When she was the Royal Ballet’s principal dancer Darcey Bussell did shows for charity, but since her retirement last year her philanthropy has taken a more central role.
“Unlike dancing, which is a bit of a selfish art, this is not all about me. Now I want to give something back,” says Bussell.
Bussell has chosen to support the work of Rainforest Concern, a UK-based charity that targets biodiversity ‘hot spots’, particularly the dense rainforests in South America.
“They don’t buy up land, but they work with the local community to preserve the forest and species that live in it,” she says. “By working with local organisations they can help people living close to the forests to find ways to earn income which doesn’t have a negative impact on the forest.”
Bussell feels that having her two children has given her a new appreciation for the environment and motivated her to do more for the next generation. Getting older has played its part too.
“To know that you’re giving something back feels good. As soon as you have kids, you want to make them understand and appreciate their surroundings. It’s also about slowing down. As you get older you realise that it’s not necessary to live in the fast lane, and I realise that I only need to be happy – and for me and my family to be healthy.”
For Bussell, focusing her giving is really important because it means she can learn a lot about the subject. “By concentrating on one charity I can learn more and know what I’m talking about. That way I feel that I’m making much more of a difference and doing a better job.”
She recommends that donors base their giving on an understanding of a problem. Indeed, it was discovering that the world’s rainforests have been halved within her own lifetime that motivated Bussell to do something about it. “As the rainforests diminish, we lose species at an incredible rate. It makes me want to get out there and put a big brick wall around the rainforests – anything to stop it happening!”
The dancer recommends that donors approach intermediaries for advice on their giving. “People may know an awful lot but they might not know about charities and how to give constructively. Organisations like New Philanthropy Capital can help to show them how giving money to charities can work for them.”
Although Bussell supports the idea of a more hard-headed, information-driven approach to supporting charities, that does not mean that giving needs to be cold or emotionless. “If you are passionate about something, you can do so much more,” she says.
(Giving with passion by Sue Wixley from Philanthropy UK's Special Report: Women & Philanthropy, March 2008)