1) Tell us a little about your journey as a philanthropist? How did you get involved in growing giving? What motivates you to fund philanthropy and infrastructure alongside other traditional causes, such as education, environment, etc.?
My own desire to grow philanthropy giving stemmed from my own philanthropic poverty! I was (still am!) an art dealer, but I also wanted to make a difference in the world, couldn’t with the money I had available, so the obvious thing was to rope in others to do it with me. I very quickly realized that doing it informally was not the way forward; your friends quickly get tired of being asked for money. I was also aware that people were as interested in getting my financial help as I was in getting theirs. Solution: setting up an organisation with formal but fair structures for people asking each other for money for social change projects, with the added benefit that strangers could enter the arena as well. That was the birth of The Funding Network (TFN), sometimes characterised as live crowdfunding for social change organisations, sometimes as the UK’s first open, public giving circle. The format: a small group of organisations (now 4) to pitch to anyone who wanted to roll up (and we have 60-250 do that at any given meeting), the organisations given a chance to pitch decided by an open and transparent process, and….very important…a level playing field, where each organisation pitches for the same amount of money, has exactly the same amount of time to pitch (in our case, six minutes, timed and dinged once time is up), and the same amount of time to answer questions (ditto). That, and a live, open session at the end of the event where we raise the money there and then; we developed a methodology (and actually a culture) of doing this that people enjoyed, didn’t feel embarrassed or pressured by, and that had great results. And was even fun (because we ring a bell when time is up, I sometimes say that’s the “ding” in the funding network, and the pledging session is the “fun” …..fun-ding, gettit?)
Not only did I have a good time setting TFN up, but I discovered it was like a hungry newborn: it needed nourishment (attention and yes, money) to survive and grow and thrive. Fortunately I was able to provide a bit of both, and to rope in others who quite liked feeding a hungry newborn that seemed to have promise. Having caught the bug for feeding one newborn, I started to look for others and helped grow them too, in one memorable case so big so quickly that baby was soon bigger than father and still hungry and had to go off and find bigger players to nourish it. Soon other such organisations started to find me as well! So funding infrastructure is a kind of no-brainer: if you want to move goods you build a road, if you want to make cars you build a factory…the list is endless. Roads and factories may not be as sexy as cars and trucks, but their existence makes the latter a whole lot more efficient!
2) What has your experience specifically with TFN taught you about the power of networks and the spreading of a methodology?
One of the wonderful thing about an event-based, live format like TFN is that people can come see it and realize they’d like to see that in their city, their country, and could we help them please. And the wonderful C.S.Mott Foundation quickly realized that here was a model that their philanthropy infrastructure organisations in central and Eastern Europe could use, and that would not only raise money for good social causes, but in the very act of bringing the public together with NGOs could create new bonds of social cohesion and create trust between the public and the NGO world. And it worked! It’s now in many cities all over Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Latvia, Russia….and I won’t go on to name them all but you get the picture. Then people from the English-speaking colonies came and wanted to take the model home; that’s how we got into Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. And because success begets success, and the physical proximity of an existing TFN group makes the development of a new group so easy, it’s been easy to grow. I’ve also been in the wonderful position of being able to give new groups a tiny bit of cash (normally Euros 1000) to have their first event, just on the basis of a simple application form and the certain knowledge that the money is theirs, no filling out long forms and waiting six months only to be told priorities have changed. Amazing what a small but guaranteed amount of funding can do to motivate someone to take a chance. And so far we’ve been lucky; all the new groups have done well but if we get a few failures it’s still been worth it.
The thing is: we are in 18 countries now, but think how many we are NOT in…..and how many of those countries could use those strengthened bonds between public and NGOs, and how money changing hands between public and NGOs could make such a big difference. And because, in my experience, attention often follows money, countries change when their populations begin to give, because when the public begins to invest their hard-earned cash in social change, they start to notice what else needs to be done, like what policies need to be changed so that bandages aren’t simply applied to wounds but the guns (and of course I mean this in a generic sense) get taken away.
So if any members of WINGS are reading this and think you’d like to see whether our live crowdfunding model might work in the country where you live or work or fund, please, please be in touch. We know how to help spread this model, we have the staff (already funded, well, at existing levels) to do it, and we’d like to make this work in many more countries.
For more information please contact Eugenie Harvey at Eugenie@thefundingnetwork.org.uk , go to the website at www.thefundingnetwork.org.uk and take a look at this short film about how their events work. You can learn more about Fred Mulder here.