Alan Hodson probably wouldn’t describe himself as a philanthropist. “I am lucky enough to have some time and some money”, he explains, and so has had the opportunity to become involved in philanthropy.
In 2004 Alan retired as the Global Head of Equities from UBS. He is currently chair of Blackrock Commodities Income Investment Trust and on the advisory board of Norges Bank Investment Management. Today he spends around a third of his time on charity, a third on business, and a third on ‘enjoyment’.
Twelve years ago Alan made his first major gift, to Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) after being inspired by the quality and sympathetic care the hospital gave his daughter, who had died from cancer. He now chairs the organisation’s Board of Trustees, and has also funded a parent room in the hospital for parents whose children are undergoing treatment overnight.
Deciding against setting up his own charity, Alan believes that “there are already enough charities doing good work”. Instead, he supports existing “first class” organisations, often helping them to fundraise.
In memory of his daughter, Alan and his wife Christiane founded the Olivia Hodson Cancer Fund, a special purpose fund within the Great Ormond Street Hospital Charity which funds a range of projects and staff, all focused on childhood cancer.
Alan seeks to share his experiences of successful giving whenever possible, using his business and financial expertise, as well as his experience as Chair of the UBS CSR programme. For example, inspired by the The Tick Tock Club at GOSH, a ‘giving circle’ for donors each giving £75,000 over three years to fund a new heart and lung centre, Alan supported other similar schemes, such as a Save the Children circle funding a new programme in Mozambique.
Alan’s philanthropy is very much influenced by his business experience. For example, he takes a ‘portfolio approach’ to his giving and mostly focuses on either large and established or much smaller charities.
“In business and in the charitable sector, I’m cautious about mid-sized organisations. I would prefer to invest in world-class organisations with scale and the capabilities to have a real impact, or in small organisations, preferably with a smart idea or skill, sufficiently limited costs for an investment to make exceptional returns, and with sensible management,” he says.
He continues, “I will invest significant sums in larger, proven organisations, but prefer to support a diversified portfolio of smaller charities and projects. As the markets have recently found to their cost, leverage can be bad as well as good. I prefer to see opportunities that are scalable and have the potential to lead to much wider applications.”
This portfolio approach is partly driven by the difficulty philanthropists face in evaluating the impact of their donations. Alan finds that the quality of assessment generally available is wanting, which makes strategic philanthropy challenging. He wants to see the impact for himself: “Reading a letter from a beneficiary is much more rewarding than any detailed analytical report.”
Alan’s ‘portfolio’ includes serving as a Trustee of The Roundhouse Trust, a performing arts centre in Camden, and he was deputy chair of The Beacon Fellowship from 2005-2007.
More recently, Alan became a director of The Funding Network (TFN) after meeting its co-founder Fred Mulder through Beacon. TFN is a network of philanthropists who come together to leverage their funding to support small grassroots charities. At quarterly meetings, pre-screened charities present to members, who then pledge their support in an ‘auction’ format. TFN monitors the performance of the charities and reports back to its members.
Alan explains, “Whether in companies or charities, it is critical to have faith in the management team. That’s why I especially like the TFN model, which gives members the chance to ‘look management in the eye’.”
Reflecting on his philanthropic journey, Alan admits that his philanthropy is still evolving, and that he has not yet “found the perfect model for my giving”. He says that he is still learning, and has found speaking to as many donors as possible a good way to learn what works, and what doesn’t. But the journey, he says, is “tremendously rewarding”.