Funding With Others: The Benefits of Collaboration and Leveraging


Magazine article

I recently met with an expert in

the field of psychology of philanthropy who asked me why does my family give proportionately such a large amount to philanthropy and why I have dedicated my life to it. It is a question that I have thought long and hard about, as to some extent it is initially counter-intuitive to give money away that you have worked so hard to earn. My answer was two-fold.

First, I do believe that if you are successful then you have an obligation to help others less fortunate than yourself. This may be through giving money or time and expertise. But second, becoming involved in philanthropy is not about an obligation, it is about what it brings to the philanthropist in terms of personal enjoyment, satisfaction and fulfilment. I said to the psychologist that the irony of life is that charity involves giving something away but what you get back at the end of the day is far more than you give.

The crucial aspect is that you find an area that you are interested in, as the enjoyment comes from the hands-on involvement in your chosen area of philanthropy. I am not criticising the concept of writing a cheque to a large charity and then forgetting about it, but you can’t hope to derive the same personal satisfaction and fulfilment as taking an active role in the giving process. The net effect of being fully immersed in the area of philanthropy of your choice is that it becomes a story. Initially as a philanthropist you are a small character in the story but the more involved you become you start to shape the story, which is where the satisfaction is taken to another level. My story is with cutting edge medical research.

I have chosen to make medical research my area of philanthropic work, because I believe that finding new treatments and cures for diseases, which cut short lives and destroy the quality of life of sufferers and their families, is the best way to benefit humanity.

Rosetrees, the foundation my parents established in the early 1980s, applies a strategic and business-like approach to the field of medical research, which is one of the few areas where this country still excels. We provide seed-corn funding and develop close working relationships with individual researchers. £4m of Rosetrees funding has led to nearly £140m in follow-on grants from major funders and co-donors who want to support the cutting edge medical research that Rosetrees helps get off the ground. We have a long term target of £1bn, which will make a real difference to the health of everyone.

There are no quick and easy wins, for medical research takes time and for me that means developing relationships with the researchers that are dedicating their lives to finding treatments. I absolutely love meeting the researchers, and understanding what they need, what they are trying to achieve and how I can help them. They are incredibly intelligent, motivated, passionate people whose positivity and optimism that they will make breakthroughs rubs off on you. There is no more fascinating or enjoyable experience, than to hear highly intelligent, committed, passionate researchers explain in language an eight year old would understand, the science barriers they are trying to break and the potential health benefits for all of us. Over 25 years I have met hundreds of professors and their young researchers and I can honestly say I have not met one whom I have not liked nor felt their drive and commitment.

Rosetrees tends to focus on supporting the young researchers under established professors, PhDs and post-docs who do not have university funding and would be lost to science without philanthropists’ support. I cannot tell you how wonderful it is to see our young researchers getting new research of the highest quality off the ground and going on to major funding and discovery. The opportunities in medical research are enormous. Rosetrees supports over 200 projects across all main areas of medical research, including dementia and neurological disorders, cancer, cardiovascular disease, imaging, lung damage, nano-technology, regenerative medicine, rheumatology and stroke. These researchers are striving to find therapeutics, diagnostics and devices to prevent and treat patients and save this country from a ticking time bomb of age and lifestyle related illnesses.

Sadly the money available for the best research projects is never sufficient and our talented professors can spend up to half their long working hours raising funds, which barely cover the cost of living for their young teams.

It seemed to me that their time should be spent on research (where they have expertise) rather than on fundraising (which should be done by someone else). I thought if Rosetrees could offer, at no cost, its expertise, we might find co-donors with an interest in a particular area of medicine. Maybe a husband had a heart attack, a grandma – dementia, or a wife - breast cancer.

Over the last couple of years I have joined with other like-minded philanthropists to support medical researchers. By combining our resources we can leverage our money and experts to make more of an impact. A great example of this is that recently I joined with another philanthropist to support a young researcher under one of the leading cancer professors in the country. As a result of only 8 months of our funding the research had shown such tremendous results that Cancer Research UK made its largest ever single grant of £13m to take the project nationwide. Now the initial research may have been funded elsewhere but it might not have been and, whilst it was too much for Rosetrees to fund on its own, by joining with another philanthropist we can get cutting edge research off the ground that can really fly. I have replicated this model with other philanthropists and I am driven by my desire for philanthropists to join together forged by a mutual interest in a particular area to really make a difference.

I am so engrossed in my philanthropy that I used to spend one day a week on Rosetrees and 5 days on my business but I now spend 5 days on Rosetrees and 1 day on my business. The business is probably suffering but I simply don’t get the same satisfaction from business as I do from my philanthropy. This has been echoed by a number of successful people who have told me they get far more pleasure giving the money away to their area of interest than earning it!

So my advice to anyone who is thinking of philanthropy is to think about an area of particular interest. Once you find that area, meet the people who are involved in that field and speak to those who are already giving in that area. In essence, discover what makes you happy and then get busy doing it. Start by giving a small amount of money as well as your time and build up slowly. Before you know it you will be totally engrossed.    

Why not fund a project and find out about the joy for yourself!

This article is tagged under:

  • Research
  • Causes
  • Inspirational donations