Process of giving is true value of corporate philanthropy

By April 19, 2016Corporate, Newsroom

Philanthropy Fortnight, the annual celebration of giving in Northern Ireland, is taking place from April 18 and 29, 2016. Paul Terrington, chair of the Institute of Directors in Northern Ireland and the Regional Chair of PwC, Northern Ireland talks about the merits of corporate philanthropy. Article appeared in Irish News Business.

“But I don’t know any poor people Paul!” said one of the members at the first meeting of a new ‘giving circle’ group I’d got involved in.

We had just started discussing what kinds of charitable projects we might target.  The craic and banter that ensued from my colleague’s seemingly innocuous admission was hilarious.

However, it also reflected a reality.  Although business people work hard and put lots at stake to create wealth, we often lead fairly sheltered lives.  We’re often a few steps removed from the harsh social and economic realities that many people – who live cheek by jowl with us – face day-in, day-out.

In this context, the group I’ve got involved in is brilliant.  It gave a bunch of well-intended business people an opportunity to understand, discuss and donate to what’s going on ‘out there’, beyond our traditional, narrow confines.

I believe strongly that it’s in this process of giving that the true value of corporate philanthropy lies.  Yes, beneficiaries are always hugely grateful for the money and wax lyrically about its impact and additionality.

However, the amounts of money are in the scheme of things small, and aren’t per se going to bring about systemic or societal change.  They are, for example, materially insignificant compared to the amounts business people pay in tax.

So for me the true value from this type of group is in the process of giving.  The ‘act’ of giving created for us an awareness of and engagement in issues relating to social need and justice.  And I see this awareness and engagement having an intrinsic value that goes beyond, and is more consequential than, the amounts of money changing hands.

This same principle also plays out clearly in my day job in PwC.   We have great people in Northern Ireland and now have over 1400 employees.  Apart from a few old fogeys like me, they’re a hard-working, diverse, young and enthusiastic bunch.

Last month one of our business areas – the Deals team – all took a full day out (which, I have to say, had a massive opportunity cost for the business!) – and undertook a range of activities to raise money for the NI Hospice, an organisation very close to my heart.

They raised more than £40k on the day which was fantastic.  But even more fantastic was the fact that they all came back energised, proud of what they’d achieved and fully engaged with and supportive of the great work of the NI Hospice.  I’ve no doubt whatsoever that the connections this team made with the NI Hospice on that day will ultimately be worth a lot more than the cash we handed over.

Many business people are lucky enough to occupy a privileged position in society.  It’s therefore good and right for us to give to people who aren’t as fortunate.  But for me the true value of corporate philanthropy lies less in the amounts given and more in the process of giving.  It’s the process that has the potential to make a more sustainable and tangible difference.


To access the full Philanthropy Fortnight programme go to: