Philanthropy means “goodwill to fellow members of the human race, especially active effort to promote human welfare” (Merriam-Webster.com). It comes from the Greek words for “love” and “mankind”.
Philanthropists give their time, money or expertise to change the world for the better. The most high-profile philanthropists, like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, have set up philanthropic foundations or charitable trusts to distribute funds to the causes they support.
Others choose to make large donations to charity or to support a cause they care about with a bequest in their will.
What careers are in philanthropy?
As increasing numbers of people, from all walks of life, seek to find ways to leave a lasting legacy, there’s a need for people to direct their support. Foundations, charities, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), non-profits, universities and other bodies funded by donations or making grants all require talented and committed people.
Their role is to attract supporters and decide how to make use of that support and to keep the organisation running from day-to-day.
Many have relationship managers who work with potential individual and corporate donors, to match their interests and goals with suitable projects. Others have legacy managers who encourage supporters to include their favourite cause their wills.
Charities and philanthropic organisations, like any business that has income and expenditure, also need researchers, accountants, lawyers, marketing managers and business managers.
How can I get into philanthropy?
Try it out
If you’re thinking about a career in the third sector, try and get some hands-on experience first. Whether you’re collecting on the streets, helping to distribute food or clothes to homeless people, or volunteering in a charity shop, you’ll soon get an idea of how those sorts of organisations work.
You may also be able to find work experience and intern roles at charitable foundations. These roles may not be advertised, so it’s worth approaching organisations who share your values to enquire about opportunities. Not only will you be able to assess whether these sorts of organisation are right for you and your skills, you’ll also be able to demonstrate your commitment to future employers.
Find your passion
Do you want to help people in general, or are you keen to support a particular cause or help people living in a specific country? Are you passionate about environmental issues, or education, or water? Find your passion, then pursue it.
You might become a campaigner, choose to support or study that issue, or volunteer to work abroad to help. While you do, you’re likely to meet others who share your enthusiasm and may be able to direct you to your next role. And when you find your dream job, you’ll need to stay up to date on the areas your organisation supports.
As with any job, working for philanthropic organisations can have upsides and downsides. You may find that your peers working in profit-making businesses are earning more than you, for similar work – only you can know if that would be a problem.
Some people find it hard to be treated as an expert in the subject area where they work, or as a potential funder for every charitable activity around – even when their role is administrative. You might be surprised to discover there’s lot of office work involved for those working in the field – including applying for grants, writing reports and reading proposals.
The upside is that you’ll be working with like-minded people towards the same goal. And you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you’re doing good in the world and transforming lives.
Get the right skills
Even if you’re entering philanthropy as an intern or volunteer you’ll need to have appropriate skills and attributes. If you have a specialist role in mind then you’ll need the usual qualifications – professional examinations for instance, or a relevant degree. Or you could explore specific qualifications related to charity, like the ones offered by the Bayes Business School’s Centre for Charity Effectiveness.
Whatever your entry point you’ll need to be flexible and adaptable and able to cope with an environment where unpredictable income is often the norm and job descriptions are fluid.
You’ll need to be a sympathetic and influential communicator, especially if you’re dealing with donors and beneficiaries. And you’ll need to be a supportive team member, for when things don’t go to plan or when everyone needs to help out.
Does a career in philanthropy appeal?
Working in philanthropy is immensely satisfying. To be successful in a career as a philanthropist, you need to have the right skills, commitment and energy and to find the cause that appeals to your beliefs.