Magazine article

In recent weeks there has been extensive coverage of losses suffered by business and industry as a result of the coronavirus crisis. Less publicised, but equally disastrous, is the imminent devastation of the charity sector. NCVO, the national body representing voluntary organisations, estimates that 12 weeks of lockdown will inflict some £4bn of damage on charities.

This takes into account organisations that are run through fundraising, as well as income unearned from charity shops, and bears out the bank’s own experience. Royal Trinity Hospice, of which Alexander Hoare is a patron, expects, for example, to take a £3m per annum hit while its shops remain closed. In further research carried out by the Charities Aid Foundation, charities were asked to estimate their chances of survival after a lockdown period of six months or 12 months. 37 per cent of charities polled thought they would fold if lockdown lasted six months. If, however, lockdown were to persist for a year, more than 50 per cent of charities polled felt they would not have sufficient resources to continue; given there are 166,000 charities in the UK, this represents a total wipe-out of over 80,000 charities. With these sobering statistics in mind, the bank has implemented a two-fold response. Donations from the Golden Bottle Trust (GBT) address the immediate health emergency, but we are also allocating a pool of funding to preserve and sustain our thriving charity and philanthropy ecosystem. In terms of emergency funding, our approach was very much informed by our response, in 2017, to the Grenfell Tower disaster. At that time, a great deal of public support very quickly coalesced around a small number of emergency appeals, to the extent that delivery capacity of these appeals was significantly stretched.

Taking advice from our existing network of trusts and foundations, the Golden Bottle Trust opted instead to support two smaller charities. The first of these was Kensington Aldridge Academy, a school backing onto Grenfell Tower which lost several pupils in the tragedy. We made an unrestricted grant to the school for three years. This allowed them to allocate funds toward projects, such as breakfast clubs, that best supported efforts to restore the general wellbeing of students. The other charity we opted to support in 2017 was the West London Zone, an innovative community resource for children and young people. It took us a few weeks longer to find them, but we have found them excellent partners and have worked with them very successfully. The experience of Grenfell taught us that being a really successful emergency funder is hard. We don’t feel that supporting big centralised appeals is where we can add most value; we’re much better at taking a step back and allocating funds to organisations with a bit of a track record who are able to make a targeted difference. When it came to supporting charities set up in response to coronavirus, I was aware that a number of emergency funds had been set up – literally and figuratively – in isolation. I thought there was possibly a degree of overlap and that some organisations would benefit from partnership, so the first thing I did, with Philanthropy Impact, was to get as many of these funds as possible together on a phone call to flesh out ideas. This helped catalyse the Beacon Collaborative initiative responding-to-covid-19/ to list all the different funds and their specific purposes.

In terms of support from the Golden Bottle Trust, we have made a noteworthy contribution to the Chelsea and Westminster NHS Trust emergency fund, as the bank has very long-standing links with this hospital ( ‘Good Henry’ Hoare was instrumental in founding the original Westminster Hospital in 1719). This money will fund equipment such as ventilators, support research into COVID-related technologies, and offer practical support to frontline hospital staff. We are also donating to the RAFT emergency fund set up by The Fore, an organisation that uses its well-honed skills to provide grants swiftly to very small charities.Just as importantly, however, we want to continue supporting our established ecosystem of charities. We currently make around 300 separate grants per annum from the Golden Bottle Trust, and we are committed to maintaining this level of giving.

In addition to this, there are charities close to the heart of individual members of the Hoare family which are supported by discretionary funds within GBT; these family members, who may be a trustee or have a much more active role in their chosen charity, are given a ‘pot’ of money for personal allocation and, this year, we’ve expanded those pots by a third. This means trustees can give a sum they think appropriate via the fastest mechanism in our giving infrastructure. So we’re empowering family members to support the charities that mean a lot to them, and making sure funds get to where they’re needed in a matter of days. Careful stewardship of the GBT, both through donations and investment, means that, even in the current uncertain economic climate, we can, and will, maintain its historic level of giving. Ultimately, it is the consolidation of past stewardship with preparedness for future events that allows us, in these testing times, to live up to our purpose as ‘good bankers and good citizens’.