Wanted: Leading philanthropists willing to give time and money to serve as philanthropy ambassadors for their home countries. Posts open everywhere but the United Kingdom.
Qualifications: Demonstrated ability to inspire others, a high political profile—but enough independence to work with officials of any political view. Stellar career in hands-on philanthropy, not just writing checks.
The call for such ambassadors came last week at a conference at New York University’s Heyman Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising.
In a keynote speech to open the conference, which was designed to teach nonprofit leaders around the world how to raise money, Dame Stephanie Shirley, Britain’s ambassador for philanthropy, said she would hold a global meeting in London in November to draw attention to the idea that such a position could elevate the importance of giving. (Watch her entire speech.)
While the ambassador jobs are supposed to be high profile, they come with no official power—and in the United Kingdom, at least, no budget for an office or any of the other perks that usually come with ambassadorial rank.
Ms. Shirley, who made her fortune in the computer-software industry, says she spends her own money to finance her office’s work—including her new effort to promote the idea worldwide.
Ms. Shirley made her pitch to elevate the role of philanthropy a day after visiting the White House’s Office of Social Innovation, where she met with its director, Sonal Shah, and just before she was about to visit Bill Clinton, whose annual Clinton Global Initiative meeting has become a key stop for high-profile donors, political leaders, and celebrities. She said she had invited President Obama to attend her November conference or send a representative.
Ms. Shirley, who says she has donated $100-million in her lifetime and plans to give all of her money away before she dies, was named Britain’s philanthropy ambassador by Gordon Brown, who was then prime minister. When she was appointed to the job, in 2009, she was 75.
Her primary role, she says, has been to give philanthropists a voice and inspire others to give, not just by donating money but also by getting involved in good causes. Britain, she notes, has not had an open culture of giving—in part because people typically don’t like talking out loud about their money.
She says her effort differs significantly from the one by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, who have been urging American billionaires and other wealthy people around the world to give at least half their fortunes to charity and sign a giving pledge. An ambassador, she says, needs to focus on getting everyone to give, even those of modest means.
Ms. Shirley says one of her main goals since her appointment has been to work with the British government to make giving less bureaucratic and easier to do, saying her country burdens donors with paperwork.
As part of the effort to rally governments, nonprofits, and philanthropists to consider the idea of a philanthropy ambassador, Ms. Shirley has started a Web site that she says will be used mainly to spotlight inspirational stories philanthropists tell about their own giving.
Nonprofits, she says, have plenty of places to give voice to their ideas, “but philanthropists do not.”
Do you think a philanthropy ambassador is a good idea for America and elsewhere? If you do, is there someone you would nominate to be the ambassador in your home country?