity every year - it cannot be the solution in itself, he says, and targets can be difficult to enforce. There should be more focus, he says, on how effectively the money is used and on improving the public's understanding of how charities work, about which there is a lot of cynicism at the moment.

"I would couple an expectation that people give a minimum amount of their money to charity with a parallel effort to inform them better about how effective well-used charitable donations can be," he says. "I don't think just banging on the door and saying 'give more' is the answer."

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