MELISSA CORTES

CHARITIES AID FOUNDATION

City
London
Category
Philanthropy Advisers
Company Size
International
Phone number
03000 123248
Email address
mcortes@cafonline.org

Warren Buffett’s refrain — ‘making money is far easier than giving it away effectively’ — is something Melissa Cortes and her colleagues at Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) understand extremely well. Indeed, since starting at CAF three years ago, the question ‘how do you know my giving is making a difference?’ is a perennially pressing concern. ‘People immediately think of tax benefits as the reason why UNHW’s donate money,’ says Cortes, ’but actually I’d challenge that’. While she acknowledges that tax is certainly a consideration when it comes to philanthropy, the best part of her job is when the client has an ‘aha moment’. She elaborates, ‘clients become aware, firstly, of what their money can do and, secondly, of how much it can positively impact the beneficiary’. It seems that many UNHW’s are increasingly committed to thinking about their giving in a more strategic way, and they’re looking to dedicated philanthropy advisors like Cortes to help them quantify and maximise the real-world value of their giving. After 8 years in asset management, Cortes quit her job in 2012 in order to peruse an MBA full time. One of the things that most attracted her to CAF was the opportunity to draw on the expertise of the other areas of the business to inform her own practice. ‘My team and I deal only with private clients who want to start charitable foundations, but CAF also has a social investment team where our clients can invest their philanthropic capital and a policy team who can bring us closer to how government changes will affect the charity sector, just to name a few’.
She is also noticing a change in the philanthropy sector in that many of her clients are switching from traditional methods of giving, such as a straight-forward donation, to more complex and innovative forms of social investment. Technology will no doubt have a huge role to play in the way people invest in the future’ says Cortes, ‘both in terms of the projects themselves and the way we quantify the value of client giving’. At CAF, no two days are the same, mainly because no two clients have the same ideas about how to invest in philanthropy. ‘Some donors take an absolute numerical approach and want to measure number of lives saved, quality adjusted life years (similar to the effective altruism school of thought) and so they have a very clear metric on outcomes they choose to measure,’ says Cortes. ‘Others have a more ad-hoc approach and will donate to causes they have been affected by or connect with on a personal level. We’ve managed clients who have been personally affected by devastating circumstances and have turned that into a reason to help others. From the conversations I’ve had with clients and advisors, I think the most important thing to take into account is to first define – What do I want to achieve? What does success look like? – and go from there because all philanthropists are different.’

Melissa Cortes