What George Michael taught us about philanthropy

December 28, 2016

Reading about George Michael’s approach to giving during his life has been uplifting. How wonderful to see someone’s generosity of spirit being celebrated alongside his talent.

So what can we learn about philanthropy from George?

1. Give without judgement

Apparently, George listened to a woman in a café who was distressed about her debts. He then handed the waitress a cheque for £25,000 to give to the woman. This story could have been so different. George could have thought, “Well, she has done some stupid things that have got her into this situation, so I won’t give.” He could have thought, “She won’t want to be patronised by my gift.” He might have procrastinated and left the café and forgotten about her. Instead, he did not judge her. He found a way to give to her without it feeling uncomfortable, and he left the café knowing he helped someone, showed her she mattered, and that he cared.

How many times do we all pass someone in the street who asks us for help, such as a homeless person who asks us for money for a cup of tea? How often do we judge them and think, “If I give them money, they will just spend it on drink or drugs”? How many times do we procrastinate and walk on without giving? How often do we pass up the opportunity to help someone, to show they matter, and show we care?

We may not have George’s millions, but a small gift must be better than no gift at all.

2. Give big and repeat

George is reported to have given millions to Childline over a number of years. He gave big gifts and was loyal to the causes he cared about. They could ‘count on him’ to help.

When we commit to good causes, the causes can plan ahead and spend less time chasing donations. When we offer our loyalty to causes, they can move ahead with confidence.   There are so many causes we can support, but it is better to choose those we are most passionate about and give as much as we can for as long as we can, rather than sprinkling small sums around randomly.

3. Loud and proud

My next lesson from George may be one of what not to do. I feel sad that we only know about George’s philanthropy upon his death. Was it part of his desire to try to be more private? Was it because he feared criticism for his giving? Was it due to the strange part of our culture which still tells us we should keep giving a private matter?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if giving was celebrated loudly and proudly? Wouldn’t it encourage others to give? Wouldn’t it inspire us all to give more and enjoy it more?

I have often spoken to donors who wished to remain anonymous and have encouraged them to ‘go public’. Not to seek praise, but to make it acceptable for others to give as well. If those who give are ‘loud and proud’ about their giving, then others will feel it is OK to give – to give bigger sums, and to be brave and bold in their philanthropy.

I am sure George’s music and life enabled many people to be loud and proud about who they are. I just wish the story of his philanthropy had been celebrated during his life and not at the point of his death.

4. Don’t wait until you die

George gave throughout his life in lots of different ways. By giving royalties from his music, he made giving part of his work. He didn’t wait until he died to leave a legacy. I am sure George’s philanthropy gave him joy and enabled him to change the world in ways that mattered to him. That is why we give and why giving makes us happier than ‘getting’.

Whilst leaving legacies to charities is a wonderful way to give and often a way to give more than we ever could during our lifetimes, there is so much joy in giving that it would be a tragedy to only leave it until we die. Just think how happy George must have felt when he left that café knowing he had transformed that woman’s life by writing off her debts. We can all make giving a more active part of our lives whether we can afford to give £1 or £1 million.

5. Make thank you extraordinary

George held a special concert for the nurses who treated his mum.   He found a special and extraordinary way to say thank you to them. He could have sent them flowers, chocolates, a signed picture. He could have done something nice, but ultimately forgettable. Instead, he did something that cost him time and energy, and was truly extraordinary for those he thanked.

How many times do we owe someone or a group of people a debt of gratitude? How do we thank them? Maybe a card, a post on social media, a bunch of flowers. Perhaps instead we could think of something we could do which would be extraordinary.

Clearly, we can’t all throw a concert, but I am sure we could all aim to be more imaginative and personal in the way we thank the people who help us.

So here is my thank you. Thank you George for the times I laughed as I danced with my friends to “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”, for my first slow dance to “Careless Whisper”, and for the times I have listened to “Last Christmas” while decorating my Christmas tree. Thank you also for your philanthropy. The stories I have read about the way you gave throughout your life have inspired me to make a new resolution to give more and procrastinate less. I hope this post is a suitable way for me to say thank you – not quite extraordinary, but better than a single tweet.

– Susie Hills, Managing Director

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