UK Donors to watch in 2012

I love a challenge, so I couldn’t resist it when Martin Brookes asked me to name the UK equivalent of the US ‘donors to watch in 2012’ list. Here goes:

1. Jamie and Chris Cooper-Hohn – the hedge fund couple who have so far put £1bn into their Childrens’ Investment Fund Foundation, have been on the receiving end of some criticism for not distributing it fast enough. But in the 2011 Million Pound Donors Report, seven of the donations came from this philanthropic power couple, and it seems likely their momentum will only increase. Impact and transformation are the key words for the Cooper-Hohns. When Jamie was profiled in the 2008 edition of the £M Donors Report, she said, “When we give million pound grants,it is definitely an investment and not a gift. We want to know what the organisation will do in a really big and meaningful way that it wouldn’t have done otherwise”.

2. John Stone – not a very well-known name yet, but another philanthropist taking a slow and steady approach who seems on the verge of spending big. His Stone Family Foundation now holds over £40m  and last year made grants to a wide range of charities, from just £2k to almost half a million pounds. John has received advice from both New Philanthropy Capital and Coutts, and told the 2011 £M Donors Report: “It has taken me five years to scale up my philanthropy… I wanted to be sure that my money would be put to the best possible use and have the biggest impact on those I chose to help. It does take time to give strategically in this way, but I believe it is better to proceed slowly and carefully to ensure that philanthropic donations are committed wisely”.

3. HSBC – I choose a bank rather than an individual because HSBC are at the forefront of providing a new way of giving in the UK, through the ATM or ‘hole in the wall’ cash machines. Whilst it may take some time for people to think about this transaction as an opportunity to give money away, rather than take it out, it undoubtedly has the potential to become a major new giving vehicle, given the ubiquity of ATMs on every high street. Interestingly, the six charities named on the ATM screen are selected by a democratic vote open to all HSBC staff. As the selections are only reviewed every two years, smart charities will no doubt be looking to make their case for inclusion in the next round.

4. Instead of an individual, my 4th suggestion is ‘the next generation’, as the children of some of the UK’s big philanthropic names are now coming to the forefront as trustees, spokespeople and decisions-makers for their family foundations. For example Anita Roddick’s children, Justine and Sam, have a controlling role in their mother’s £50m+ charitable legacy. The large philanthropic Sainsbury family now has 17 charitable trusts and foundations, some controlled by supermarket heirs in their 20s and 30s. And the next generation are now running the Wates Family Foundation, as patriarch Andrew Wates told the 2011 £M Donors Report: “Many of the applications are being initiated by the family members themselves. It has been a real joy to see the participation of the next generation in our family philanthropy. They are now running it and it gives me tremendous satisfaction to see that”. As in most families, the younger Sainsburys, Roddicks and Wates are likely to have different interests and concerns than their parents, but how much do any of us know about who they are and what they care about?

5. My 5th and final choice is even more abstract: the donors who are choosing to spend out the entire capital of their foundations, rather than distributing a percentage in order to follow the traditional model of existing in perpetuity. Whilst endowments are a good thing and the right way to fund certain causes, the ‘spend out’ model will hopefully be considered as an option by an increasing number of philanthropists whose causes require urgent and large investments, rather than slow and steady support. The idea of giving it all away in a defined time period is gaining popularity, not least since Bill & Melinda Gates adopted this strategy. In the UK a couple of useful reports have studied the phenomena, including one from the Institute for Philanthropy and from the Tubney Trust, which closes this year after spending £65m in the past decade and a half, leaving behind this valuable reflection on its experience. Might 2012 be the year to ask ambitious and impatient donors to ‘give it all away’ rather than asking for a tiny fraction of their philanthropic pie?

It’s been fun thinking about this question, I hope others will be inspired to disagree and suggest other names and types of donor.

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