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Futurist inspired by history, Rhodri Davies

Updated: Feb 8, 2023

Rhodri (Rhod) Davies joins Purposely Podcast to share his passion and knowledge on philanthropy and how he started the Why Philanthropy Matters a free online platform helping to shape the sector.


Rhod is a well-known thinker and commentator on philanthropy and civil society as well as an author and host of the popular Philanthropisms podcast. He is also a Pears Research Fellow in the Centre for Philanthropy at the University of Kent, United Kingdom.

He was working as an academic researcher when he stumbled across philanthropy, suddenly seeing the sector in a new light full of ‘drama and interest’ and a plausible career option. Since then Rod has become a defender and advocate of philanthropy and has gone on to play an important role in shaping the movement.

‘One of the things that bugged me is that philanthropy is often written off as if it's some sort of weird, niche concern, even within the wider nonprofit world. To me, it's something that's kind of pretty fundamental to how society works’.

One of the things that characterises Rhod’s thought leadership on philanthropy is his skill and willingness to draw on history and what has happened in the past to make sense of the future.

‘History is an endlessly useful resource, when it comes to thinking about philanthropy in the present’.

He describes this as a ‘cheap trick’, he uses to try and ensure that people in the sector do not get carried away with one particular approach to giving. He describes how those seemingly, ‘never been thought of before’, ways of doing philanthropy are in fact developed using lessons from the past.

One example he points to is the current focus on purpose driven companies, organisations and businesses who are prioritising a combination of purpose, profit and commercial returns. The tendency is that people pass this off as completely new and highly innovative, despite the fact that people have been doing this for centuries. The same can be said for other forms of doing good or delivering impact today.

‘When you look back to history, and how people kind of combined, making money and giving money away, there's all kinds of interesting lessons and useful warnings about things that we might want to make sure that we avoid in the future’.

In 2016 Rhod published Public Good by Private Means: How philanthropy shapes Britain, a book tracing the history of philanthropy in Britain and what it tells us about modern generosity. Since then he has been a self-confessed history of philanthropy nerd, and tweets about it far too much at @Philliteracy.

A further characteristic of Rhods philanthropy thought leadership is his strongly held belief that there is no right or a wrong way of giving and that philanthropists have the ability to draw on different influences as well as their own beliefs and preferences. Rhod is happy to outline his personal preferences and the approach he would take if he had a windfall and was able to be a large scale philanthropist,

‘I would set myself a target of spending it all in 20 years or something like that and I'd make sure I thought about where I invested the money as well as where I gave it. I would also lean towards using a trust based approach that somebody like MacKenzie Scott is taking’.

The two trends described by Rhod and becoming more and more popular amongst philanthropists are;

1. Trust based philanthropy where there is more trust between the person or organisation giving the money or those deploying the funds.

2. Spend down philanthropy where you get the money out there as quickly as possible based on the theory that it delivers as much positive impact as possible and the good it delivers compounds.

Rhod was formerly Head of Policy at the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF), where he created and led the in-house think tank Giving Thought, and also hosted CAF’s popular Giving Thought podcast for over 100 episodes.

Rhod graduated from the University of Oxford with a first-class degree in Mathematics and Philosophy and embarked upon an academic career before migrating into public policy work, where he has spent the last 15 years figuring out how much more he still has to learn about philanthropy.

Rhod is determined to add value to the sector and help and inform and inspire future philanthropists.

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