After realising that he was actually giving away a fair bit of money ad hoc, Graham Clempson started to look strategically at his philanthropy.
My involvement with charity today is channelled through Pilotlight. I’m a trustee of Pilotlight, but the model of the charity sees trustees get much more involved in working through operating committees. I focus on strategy and fundraising. My involvement began when I became a ‘pilotlighter’. I signed up when I was in the City and wanted to get involved in philanthropic activities. I was quite interested in venture philanthropy and liked the Pilotlight model which is about getting close to local charities, but not in you were going to have your arm ripped off from a time perspective.
Professionals are caught in a trap. You have a certain amount of money to give, you’re time-poor, but after a while you realise that drip-feeding small donations to all the people running marathons might not be the most intelligent way to give.
I was fortunate enough to have some shares from my time in the City and I used those to set up a small family charitable trust, the Highwood Foundation. I run donations out through that.
I wanted to get involved in giving out of a sense that I’d been fortunate in terms of my own life and career. I had a desire to make a difference, and to try to do that intelligently. I don’t just want to give it; I want to give it and make sure it’s working.
You get drawn into this big debate between giving to small charities or big charities. Big charities have very effective fundraising machines, but I think it is difficult to feel like you are making a difference with them. That’s not to say they don’t need funds. The problem, whether you’re in business or the charity sector, is that the big get bigger and it’s difficult for small charities which are run by really passionate people who are doing great things.
I probably lean towards the American model on talking about philanthropy. My wife and I hold a big annual event for Pilotlight as a fundraiser where we invite lots of friends and guests and encourage them to get involved – whether that’s joining as Pilotlighters or donating money to help the charity grow. There’s a British tendency to be very quiet about this, but I’m very proud of what I do at Pilotlight and what the charity does, so I’ve got no problem in chatting to people about it. What I’ve found is that a lot of my friends and contemporaries are actively involved in charities as well.
My wife supports a number of charities too, she’s a spokesperson for Wellbeing for Women, she’s an ambassador for the Variety Club, and is just starting a new charity called Alice’s Escapes. That’s all through the family foundation.
The next stage of my life will be ‘OK, what do I do with that foundation? Can I make that grow and thrive?’ But at the moment I’m a bit more focused on the day job. My view is that 10 to 20 per cent of my time should be spent on the philanthropic part of my life.
I get a lot of approaches from charities. Because I set up a foundation, you’re instantly on people’s mailing lists. You have to be quite rigorous in the way you deal with that.
The unsolicited or general mailing that doesn’t connect to the person they’re asking just doesn’t get anywhere. The challenge is always to make the connection to that foundation. How do you personalise this in a manner which makes it really register? The simplest tool is to say this amount of money has this impact. Measuring impact in the charitable world is a really tough thing to do, and people who can talk credibly about what they’re achieving stand a much better chance of raising money.
Working with charities is always incredibly grounding. You’re seeing passionate people bring innovative approaches to dealing with huge issues which have been around for a long time. I think seeing people’s commitment is always pretty humbling. It’s very stimulating. I like the other trustees at Pilotlight and the diversity of what we do.
Pilotlight presently helps more than 75 charities.
Clempson personally primarily supports one chairty, Pilotlight whcih links senior business people with smaller charities.
'Pilotlighters' pay an annual membership of £1,575 to join Pilotlight and share their skills.