Philanthropic Brand: A Case Study

Just over a year ago the Sackler Family, founders of Purdue Pharma, came under brand scrutiny when it was discovered that the pharmaceutical company had purposefully misled prescribers and patients on the addictive nature of Oxycontin and other opioid medications that Purdue manufactures. This revelation resulted in many charities including the National Portrait Gallery, the Tate Museum and the Guggenheim from accepting or in some cases returning donations made by the Sackler Trust. Since 2010 the Sackler Trust has contributed more than £60Million to charities around the world.

This got us thinking, is there a way that philanthropy can shift public opinion of a personal brand?

Philanthropy & Personal Brand: A Lesson from History

Dr. Alfred Nobel colour painting
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An example of a personal brand that has been remade as a direct result of philanthropic initiatives is Alfred Nobel, the founder of the Nobel Prizes. Alfred Nobel was a 19th Century Swedish chemist, engineer, and industrialist most famously known for the invention of dynamite. He died in 1896. In his will, he bequeathed all of his “remaining realizable assets” to be used to establish five prizes which became known as “Nobel Prizes”.

Prior to Dr. Nobel’s death he was dubbed the “angel of death” by the press. He was so named because his main invention was dynamite. The first prize was awarded in 1901, a grant for the, “person who accomplished the most of the best work for fraternity among nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the promotion of peace congresses.” (source:  

Considering this came from the man who developed armaments it seems that establishing a peace prize not only could assuage his guilt, but it demonstrates that yes, in fact, for well over a century, philanthropy has been used as a personal branding tactic.

What should you consider if making philanthropy part of your personal brand?

  1. Make sure the story you are telling connects emotionally with the listeners. If it seems disingenuous it will not capture the hearts and minds of the community.
  2. Share the challenges you  have faced to build the credibility of your philanthropic brand
  3. Always connect your philanthropic intentions with relevant and timely issues so that your philanthropic brand will stand the test of time.
  4. Establish partnerships with other funders and organizations who can attest to your genuine intent
  5. Always be “you” this speaks to the credibility of what you are putting forward for public consumption
  6. Lastly share what you are working on and make it possible for others to buy in, or engage with your activities.

What the Sackler family is facing right now is not the first of its kind when it comes to personal re-branding and philanthropy, nor will it be last. Hopefully we can learn from Dr. Nobel and the Sacklers going forward.

Here’s a worksheet to help you think through your philanthropic brand.