Who wants to be a billionaire? I don't

A boom in self-made billionaires is bringing an entrepreneurial activism to traditional philanthropy. Sarah Arnott reports

Saturday 17 July 2010 00:00 BST

The co-founder of Microsoft, Paul Allen, is planning to give most of his $13.5bn (£8.8bn) fortune to charity after his death, on top of the $1bn he has given away in the past 20 years. Mr Allen revealed his intentions in response to a call in May from fellow Microsoft founder Bill Gates and investment guru Warren Buffett, urging US billionaires to pledge to give away half their wealth.

British philanthropy took a significant hit from the recession, with total donations down by 11 per cent last year and pledges of £1m or more falling 13 per cent. But if the Gates "giving pledge" was heeded by all of the UK's billionaires, it could yield up to £60bn.

Even in good times, British philanthrophy is a shadow of that in the US, where benefactors are both more upfront about giving, and simply do more of it. However, the situation is changing.

Theresa Lloyd, an expert adviser on philanthropy, said: "The idea of an obligation to fellow citizens and future generations is very powerful in the US, whereas here it is not. But things are changing, and over the next 10 or 20 years will change even more."

The character of philanthropy itself is also changing. In 1989 three-quarters of Britain's richest people had inherited their wealth; by 2009 the same proportion had made it themselves. As a result, philanthropy is moving away from traditional trusts and towards a more entrepreneurial approach.

"The division between philanthropy and business is blurring, powered by philanthropists who are self-made and have a very active approach to bringing about social change," said Cheryl Chapman, the managing editor of Philanthropy UK, a government-funded project of the Association of Charitable Foundations.

One such case is the "Big Give", set up by the Reed Recruitment founder Alec Reed, which links donors to relevant causes and offers match-funding. Another is the Fifteen Foundation, set up by Jamie Oliver in 2002 to train other chefs from disadvantaged backgrounds. Charities themselves are approaching fund-raising with a different attitude. The disability organisation, Scope, launched Britain's first private equity-style financing for the voluntary sector last month, under which donations of £1,750 and a three-year loan of £7,000 can be ramped up to £18,000.

An industry is also developing to help potential philanthropists ensure their donations are as effective as possible. New Philanthropy Capital, a think tank and advisory service, was set up by two former Goldman Sachs partners who spotted that the mass of data available to mainstream investors had no parallel in the third sector. And Coutts, the private bank, has recently launched an advice service for clients wanting to get involved with social enterprises.

The rise of self-made wealth is also boosting interest in education projects, says Salvatore LaSpada, the chief executive of the Institute for Philanthropy. "Many of our great entrepreneurs came from humble backgrounds and want to use their wealth to create opportunities for people coming behind them," he said.

Five of Britain's biggest givers

Lord Sainsbury

The supermarket billionaire and Labour peer, David, Baron Sainsbury of Turville, last year became the first person in Britain to have donated £1bn to charity. His Gatsby Charitable Foundation, which he founded in 1967, is a grant-giving organisation which supports different causes in medicine, education, science and the arts. Its high-profile projects include a computational neuroscience unit at University College London and the Sainsbury Centre for Menatl Health. In 1985, Lord Sainsbury and his two brothers donated £50m to build the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery in London, and through the Linbury Trust he played a key role in the 1990s redevelopment of the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden.

Christopher Cooper-Hohn

The secretive hedge fund billionaire Chris Cooper-Hohn and his wife, Jamie, routinely top lists of British philanthropists. Mr Cooper-Hohn, 43, who founded London-based TCI, has a reputation for rapacity in his business dealings. But he has given more than £500m – six times his personal wealth – to the Children's Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF) managed by his American wife. CIFF helps poverty-stricken families in the poor countries, particularly in Africa, Asia and Central America. The foundation donated more than £33m to good causes in 2008, with a particular emphasis on child survival, nutrition, education and development. It has also invested in the Clinton Foundation's initiative to combat HIV/Aids and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's food donation programme.

Sir Tom Hunter

The Scottish entrepreneur hit the headlines in 2007 when he committed himself to giving away the £1bn fortune he made from his Sports Division retail chain and property development. But although the ravages of the credit crunch have put such grandiose plans on hold, Sir Tom, 49, was historically one of Britain's biggest philanthropists. The Hunter Foundation, set up in 1998, has given large sums to causes including Make Poverty History, Children in Need, and the Clinton Foundation.

Albert Gubay

In March, the Kwik Save founder Albert Gubay rose up the league of Britain's most prolific philanthropists when he announced plans to put all but £10m of his £460m fortune into a charitable foundation. The 82-year old Welshman, a devout Roman Catholic, said the bequest fulfilled a "deal with God" when he was young that if he made a million he would give half of it back. He is now working on hitting the £1bn jackpot. "My whole focus in the next few years is to work as hard as I can to meet my target of a £1bn charity," he said recently. Mr Gubay has stipulated that half of the trust's income – which could hit £20m a year – must be used on projects connected to the Roman Catholic church. A prolific entrepreneur, Mr Gubay founded Total Fitness gyms and the property developer Derwent Holdings, as well as Kwik Save.

Alex Reed

The millionaire founder of the Reed Recruitment agency has made several large humanitarian donations – including to Womankind Worldwide and Ethiopiaid – through the charitable foundation to which he gave a 20 per cent share of his business. But his most recent venture could make the biggest waves by taking a more active approach to philanthropy. The Big Give website not only links donors to suitable causes, but also runs match-funding initiatives to help boost interest in giving to charity.

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