Dame Stephanie Shirley

Institute Of Fund Raising - Major Gift Fundraising And Donor Development

Major Gift Fundraising and Donor Development
Institute of Fund Raising

Keynote: Major Gifts – the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
The Royal Overseas League
30 March 2006

Dame Stephanie Shirley

Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen.

You'll be hearing from a number of professionals during the day. I've been asked to share my personal experiences of grant giving and will leave time for discussion but would point out that I'm different to most philanthropists for a number of reasons. I give capital and generally in large dollops. But more importantly, as an unaccompanied child refugee to this country in 1939, I've been the recipient of charity and been sensitised to issues in a way that people who have always had enough money, enough not to be hungry anyway, find hard to imagine. To me, wealth is a gift.

You'd think it would be easy for the wealthy to make things happen but to really make a difference, you need to know what you're doing. And care about it. So my giving focus is on IT (my chosen profession) and the condition of autism which my son had. He died in 1998. It always takes courage to love children. For, as the Queen put it - "grief is the price we pay for love".

I may not speak for every self-made woman but not only do I have the means to contribute to your causes but I know how to make money, how to manage money, more importantly, how not to let the money manage me. Until recently you could not have found my name via share trades in public companies, as an owner of property or by membership of any select organisation. By the time anyone found me for the Sunday Times Rich List, I had been giving my wealth away for some time, not least 24% of the company from which my wealth comes was transferred to the staff on the basis that if you love something, set it free.

I founded that business technology group with all of £6 back in 1962. It's now a public company called Xansa. Its mature success has enabled my husband and I to improve our lifestyle, but we didn't wish to change it completely, nor to forget our roots. So we live relatively modestly with my time in retirement spent almost entirely on philanthropic endeavours. My husband need never worry were I to be marooned on a desert island. Several of you would quickly come and find me!

Social enterprises are providing me with a super lifestyle – you might not enjoy it because I'm a workaholic - I like to be part of a group, to be actively busy, to spend my time with interesting people on worthwhile projects. Like the Quakers, I believe in the beauty of work when we do it properly, and in humility.

So giving is for me a social and cultural activity not merely a financial transaction. A large bank balance is all very nice but, like the 16th century philosopher Francis Bacon, I believe that "Money is like muck, not good except it be spread". And money is seldom the whole answer. Sure, giving can be a compassionate act of detachment. I do not accept the established vision of the world as a vicious jungle where only the fittest and the most selfish survive. I try to make giving a committed act of love. According to Dr Fromm, the four qualities of authentic love are care, responsibility, respect and knowledge.

Some givers seek instant reward. But my optimum timescale for a project is between 2 and 5 years. Faster than that is too easy to engage me. Slower, and I get depressed. So - once you knew that about me – you'd also know to break down any requests into those sorts of timespans. For me. Other givers will have different needs to meet.

Because major gifts are all about relationships. And, just as in life, your friends are made through tests of trust over time. Trust is a two-way thing. Not just a matter of giving wisely but of getting pleasure for oneself.

Donors - if we are not to patronise the beneficiaries – like to give with passion and the human touch. To things that interest us. Places with which there's an emotional link. I give to people that I like and find stimulating. Who are not sycophantic (wealth attracts the less than sincere). Where in some way I get as much as I give.

I never "just" write a cheque. Everyone has skill and time to give. I use mine along with my wealth to pioneer new projects that wouldn't otherwise happen and that, if successful, make a real difference. Most seniors develop a strong wish to leave something of themselves behind.

Relationships can stem from history or shared experiences. But all the major gifts have been in accordance with The Shirley Foundation's Mission which was defined as:

Pioneering - no matter how worthy, The Shirley Foundation doesn't just do more of the same, and Strategic – by which I mean that if successful (pioneering projects can and do fail (and if we had 100% success, I'd reckon we were not taking sufficient risk) but if successful make a real difference.

So, my focus is pioneering, strategic; and in the two fields I know and care about: Information Technology (my professional discipline) and autism which was my late son's disorder. 30 projects overall totalling over £50m with 3 projects taking £35m. Other projects may involve only a little pump priming or cost next to nothing – project loans and underwriting, sharing contacts, ideas, goods and services. The least successful have been the loans, all soft loans – interest free and without security. We shan't be doing those again! One of the smallest - and one we class as very successful - was £20,000 to co-fund Autism Awareness Year in 2002. This was an enormous risk which all came good. 800 disparate organisations started talking with each other. And hugely impacted public awareness.

What do we mean by success? Of course there's an element of due diligence – was the money well spent on what it was supposed to be? Givers, probably speaking especially for women, care about the issues and are careful about them. Another gender related tip: many bereaved partners intend to continue charitable donations. Women – we outlive men on average so don't forget the widow's mite.

Charities need to demonstrate good housekeeping. In this networked century I don't like to support charities with expensive offices. There are other factors I always look for. You might guess from my history which they are. Do women have a chance to achieve? What's happening as regards racial inclusion? Disabilities?

Because I've been at the receiving end, I aim for the tone to be friendly, respectful and encouraging—usually ending with phrases such as Thank you for all that you do for... whatever.

The volume of telephone and written applications came down when our focus was made clear on the website. Thank goodness for technology!

It was my professional discipline of course. So I use Blackbaud software, Justgiving for fundraising; and conference calls for some meetings; trying to be as efficient and as effective as possible. And keep infrastructure costs down. Many charities are unrealistic about the necessary overheads to do anything; in giving grants I look for sustainability and expect applicants to incur marketing costs, dissemination costs and allow for contingencies. I'm a great believer in working cooperatively and sharing results. I often struggle with one of my very experienced co-trustees whose approach is to give 90% of what is asked for on the basis that the recipient will always manage on that somehow. But I'm the tough one when recipients come back for things that they should have thought about at the beginning.

We have a very part-time Administrator, whose tasks are more than just sending out reject letters. There are still a lot of those. Because there are a lot of ineffectual asks; "We've done some good things in the past, please give us some money and we'll do some more …" We used to reply to each and every applicant but since things got tight in 2001 we only reply to those relating to learning disability. And to individuals - usually students plus all those heart breaking handwritten ones from children in Africa. I speed-read all the relevant applications partly to keep abreast of what charities are doing, partly because I can occasionally make positive suggestions or effect useful introductions. I get a summary of the rest.

My age gives me an urgency you youngsters lack so I have little patience with charities which do not respond within a reasonable time. One major grant was actually given – but after 6 months with next to nothing happening – it was cancelled and we set up a new organisation afresh. We've also cancelled for value for money reasons. And one we should never have funded in the first place - the research project was poorly designed and was not going to go anywhere. Donors and charities enjoy tax privileges. It behoves us to be efficient. I abominate all forms of waste and professionalism is part of my giving – making sure performance never ever falls below an acceptable level.

I am businesslike and use business tools in my giving. Just as business uses financial analysts, so The Shirley Foundation recently undertook to be the founding sponsor of a report on autism by New Philanthropy Capital. It was they who taught me the concepts of Input/Output, Outcome and Impact.

I'm also businesslike in ring fencing some money to make sure my husband and don't finish up in penury – but have already fallen below our own guidelines!

I'm acutely irritated by applicants who are unbusinesslike. Who ask for help with worthy projects in areas where we have clearly stated that we have no conceivable interest. I hate it when standard type letters arrive, sometime with the very same one we declined before.

And just as business uses market research and marketing, so The Shirley Foundation contracts others to pinpoint and assess good prospects. There are some sharks around – one service provided a list that just came from googling. Only 6 of the 100 names were valid and we knew those already. We considered buying an address list of the richest people in the world from a Lord de Chanson. He turns out to be a Craig Tuck who had changed his name by deed poll and has already been convicted of obtaining money by deception. But other intermediaries (I'm using a Swiss bank for instance) are excellent value for money.

There's also a personal network among some major donors – we get each other's views, we collaborate in some grant giving. We recently started collaborative discussions between some charities on the co-funding of research. And we often suggest a more pertinent donor for a good application that doesn't happen to fit our foundation's criteria.

There's an element of practicality: how much hassle did our Administrator have in getting the reports in on time, was confidentiality respected or conversely was credit given where we'd asked for acknowledgement? But basically, what we mean by success, what The Shirley Foundation looks for in its projects, is some measure of Outcome – what difference did we make, not what was physically provided in terms of equipment or people's time, but what were the resulting changes to the beneficiaries – whoever or whatever they are – and the Impact made to society generally.

I'm currently working on my Chairman's report for this, The Shirley Foundation's 10th year of grant giving. And trying to review the decade in terms of Outcomes and Impact not just the "over £50m" figure.

The donor who understands what difference a given donation makes to the world is one who will give three, or even thirty-three, times as much.

* * * * * * *

My first large scale gift – about £2m over (wait for it) 17 years – was to Kingwood, the charity I set up for my learning disabled autistic son long before I had what is laughingly called free money. Before the Shirley Foundation even existed I set up several homes for profoundly vulnerable people and the capital cost of providing a stable, dignified environment was very much part of my planning. But how to measure Impact? How to measure tender loving care? Is one person's self-esteem the same as another's? And what is the value, to me, of care in that service a hundred years from now? I financed the charity, ran it for some time then chaired its board of trustees for many years. Kingwood is now free standing and supports 41 adults with autism whose needs challenge existing services. Another 20 are contracted in by 2008. To me, it's not enough to do good, it has to be sustainable.

The largest gift started in 1997 when I was inspired to set up Prior's Court, near Newbury, a very special school for pupils with autism who also have moderate to severe learning difficulties. It took 22 hectic months from concept to opening in 1999 – 5 years of my life overall. Today that too is free standing with 59 pupils.

Another major donation was to Oxford University. They originally approached me to support a proposed chair in autism and I happily accepted an invitation to find out what they were proposing to do.

The Development Office had done their research in identifying me but the presentation was totally unsuitable, full of medical gobbledegook. It forgot that I had an autistic son so knew quite a bit about it. They targeted very tactical issues and seemed unwilling to raise their sights. Altho' we funded another project on autism at Oxford a couple of years later, in the short-term their effort went to waste.

But there was another, quite separate approach. This time via two business friends suggesting my sponsorship of the Oxford Internet Institute in strategic terms – social, economic, legal, ethical – that interested me. And which they correctly predicted would be intellectually satisfying for me.

That £10m gift has taken me into a network of the university's supporters - the Chancellor's Court of Benefactors it's called. This expresses the university's appreciation for the crucial support it receives. And is a concept that would easily extend out of academe.

Donors don't give to be thanked but – and I don't like myself to have to confess this ugly truth – I certainly notice when I'm not thanked properly. Maybe this is because I worked so long and so hard for the money, perhaps it doesn't matter quite so much if you're giving away someone else's money. Of those 30 major projects, four recipients have been crassly remiss about thanking. With another couple getting their thanks just wrong (or non-existent). Perhaps 1 in 5 of you overall, alienating donors quite unnecessarily.

At the very least it's good practice to insist that the names of all those contributing above some threshold are acknowledged in the Annual Report.

The Beacon Trust has started a Thanks for Giving Day to coincide with the American Thanksgiving. It's much needed. You would not believe how many major donors comment on the lack of thanks they receive. A tatty plaque doesn't count!!

Lynn Truss suggests in her book on manners that for every good deed there's a proportionate acknowledgement which precisely repays the giver... the aim being to emerge from each transaction with no one beholden, no one in the red.

* * * * * * *

Since the stock market fall in 2001 – my shares have only now climbed back to a tenth of what they were at the Millennium – I've committed to four new projects all concerned with autism. Three are review type: the New Philanthropy Capital study I've already mentioned; a literature review of autism research to pull out the challenges and so inform future grants; and a current update study of some seminal work we sponsored in 1999 on the economic aspects of autism spectrum disorders. The Shirley Foundation accounts show gifts last year of £15m but that was mostly committed years ago! With less to give, my foundation became more strategic.

We reviewed our Mission and focussed down to facilitation and support of pioneering projects with strategic impact in the field of Autism Spectrum Disorders, with particular emphasis on medical research.

The main support is to the international charity now called Autism Speaks focussing on medical research to determine the causes of autism, a task which proved to be way, way beyond my own financial resources. As this group well knows, fundraising is process driven. It takes great chunks of time and bigger chunks of money to raise funds. No short cuts! I do what I did in my business life: initiating, organising, managing and most importantly, marketing and so persuading other wealthy people to give.

In case you think the interests of your charity are remote from my focus on autism, let me tell you about a group of philanthropists who recently spent several days with the Dalai Lama to study what they believed to be the 5 most important questions:

  1. How to address the widening gap between rich and poor
  2. How to protect the earth
  3. How to educate our children
  4. How to help Tibet and other oppressed countries and peoples of the world, and
  5. How to bring spirituality (deep caring for one another) through all disciplines of life.

The Dalai Lama said that all 5 questions fell under the last one. If we have true compassion in our hearts, our children will be educated wisely, we will care for the earth and those who "have not" will be cared for.

* * * * * * *

Let me summarise:

I try always to do my giving well – you need to care about something passionately to do it well. And to improve year on year.

Because it's money earned by the sweat of my brow I'm able to challenge the cautious bureaucratic style of older foundations. I'm much more personal, generally seeking a direct role. And strategic, applying the systematic models that I learnt in my business life to my giving. I work globally. And know my Exit Strategy as I start something. I'm results driven; seeking measurable results but although there are targets and a mass of pre-checking, once the relationship is established and trusted, I let people get on with the job.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I hope today's important Conference will help you get on with your jobs; and congratulate you on all that you are already doing to develop your donors and fundraise for major gifts.

Long may you continue your marvellous work. Thank you all.

Copyright March 2006

Dame Stephanie Shirley

Tel: +44 (0) 1491 579004
Fax: +44 (0) 1491 574995
Email: steve@steveshirley.com
Website: www.steveshirley.com

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