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Leaving a philanthropic legacy

“Andrew Carnegie, the US steel magnate, once declared: ‘A man who dies rich, dies disgracefully.’ True to his belief, he funded more than 2,000 libraries. I don’t have Carnegie’s problem. I don’t have billions to give away. But what is great about The London Community Foundation is that it allows people of all sizes of income to set up a philanthropic legacy. This is why I signed up. You and your descendants have a fund for life, the interest from which can help fund local charities” - Malcolm Dean

Malcolm Dean, former social policy editor of The Guardian, set up a Donor Advised Fund with us in 2012 benefitting from match funding from Office for Civil Society’s Community First endowment programme.

No stranger to philanthropy, the trustee of numerous charities decided to focus his fund on projects based in Lambeth, where he lives, and to give priority to projects working with refugees and disengaged young men at risk of joining gangs.

He took the time to speak with us about why he set up his fund and why others should follow suit.

1.) Why did you set up an endowment fund at The London Community Foundation?

Historically, charities have a long history of identifying un-met needs, innovating new ways of meeting known social needs, and recruiting committed armies of volunteers. But by the end of the first half of the last century, it became apparent that charities alone cannot create a welfare state. It took the second half of the last century to demonstrate that state action alone cannot create widespread well being within society. We need the state and charities working together and The London Community Foundation combines both. I was lucky to become an investor at a time when the state matched every donation pound for pound invested in my endowment fund. That scheme has now ended but even now donations to the Foundation earn tax relief and gift aid.

2.) What are you supporting through your fund and why?

I live in Lambeth and wanted to help projects in the borough that provided support to vulnerable people. I had two priority areas: refugees and disengaged young men at risk of joining dangerous gangs. My concern about refugees pre-dated the huge numbers that have arrived in Europe this year. There were more than enough problems facing refugees before this year’s crisis. One critical group was the number of children fleeing violence, destroyed homes and lost family members who ended up here on their own. To my delight, the Foundation was already supporting just such a group in Lambeth, Refugee Youth.

There were three things that I particularly liked about the project. First, the way in which it was managed. It followed a cooperative approach involving the young people in key decisions. It was a genuine community group in which young refugees helped each other and learned together whilst accessing advocacy, legal aid and emotional support. Secondly, there was a very healthy ratio of volunteers to professional staff: 24 volunteers supporting two fulltime and four part-time staff members. And third, there was a large number of beneficiaries (several hundred) and a wide variety of support programmes for those living in hostels, attending English classes or college, needing further training or accreditation.

For my second charity, I chose Code 7 which was founded by a local musician, Asher De Senator, who was concerned by the number of local young people who were vulnerable to becoming too involved in gang-related activities. It provides mentors, mediation services, educational support, and accredited training in music and media. A key attraction for the young people was Asher’s musical equipment as music plays a huge part in the young people’s lives. The London Community Foundation has worked with Code 7 from its inception in 2005 and is one of four organisations the Foundation has chosen to work with in its gangs intervention programme. Code 7 has won a gold standard award for smaller charities.

There are two other charities I have subsequently helped: a St Michael’s Fellowship programme for young fathers which helps them get involved with their own children, something that otherwise would be unlikely to happen. The second is Southside Young Leaders' Academy which aims to inspire young black boys to become future leaders and I’ve written more about it here.

3.) Through your fund you give unrestricted grants to projects, we’d love to hear why?

I’ve been a trustee of numerous charities – including the Young Foundation which has created more than two dozen new charities including the School for Social Entrepreneurs, which has allowed me to see close hand the serious curbs that restricted funds create. Unrestricted grants are so important because charities need money to finance specific projects, but also cash to cover their own costs – offices, property repairs, computer equipment, lighting and heating bills, council tax, telephones etc. Add to that the cost of drawing up bids for particular projects, which are time consuming and expensive exercises that often fail to win.

As the former social policy editor of The Guardian, I’ve watched the charity tide ebb and flow. These are tough times for charities. The boom period was between 1997 and 2006 when they rose from 98,000 to over 170,000. It was in 2006 that local and central governments became charities’ biggest donors at 37%, with 36% of donations from the public and the other 27% being internally generated from foundations and corporates. Charities are in trouble now because they can no longer rely on such government help. Huge cuts by governments have forced charities to merge or even close their doors. So much for ‘Big Society’.

4.) What’s your message to others who are thinking about giving back to London?

Jump in. What is great about The London Community Foundation is that it allows people of all sizes of income to set up a philanthropic legacy. You don’t have to be an Andrew Carnegie. True to his declaration that, ‘a man who dies rich, dies in disgrace’, he funded more than 2,000 libraries in the UK and US. I can vouch for the fact that smaller donors are given an excellent service by the LCF.  They are plugged into a vast network of charities and community groups across London. They know which are effective and which would be effective with a bit more money. In the 20 years they have been in business, their annual grants have grown from £60,000 to £5.2 million. That is why big organisations like Comic Relief and the London Evening Standards’ charity appeal campaigns have turned to LCF to guide them to suitable projects. Join the gang.

Published on 30 November 2015

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