21st Dec 2018

In the Community Foundation’s lifetime, the world of giving and philanthropy becoming ever more complex. From crowdfunding to donor-advised funds, and with giving by people like Bill and Melinda Gates at an unprecedented scale, how does the Foundation’s offer continue to appeal?

“Those involved in the early days knew we would never succeed if our message was ‘give us your money and go away,” says Rob Williamson, the Foundation’s CEO. So, drawing on lessons from America, the Foundation set about providing ‘named funds’ fitting donors’ wishes and matched with requests from local groups. But, with donors wanting to know how they could make the most difference, the Foundation needed a solid knowledge base and skilled staff to act as a guide. What evolved is a sophisticated philanthropy advice service which ensures donors can think through where, when, how and to whom they wish to give.

Elizabeth Sutherland Riney encountered the Foundation on a visit to the UK from her home in California. She had been introduced to Ian Gregg, a local philanthropist, and asked how she could find out about issues in the area. “I was born in York, but my family are from South Shields, Tyneside,” Liz explains. “We emigrated when I was only six, but I still have family there and come back often. I knew I wanted to help but didn’t know how best to go about it.” Ian suggested a meeting with the Foundation and Liz prepared by reading Vital Signs. “As someone active in the environmental movement in the States, I was thrilled to see that there was already an environmental focus.” The Foundation provided more data and took Liz to visit local groups. “On my return home, I reflected on what I had seen and kept up a conversation with the staff via email,” Liz continues. “When I was ready to make a gift, the team advised how to do so efficiently and in ways that honour my family.” The resulting Ivy and Gilbert Purvis Fund was established in 2018 as part of the Foundation’s environment fund. “My goal is to help protect the environment and thereby improve healthy living conditions for the people of South Tyneside,” Liz says. “I know my parents would approve and it is wonderful to honour to them with this contribution.”

Advice is not only for those new to philanthropy. For many long-standing donors, there are times when circumstances prompt a re-think. The Squires family, who established the Benfield Motors company in 1957, set up their own charitable foundation in 1989 and a fund at the Community Foundation, where John Squires was also a trustee and chair. After the sale of the business in 2015, John’s son, Mark, was keen to get a new generation involved in the family’s philanthropy. Based on advice, the renamed Squires Foundation is focusing on making bigger grants while, through its Community Foundation fund, a panel of family members is supporting smaller groups to tackle disadvantage in Newcastle, North Tyneside and Northumberland, with North Tyneside Carers Centre being one of the first to benefit.

“We take our advice role very seriously,” says Rob Williamson. “We’re trusted by lawyers, accountants and wealth managers to speak to clients, and we’ve even helped some big national and international donors think through their philanthropy. But while our work has become more sophisticated, the core message is the same as in 1988: we will help you make a difference by starting where you are and the causes you care about.”

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