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'I love it when my clients get excited about their giving' Emma Beeston

Philanthropy Advisor Emma Beeston joined Purposely Podcast to share insights into her career

Emma advises foundations, grant-makers and families on creating and implementing giving strategies. She facilitates strategy and learning sessions for teams and families. Emma co-created the Advising Donors module for the University of Kent’s Masters in Philanthropic Giving, lectures on CASS Business School’s Charity Masters Programme and delivers training for the Association of Charitable Foundation’s Professional Development programme. She is a co-founder of a giving circle, Bath Women’s Fund.

How did you get your job?

‘I worked for a number large foundations, initially giving grants to individuals for things like paying for cookers and writing off debt. I ended up working at BBC Children In Need, and then Lloyds Bank Foundation managing their grant programs and I really enjoy that side of things. You get to visit different charities and it's really interesting work. I left because I wanted to challenge myself and I felt I was getting a little bit too comfortable and I wanted to stretch myself. I decided to go freelance although there wasn't really a plan, you could say there still isn't really a plan. I'm in a very nice position now of being a consultant philanthropy advisor’

What have been the biggest changes in grant making practice?

‘The changes to grant making practice have really been amplified by events of the last year. For so long now fundraisers have quite rightly been complaining about the hoops they have to jump through and the power imbalance where a funder can ask them to do whatever they need them to do to provide whatever information they require. It's really good to see that shift recently and the changes have gained momentum and increased rapidly over the last. Best practice is much more focused on a partnership approach and trust based philanthropy. Participatory approaches and models are also coming through and all these changes have had a direct and positive impact on philanthropic decisions.’

What other changes are happening in Philanthropy?

‘There's obviously a lot more interest in climate justice and then the intersections with racial justice and social justice. You can see that trend especially amongst younger people. The level of interest in giving and Philanthropy has also increased, I know this because I don't have to explain my existence quite so often. There's a huge amount of debate around it also and this common in a time of crisis.’

What’s the appetite for risk in Philanthropy like?

‘Different people have different appetites for risk for different reasons. If you're a large foundation that gets public money for example that means a certain risk appetite and they’re usually going to have a low risk profile. However, Family Foundations can be agile and take more risks with their funds’

‘What I think is interesting about risk, is that we can get quite lazy into thinking that risk is a certain thing i.e. that it's always about backing the innovative or that risk is associated with the kind of smaller community led groups. I don't think that's a fair assessment and I don't think they are necessarily risky… so being local and a bit informal can be a much better bet. I think it's good just to check the assumptions and to challenge ourselves on why are we doing it that way? Why do we think that's the best way?’

What the are the pros and cons of consultancy and have you thought about working for an organisation in the Philanthropy field?

‘Yeah it's something that I do think about. I have wondered if I'm employable anymore as I'm so used to having autonomy. However, the downside of working for myself is that sometimes I miss having a team. I've missed that just on a personal level sometimes and also as an individual advisor I'm limited to what I can provide. So there is an attraction in working for a larger organization.’

‘One of the great things about working for myself is that I quite like being able to have an opinion and say whatever I think and be held up to that and justify it. But I’d be very nervous about being part of an organization where you have to toe the line of the organization and say whatever they say, because I'm quite used to just having an opinion. So I think that would be an interesting challenge if it happened.’

How do people get into grant making and philanthropy?

‘Most people get into grant making quite accidentally, I think it's not really thought of as a career. Most people end up doing it rather than set out to do it. But I see people very successfully switch fundraising into grant making. I think it's really good to have worked in charity and on the front line in some way before you take up a role in grant making’


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