Rowntree A-Z

Philanthropy, Joseph Rowntree and

The following quotations, some of them from the famous 1904 Memorandum written as guidance to trustees when he was setting up the trusts, gives a flavour of Joseph Rowntree’s ideas on philanthropy:

‘I feel that much of the current philanthropic effort is directed to remedying the more superficial manifestations of weakness or evil, while little thought or effort is directed to search out their underlying causes. Obvious distress or evil generally evokes so much feeling that the necessary agencies for alleviating it are pretty adequately supported.

For example, it is much easier to obtain funds for the famine-stricken people in India than to originate and carry through a searching enquiry into the causes and recurrence of these famines.’

‘If the enormous volume of the philanthropy of the present day were wisely directed it would, I believe, in the course of a few years, change the face of England.’

Second, he believed in backing people who were already working on these issues and not necessarily in starting new things:

‘In connection with Religious, Political and Social work, it is to be remembered that there may be no better way of advancing the objects one has at heart than to strengthen the hands of those who are effectively doing the work that needs to be done.

Not unfrequently one hears of persons doing excellent work whose service is cramped, or who are in danger of breaking down through anxiety about the means of living. It would be quite in accordance with my wish that cases of this kind be assisted….’

He further saw that much charitable giving is at some level intended to maintain the status quo:

 ‘Charity as ordinarily practised, the charity of endowment, the charity of emotion, the charity which takes the place of justice, creates much of the misery which it relieves, but does not relieve all the misery it creates.’ (from a lost document written in 1865, only recorded in a secondary source by his biographer Anne Vernon)

 This clarity of thought about what the trusts should do has led to some remarkably consistent, rooted, approaches through the years which have nevertheless been able to change with times.

In addition to the clarity and depth of his thought about philanthropy – so different from many in the field even today – Joseph Rowntree stood out he because he did not separate his philanthropic instinct from his everyday life and activities.

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