Plymouth University to open centre for philanthropic research

Adrian Sargeant, director of the Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy, says it will focus on growing philanthropy in a sustainable way

Adrian Sargeant
Adrian Sargeant

A new centre for philanthropic research designed to increase giving by examining its social and psychological drivers will open at Plymouth University next month. 

Adrian Sargeant, director of the Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy and professor of fundraising at Plymouth Business School in Devon, said part of the new centre’s remit would be to act as a think tank to develop new ideas in fundraising and giving.

While academic centres around the world study and measure philanthropy, this would be the first with an explicit focus on growing philanthropy in a sustainable way, he said.

Sargeant said this meant growing giving in a way that enhanced the quality of the donor experience and made it more enjoyable and meaningful to them, which in turn increased the amount people were willing to give.

The centre was needed because over the past 40 years charitable giving in the UK and US has stuck at 1 per cent and 2 per cent of GDP respectively, said Sargeant, despite advances in fundraising techniques and digital communications. 

The centre will be launched on 3 February with an event at the Royal Society of Medicine in London.

As part of its think tank function, the centre will focus on two ideas each year. Sargeant said in the first year one of these was likely to be risk and philanthropy.

"We’ll look at why it’s an issue," he said. "In domains such as international development, governments don’t take risks when trying to solve social problems because they will get kicked out of office if they fail. Businesses don’t take risks, even social ones, because they’ve got to chase the areas that generate a return.

"The advantage of philanthropy should be resources directed towards ideas that are unlikely to succeed but if they did it would make a huge difference."

Sargeant said he was also keen to explore the idea of a fundraisers’ bill of rights that would be based on, for example, their right to a professional education and decent conditions of employment.

"I feel that creating this would be helpful in achieving some cultural change in the way not-for-profits see fundraising and improve fundraisers ability to generate funds," he said.

Other work of the centre will include a new global panel study of how wealthy individuals who become philanthropists develop their giving, the issues and challenges they face as philanthropists and how they tackle them.

A panel will also study donor behaviour so that patterns and long-term changes in giving can be established.

Sargeant said the centre would also develop fundraising education through new approaches and field experiments.


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