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.