With so many worthwhile charities in need of funds, it can be challenging for the would-be philanthropist to know where to start. How do you decide where to target your support? Can you be sure that your gift will make a real difference? And does it matter that you don’t have huge amounts of money to donate?
My journey into philanthropy was driven by a very specific aim. I wanted to create a legacy for my late husband Barry, to honour his memory and keep his name alive. As a couple we had always supported a range of causes from cancer charities to international aid, but what I had in mind was something on a more personal scale: a project where I could see the direct impact of my involvement.
My strategy was to start small.
I planned to commit to my chosen charities for a year or so to see if my support was making the difference I envisaged, before deciding how and whether to continue. I then set about researching possible recipients, exploring what they had to offer and how far their aims and activities met my criteria.
I chose to focus my attention on the arts because throughout his distinguished business career Barry had been passionate about theatre and opera. He was also passionate about the power of education to transform the lives of young people, especially those who might otherwise miss out.
A close friend had studied stage management at Guildhall School of Music & Drama, and she often spoke of the first-class training she’d received and the difference it had made to her life. I knew that the school boasted many stellar alumni, from the actors Ewan McGregor and Damian Lewis to the musicians Sir Bryn Terfel and Alison Balsom, and that it consistently ranked as one of the world’s top ten arts institutions. With this in mind, I called their development staff and talked frankly with them about my objectives and how they might tally with staff and students’ needs.
Through the helpful discussions that followed I was able to clarify my priorities. What I wanted was to provide funds for a talented student who would simply be unable to take up their hard-won place without additional financial support. This led to the creation of the Love MacDonald Scholarship which I’ve supported for the past four years, building from an initial four-figure donation.
My first scholar – a brilliant young tenor from South Africa – graduated from Guildhall’s prestigious Opera Course in 2022, and has already found work at Glyndebourne, English National Opera and Garsington. It’s hard to describe just how thrilling it has been to see his talent flourish and how privileged I feel to have played a part in his success. I can’t wait to discover what my current scholar will accomplish during their time at Guildhall.
It is not only about the achievement of one person, however. Whenever I watch a performance at the school, I have the satisfaction of knowing that my support is helping to create an environment in which many gifted students can thrive and fulfil their potential. I know too that when they take their skills out into the wider world they will provide huge enjoyment to millions through different forms of entertainment, from theatre, concerts and opera to films and television. What’s more, their experience may well inspire other young people to follow in their footsteps, including – perhaps – a future Love MacDonald Scholar, who might otherwise have lacked the confidence to follow their dreams.
It’s also about belonging to a community of like-minded people. Some of the supporters I’ve met have a long track record as philanthropists; others, like me, are relative newcomers who are still feeling their way.
What we have in common is a desire to give young people the opportunity to succeed, as well as safeguarding some of the highest standards of music and drama education in the world.
This is especially important at a time when the arts in the UK are so beleaguered, and their huge contribution to well-being can easily be disregarded.
So what have I learned from my experience as a new philanthropist? First of all, you don’t have to be Bill Gates to make a difference. When you join with other supporters the impact you have together can be truly powerful. I’ve also learned that keeping it small can be immensely rewarding. Meeting students, attending performances, sharing ideas have made me feel part of a team which values my life experience and my passions as well as my financial support. Most of all I feel that I’ve achieved my goal: creating a lasting legacy for a very special and generous man, which I hope will continue transforming lives for many years to come.
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