A Beginner's guide to giving

05 April 2018

Marcelle Speller, founder of the Localgiving Foundation, offers a road map, wrong turns included, for your philanthropic journey.

A Beginners guide to giving

Lesson 1: Everyone can be a philanthropist and it's never too early to start

Philanthropy means simply "love of mankind". And, contrary to popular opinion, it's not exclusively the passion or pursuit of rich old people. It can involve sophisticated programmes or simple acts of kindness.

As a student, I noticed that a lot of non-perishable food was thrown away at the end of each term. So I organised for it to be collected and delivered to various care homes for the elderly. I was neither old nor rich, but I realised this was, in fact, philanthropic work.

My next experience came about when I was at American Express in 1989. I could not get through to a Disasters Emergency Committee telephone appeal for the Sudan floods. So I organised for our call centre staff to take calls for the DEC during the next appeal two days later. We processed £55,000 in one night. I told this story at a philanthropy event in York earlier this year and found out that AMEX still handles calls for the DEC 25 years later. That's a philanthropic legacy I'm really proud of.

A couple of years after Richard Coundley and I set up Holiday-Rentals.com, disastrous floods hit Cornwall. We contacted our advertisers who had holiday homes in the area. Many of them offered their homes free of charge to those made homeless by the floods.

In all these examples, I wasn't changing the world, but, by working with others, I was making a difference to a small part of it and gained huge satisfaction as a result.

In 2005, we sold Holiday-Rentals. I was older and now, rather unexpectedly, richer. I had more resources to devote to philanthropy. I made a few mistakes with projects I neither enjoyed nor, I'm afraid, did much good. Then in 2007 I attended The Philanthropy Workshop -and learned many more lessons.

Focus on something you are passionate about

Lesson 2: Focus on something you're passionate about

There will always be challenges and difficulties in your philanthropic journey, but you're much more likely to be effective, and keep going, if you focus on something you're passionate about. I have discovered my passion in small local charities and community groups. They are the glue that holds communities together. But I found that their very existence is threatened by a double whammy of cuts in grants and increased need in their communities caused by the financial crisis.

Use your skills

Lesson 3: Use your skills, experience and time as well as your money to leverage what you give

I decided to apply what I'd learned in business over the years to set up Localgiving as a way of helping local charities use online technology to raise funding. Since launching in 2009, Localgiving has distributed over £10m to more than 4,000 local voluntary organisations and trained more than 1,000 groups in online fundraising.

Learn adapt and dont give up

Lesson 4: Learn, adapt and don't give up

Like a business, you're probably not going to get your philanthropy right at first. So you've got to measure, learn and adapt. I underestimated the shortage of digital and fundraising skills of many local charities. So, as well as processing online donations, we now also provide a range of training programmes in online fundraising and marketing.

Added to that, we have developed an annual programme of "plug and play" fundraising campaigns. These are centred on match funds provided by grant-making bodies and private philanthropists. In one simple transaction, a grant-maker can help hundreds of local charities. The potential leverage is huge. We have raised £1.6m from a £500,000 match fund from the Cabinet Office and £32,000 from a £5,000 donation from a private philanthropist.

Years later, we now have a proven model for supporting local charities. But there are so many more that need help to survive. If you'd like to join us in our work, by funding regional training programmes or match funds, please get in touch. If you see just one of the groups you could help, you will be as moved as I always am and know it is all worthwhile.

Michelle Speller OBE

Michelle Speller OBE is the founder of the Localgiving Foundation and a trustee of New Philanthropy Capital. In 2003 she was named Philanthropist of the Year at the Spear's Wealth Management Awards and received a Beacon Award for Pioneering Philanthropy. She co-founded Holiday-Rentals.com in 1996 after a decade in the advertising industry. She holds an MBA from INSEAD and has held director and board-level positions at American Express, Avis and Inter-Continental Hotels.


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