Shifting patterns: Philanthropy in a modern fundraising world

Cancer Research UK

Director of Philanthropy & Campaign at Cancer Research UK Chris Gethin speaks to Joanna Lewin about the rising need and appetite for philanthropic giving

Think ‘philanthropy’ and you might conjure up images of Victorian gentry visiting lowly orphanages. Or perhaps, on the contrary, Bill and Melinda Gates spring to mind. In fact, the modern-day philanthropist looks just like you or me. Perhaps you are one, as research suggests that more and more people with wealth are choosing to donate large swathes of it to good causes.

Meanwhile, the wider fundraising landscape is moving beneath us. Fewer UK households are giving, according to a study by the Charities Aid Foundation*, and the political uncertainty swirling around all sectors in the pre-Brexit environment is being linked to shifts in ours. Recent research by industry observer Third Sector presented a rosy picture of income among the UK’s top 155 charities growing by almost £300m, to £11.7bn**. But on closer inspection, we discover that fundraised income fell from £5.1bn to £4.8bn in the last financial year, with legacy and grant income masking difficulties elsewhere.

For every research committee we hold, we have three or four times the number of quality projects that we would fund if we had the resources

As Chris Gethin, Director of Philanthropy & Campaign at Cancer Research UK, points out: “Economically, the future looks uncertain. People are naturally cautious about whether they’ll want to invest their squeezed disposable income in charities. They also have a lot more choice, with more active players in the charity sector.”

As the UK’s largest charity, at CRUK we’re fortunate to have the reputation and resource to buck many of the less-than-comforting trends. We reported our highest ever fundraised income in 2018/19 and continue to attract vast numbers of participants in events such as Walk All Over Cancer. But it would be foolish to think we’re completely shielded. Because of – and aside from – these factors, we’re increasing our focus on philanthropy.

Supporting the health and wellbeing of global society

For Chris, who has helped foster a prolific high-value fundraising function here at CRUK, philanthropy is clearly a passion. “The number of billionaires around the world is growing and the number of people with significant resources is rising too,” he says. “We believe there’s an increasing interest among this group to play their role in supporting the health and wellbeing of society globally, as well as the communities they’re involved in.”

With a successful 2016 philanthropic campaign to raise £100m towards the Francis Crick Institute under his team’s collective belt, Chris is confident about the future. “All that funding was raised by us through an active volunteer board led by [Managing Director of Goldman Sachs] Charles Manby. It demonstrated an appetite for wealthy donors to support our work. We’re now looking at how we can develop more opportunities that will be attractive to philanthropists.

“We know there’s much more science we want to support. For every research committee we hold, we have three or four times the number of quality projects that we would fund if we had the resources. That’s why we think philanthropy is going to be so important for us over the next few years.”

A mutually rewarding endeavour

So, what’s in it for donors? “By supporting our work, philanthropists can accelerate research that convenes global excellence so that the best scientists work together and maximise the impact they can have, and in turn, the impact the donor can have,” says Chris. “Our focus is on supporting cross-collaboration and knowledge-sharing between UK and global institutes. For example, our Grand Challenge Awards grant outstanding multidisciplinary research teams across the globe up to £20m to pursue answers to some of cancer’s toughest questions. No other organisation is able to support such far-reaching initiatives because they aren’t independent, or sufficiently large or well-networked.”

Ultimately, philanthropy works best when it’s mutually rewarding. At CRUK, we’re building a community of visionary donors who can fund and learn about truly innovative science and see the effect of their generosity.

As Chris puts it, “By supporting us, your donation benefits from that collaboration, that independence and the robustness of our research selection process. Together, that forms such a powerful platform for people who want to make a significant contribution to the lives of people with cancer.”

Chris Gethin has been Director of Philanthropy & Campaign at Cancer Research UK since 2017. He has over 30 years’ fundraising experience at charities and universities

Joanna Lewin is a communications manager and editor at Cancer Research UK