Get back? Capital theory, altruism, and extending the spectrum of business philanthropy

Martin Joseph Gannon, Niall MacKenzie, Eleanor Shaw

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


This paper explores the spectrum of business philanthropy, by considering what happens after success in family business, with a specific focus on the dynamics of giving through philanthropic family foundations (PFFs). PFF giving can emerge from profits accrued by family firms and these independent organisations often remain loosely associated with the commercial side of the businesses, thus linking both wealth creation with wealth redistribution and private sector with not-for-profit activities.  Research on business philanthropy remains under-developed (Agius Vallejo, 2015; E. Shaw, Gordon, Harvey, & Maclean, 2013). Campopiano et al (2014), posit that, beyond corporate and individual giving, there is a third approach; family firm philanthropy. This paper extends prior work on entrepreneurial philanthropists (Shaw, et al 2013) and corporate social responsibility (Wang & Qian, 2011) by addressing a tertiary aspect of this third type of business giving – PFF giving. Primary data was collected by undertaking multiple semi-structured interviews with key decision makers (family and non-family) across 15 PFFs supplemented by related material for each PFF in order to form multiple case studies. Findings were analysed and interpreted using both existing literature on business (Yin, 2009) and framing the research within Bourdieu’s capital theory framework (1986).  The findings highlight and reinforce the important role played by PFFs in the philanthropic landscape. The paper provides insights into the dynamics of PFFs and the role of altruism; enhancing our understanding of PFFs but also the spectrum of private giving as a whole. Extending existing knowledge of entrepreneurial philanthropy and CSR, we suggest that conceptualisations of success in grant-making may be different for PFFs; their processes and giving styles are likely to be distinct, and the expectation of return also contrasts across all three highlighted approaches to giving.  The paper proposes that PFFs have varied and complex dynamics, motivations and influences that can be aligned to family interests, but are often independent of these. PFFs tend to both act and operate differently to other actors and institutions within the philanthropic landscape. This suggests that existing understanding of private giving is incomplete.  The value of this study is threefold. First, it enhances existing understanding of private giving. Second, it explores an emerging area of interest in philanthropy literature; expectation of return. Finally, it extends family business research by considering related organisations emerging from successful family businesses; PFFs.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 12 Nov 2015
EventInstitute for Small Business and Entrepreneurship 38th Annual Conference: Internationalisation, Innovation and Leadership - Technology Innovation Centre, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, United Kingdom
Duration: 11 Nov 201512 Nov 2015


ConferenceInstitute for Small Business and Entrepreneurship 38th Annual Conference
Abbreviated titleISBE 2015
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • family business
  • capital theory
  • altruism
  • philanthropy


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