Conscious Philanthropic giving with Lauren Janus

In this podcast episode we’re discussing philanthropy, and how women and millennials can help to give back. If the idea of using your money to make the world a better place is appealing to you, then you’re going to love this episode. Many women today want their investments to do more than simply offer good financial returns, and actually statistics show that as women we prefer to be investing in alignment with our values and beliefs as opposed to chasing headline returns. There are several ways that we can explore how to give back through wealth; this doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to be wealthy in order to be philanthropic!

I’m joined by Lauren Janus in this episode, and we talk about traditional giving, ethical investing and impact investing. Lauren is a philanthropist and runs a business called Thoughtful Philanthropy. Lauren has a huge passion for helping donors get the most out of their giving. She has spent more than 15 years wearing several hats in the charity sector, both here in the UK and in the USA. Today, Lauren combines her knowledge of the third sector and her business knowledge to give businesses the information they need to become empowered philanthropic givers.

Listen to the interview

Hi Lauren, can you tell us a little about yourself?

Sure. I’m American but have been living in the UK for a while and actually had both my children here. My husband and I just really love the UK.

My background is mainly in the charity sector, predominantly in social change work and advocacy. I’ve done everything from protesting outside petrol stations to volunteer programs, and I’m kind of like the classic idealist in that respect. If there’s a volunteer program, I’ve probably done it!

After a while in the charity sector, particularly in the US, I became quite disillusioned with it; it’s a complex sector to work in. So I decided to take a bit of a career swerve a few years ago and went to business school. I realised when I finished my degree that what I really wanted to do was to focus on the donor, to help people understand what the charity sector can and can’t do, how the sector works, and really help donors get the most from their giving. I wanted to inspire more informed, engaged, and joyful givers.

Amazing, I love the name of your business, Thoughtful Philanthropy. Tell us more about what the word philanthropy means…

It’s a Greek work that basically means ‘love of humanity’. I hear quite often from people that they don’t think of themselves as philanthropists, or they don’t give enough to be considered philanthropic, but really by the definition of the word any act that supports or furthers humanity is philanthropic.

Absolutely, I love that. In terms of your experience, when you came to the UK did you notice a big difference in the charitable sectors there and here in the UK?

Oh definitely. I’m still uncovering the differences to this day! There’s a very different giving culture here compared to California where I was working before I moved here. They’re equally fascinating, and I love both cultures for different reasons.

In the US it’s very much focussed on impact and strategy, particularly in Silicon Valley and the Pacific Northwest area. Whereas in the UK there’s more of a sense that any kind of charity is positive, which is great and shows a higher level trust of the charitable sector here in the UK. In general I’d say Americans are much more sceptical when it comes to giving.

What advice would you give to people who are a little more sceptical about where to put their money, how can they decide on the best place to donate?

I think it’s about doing your research and trusting your gut. Spend time on websites, look at annual reports and current donors and make assessments about how your money will be used. One of my pet peeves with charities is phrases like ‘served 100,000 people last year’. Phrases like this can be deceptive; does this mean the charity gave 100,000 people a bottle of water, or that they really sat down with those people and helped them to rebuild their lives?

So Lauren, what were your early experiences with money like?

I’ve been incredibly lucky in all honesty. I grew in what was basically small town farm land in Washington. It was very middle class, although I’m sure there was poverty I just wasn’t aware of, but there was no excessive wealth in the area.

I can never remember asking my parents for something I really wanted and them saying no, although a lot of that would have been a result of less choice when I was a kid! There was no internet and thousands of options available to us daily back then.

I do remember in my early teens starting to get really concerned about my parents, in my mind, not handling their money well enough. For some reason, and it could have possibly been quite insulting to them, I was suddenly very insecure and afraid that we were going to run out of money for some reason. I think a lot of this stems from the fact that we never really discussed money in the home.

It’s a really common theme isn’t it, that money is a very taboo subject. Did this experience influence your career choices do you think?

I remember talking to my grandfather as an idealistic teenager (even more so than I am now!) and telling him that I didn’t want or need money, and that it wasn’t something I cared about. He replied and told me that I should care, because money allows you to do the things you want to do in life. That was something that really stuck with me. In that way, I’m so glad that I’ve devoted so much of my career to the charitable sector, whilst also being incredibly grateful for the financial security that has given me.

I work a lot with women and money, and there are some statistics that show that more women give more of their wealth than men. Why do you think that is?

Absolutely. That’s a generally agreed upon statistic across the sector. There’s not, however, a generally accepted consensus on why that is. Women could be seen to have more of a sense of community, or more of a sense of family because of their role as mothers. But I really do think that the reasons why women tend to be more charitable is still up for interpretation.

I think we’re also seeing the trend in millennials wanting to give more of their wealth, which I believe is something you’ve researched Lauren?

There’s a lot of research around millennials and giving, and what we do know is that more than any other generation millennials are focussed on making sure their investments align with their personal values. This is the generation driving most of the interest in socially responsible investing, impact investing, and strategic philanthropy. Millennials are not necessarily giving as much as other generations, but more of them are giving in some form.

I think social media definitely has an impact on this. Things like the ice bucket challenge and no make up selfies are the kinds of things this generation gets involved in. Millennials want collaborative experiences and they want to be able to talk about and share it with their peers.

Do you think it’s important that charities come up with innovative ways to involve social media and different generations in their giving campaigns?

Absolutely. I think my favourite example of this right now is the evolution of giving circles. Similar to a book club, groups of people come together and learn about different topics; whether it’s girls’ education, homelessness, or something else. They then pool their money so that they can be more impactful.

This kind of thing really appeals to both millennials and women in particular, and hones in on their zest for collaborative giving. It’s a really great way to come together, talk, learn together, and then pool their resources to make an impact.

I think that the more charities focus on building things like giving circles, the more likely they are to attract donations from millennials and women.

What a lovely idea!

Can we talk a little bit more about ethical investing? What’s the difference between a negatively screened ethical fund and a positively screened one?

Sure. Basically, in terms of the ethical investment planning scale, on one end you have traditional philanthropy which is important in any giving plan, but then you can start moving onto screened investments. This is essentially when you start defining the industries you don’t want to be investing in, whether it’s the tobacco industry, firearms, or whatever is important to you. In most cases you can find an investment fund who will screen these companies.

Moving on from there we get into impact investing, which is more about seeking out industries and investments you do want to support. So on the one hand you have taking out the things you don’t want to support, and on the other you have the idea of pulling in things that you do want to support. All of that helps to put together your consciously ethical money plan.

Is there a big difference in the performance of investments that are planned in this way in terms of investment performance and return?

I can’t say for certain, but there is so much research out there which suggests that you don’t have to sacrifice return in order to make ethically conscious investments.

That’s really interesting. I’m also interested to know; alongside all of this, how can we start to teach our children about this?

As a mother of two young children this is something I think about quite a lot. There was a really interesting study from the Indiana school of philanthropy recently that looked at how parents can encourage a culture of philanthropy in their children. I found it so interesting that they found a difference between having daughters and having sons. The number one way that you can encourage philanthropy in your children is to be philanthropic yourself and to set that positive example.

What the study found is that girls will grow up to give as long as they see others around them doing it, whereas with boys you have to be really intentional about showing them and talking to them about what you’re doing, and also about sitting down with them and encouraging them to give, even going so far as to do it together collaboratively.

That’s so interesting! Why do you think that gender difference exists?

I think you’d probably have to ask a child psychologist! But as a mother of boys, I think they just don’t quite pick up on social cues in the way that perhaps I did as a child. But the research definitely shows that you need to be much more intentional with boys, whereas girls will pick up on what is important to their family and kind of emulate and build upon that.

How interesting. I spoke with Rob Gardner recently who actually plays a game in schools which quite often shows that boys tend to naturally be more risk-taking than girls. So Lauren, are there any other ways that parents can encourage and influence philanthropy in their children?

Yes! All of the research that I’ve done really focuses on talking to kids a lot about philanthropy, and making these conversations part of everyday life. Involving children in discussions about life is so powerful. With my boys, I’ve been building their library with books about culture and life issues so that they have an awareness of these things.

As children get older, research suggests that collaborative charitable giving as a family is really important. Things like family volunteering and giving together, as well as things like setting up accounts for teenagers where they can give a percentage of their money and involving them in decisions about money and giving.

And for us as women, what can we do right now to start putting together a giving plan?

The first step is to make that conscious decision to create a plan. Think about the places you’ve already given to and make a list of those.Then really make conscious decisions about whether this giving aligns with how you want to be practising your philanthropy. If it does, great! But if not, take some time to research the issues that really mean a lot to you and how you can involve that more in your charitable giving.

And what about people who aren’t currently involved in any philanthropic giving?

It’s really easy to start! And the chances are you probably already are giving even if you don’t realise it; five pounds for someone’s charity run, or buying a cupcake at a bake sale for example.

But if you want to be more intentional about it, that’s also great. Start simply by thinking about the things you really care about, whether it’s something in your community or locally that you want to be involved with, or something more national or global. What would it give you the most joy to support?

Small steps really can make a big difference.


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