Beacon Awards – The Big Picture

By Eleanor Gammie – Philanthropy Manager, Beacon Awards; Philanthropy and Development Manager, UK Community Foundations

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Beacon is an important institution whose work for the most part, seems to fly under the radar – rather like a philanthropic MI5. Beacon is on a lesser known, but altogether vital mission; to inspire a change of culture when it comes to charitable giving and to enable more effective and integrated philanthropy to establish itself across the UK. Perhaps our core function, although admittedly a little tongue in cheek, shares similarities with that of the secret service – Beacon essentially exists to uphold the wellbeing and security of society.

One critical difference is that Beacon does not wish to remain a secret. It is not our ambition to keep quiet about what we are doing or more importantly, about what UK philanthropists are doing to improve the lives of so many, both locally and globally. That being said, elevating Beacon’s profile amongst a broader audience seems to be proving unexpectedly challenging. This makes me wonder whether we may have a case of mistaken identity on our hands. To guard against this possibility, I would like to clarify some common misconceptions.

Beacon is not an event designed to honour an elite, it is a voice that exists to shout about inspirational and awe inspiring acts of philanthropy of all shapes and sizes. It is a vehicle that can be used to celebrate and promote remarkable stories of generosity, entrepreneurship, innovation and ultimately, humanity. Beacon is a conduit that can be used to offer essential lessons in how to give well and which aims to achieve greater, more widespread impact through knowledge sharing, thought leadership and collaboration.

When the charity first launched in 2003, a piece by the Telegraph explained how Beacon’s founders, David Charters and Emily Stonor, wanted to ‘hurl a large rock into the quiet waters of British philanthropy and make an enormous splash.’

Beacon continues to hurl its rocks, and philanthropy in the UK continues to be a movement that although evident almost everywhere, repeatedly succeeds in dodging the limelight. If we look to our US counterparts they have no qualms in shining a bold Hollywood style spotlight on their philanthropists. Surely a comfortable middle ground could be found; a Beacon of hope in difficult economic times, that illuminates a direction of travel towards greater cohesion and stability. A path that makes us less dependent on the tides of Government and a little better adapted to stand on our own two feet.

The UK has hit a juncture both politically and economically and what the future holds is at this point relatively uncertain. As Government tightens its purse strings and everyone gasps as more cuts take effect, the organisations that are stepping even more into the fold are of course, charitable ones. The need for both philanthropic organisations and philanthropists, be it individuals, families or consortiums, is as great as it has ever been.

Where Beacon could become exceptional is in its ability to tap into and unite philanthropic networks. If UK philanthropy is going to be used to full effect, to successfully bridge the funding gap, we desperately need cohesion of thinking.

The predicament that surrounds Beacon for now is that the true value of the awards – its power to bring people together and facilitate learning and action – is often missed. Its place and broader function within our society has not yet been understood or recognised to its full potential. My hope is that as the 2017 awards cycle progresses, we can shine a brighter light on why Beacon is so valuable to all of us and where it fits within our societal big picture.

I urge everyone to identify your rock, or boulder even, and join with Beacon 2017 to hurl it into the quiet waters of British philanthropy. Together we can make the biggest splash we’ve seen to date. Let us watch as the impact ripples and spreads to create a bigger, brighter future for philanthropy across the UK.

The power of philanthropy

By Beacon Chair, Gay Huey-Evans

The Beacon Awards 2015. Gay Huey Evans. 21.4.15 © JP Morgan/Richard Eaton

There is still a belief in the UK that philanthropy is best done quietly – that those who give should remain humble, modest and should never draw attention to the impact that their generosity has. Yet if we stick with that view, how are we ever going to encourage others to give?

I strongly believe that we need much more of a giving culture in the UK, with an established view that those who can give back, should.  Philanthropy is good for society and good for the individual that gives – we need to be talk about it a lot more and celebrate it for what it achieves.

I’d like us to take a leaf from my homeland across the pond where we shout about philanthropists and celebrate the contribution they make to American society. Take universities for example. American universities couldn’t survive without the donations from alumni to their funds. It’s pretty much become an expectation that you should give back if you have the means to do so. That was certainly my introduction into the world of philanthropy. This went further when I moved to New York and joined the Blue Hill Troupe, a musical theatre group. Since its inception in 1924, the group has produced a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta every spring, with lavish production values and a full orchestra, donating the net proceeds to a New York City charity. That involvement confirmed my belief in the importance of giving and is a message I continue to spread through all my work.

And it’s a message that is more important than ever now. If we look back over 100 years to the Victorian era, philanthropy was an enormous contributor to our society, funding areas such as health and education. Post-war governments then stepped in and a culture of public spending took over. Times are changing again and while I don’t believe that philanthropy can simply replace government funding, I do believe it can enhance it. The time has definitely come to look much more towards philanthropy as a solution.

One of the best ways to do this is to learn from those who have got it right. That’s where Beacon comes in.

The Beacon Awards recognise exceptional philanthropists, those that are changing our world through strategic philanthropy and can inspire others to follow in their footsteps. It’s these people who recognise the power of philanthropy and the need to use that power responsibly – people such as J.K. Rowling, Jamie Carragher and Kavita Oberoi .

But let me be clear, this is not about patting the big guys on the back and simply saying well done for your generosity. This is about learning from these inspirational individuals who ensure that their giving has an impact. They are using their money effectively, changing lives, creating positive societal change – and we celebrate them because of that work they do.

Look at Ben Drew. Most people know him as rapper and producer Plan B. Ben is shaking up the education system with his charity ‘Each One, Teach One’, which supports projects that invest in kids with creative vocational skills such as hairdressing, video-production and music and drama. He’s using his philanthropic power to change young people’s lives and as a 2015 Beacon winner, he’s certainly an inspiration to me and many others.

Just imagine if everyone who had the means took a leaf out of their book? How many social problems could we solve? I would love to live in such a society where everyone took responsibility and gave back.

Until we get there we need to continue celebrating and shouting about those who do. I call on you all to build on that network of inspirational philanthropists. Let’s stop being coy about philanthropy and celebrate its power and force for good.