Philanthropy in the Arts Symposium, Nottingham
Philanthropy in the Arts National Symposium
Broadway Media Centre, Nottingham
6 April 2011
Dame Stephanie Shirley
Founding Ambassador for Philanthropy 2009/10
Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen.
As the founding Ambassador for Philanthropy I am pleased to open this symposium. Public funding is being heavily curtailed so I'm going to speak about philanthropy from a personal viewpoint. I emphasise that Philanthropy in the area of arts and culture is to complement government funding, not act as a substitute for it. As we spend time today learning from each other I'm going to concentrate on the pleasures of giving, of investing in society. Even in today's economic climate, it seems that investment from individuals is growing.
I'm different to most philanthropists in that I give in large chunks. And for infrastructure, whereas most givers like to support projects.
I'm the same as most philanthropists in that I give, and only give, to projects and organisations on a reciprocal basis. By which I mean that my satisfaction exactly repays my gift.
Both individuals and the not for profits divide into "doing good" – helping those in need – and "uplifting work" injecting into society something like the Arts – that is not critical or vital but improves quality of life.
I love this country with a passion perhaps only an immigrant who had lost their human rights can feel. To me, people's need for things beyond the material is an essential part of that battle for human rights. The Arts address people's inner, emotional lives. The aesthetic values enhance daily life and reduce its many stresses. It has enormous therapeutic value, it can be entertaining, decorative and it can be educational.
As a patriot I believe that the British culture is grounded in the Arts. Our crafts, literature, music, theatre and art. And I note that the Arts is one of the two preferred causes for million pound donors (the other is higher education). And here in Nottingham, that Nottingham Trent is a leading university in Arts and the Humanities.
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Let me tell you my story.
It is of an IT entrepreneur turned ardent philanthropist. (My definition of philanthropy is 'Practical benevolence').
My Jewish father was a young judge in Germany. This was at a time of horrendous discrimination and my parents did a very brave thing. In 1939 when I was five years old, they organised for me to escape the Holocaust and sent me to England on a Kindertransport, into the arms of generous strangers, thinking never to see me again.
The Jewish star and other artefacts I had from that period were put into the Holocaust Exhibition at the Imperial War Museum. That introduced me to this museum of war and wartime life. So when I came across Paul Day's exciting bronze of airmen rushing to Scramble – I bought a near life-size maquette for the Museum's Duxford site. A sort of thank you to Britain for taking me in.
The only time I've sponsored a film was a training film for teachers when Holocaust studies first went onto the National Curriculum.
The only time I've sponsored a theatrical production was the drama Kindertransport – all examples of gifts meeting a donor's interest.
There's a commemorative statue at Liverpool Street Station where I arrived as part of that largest ever recorded migration of children. 10,000 of us. I was stateless, penniless and without a word of English. Actually, I had some useful phrases "slow combustion stove" and "windscreen wiper" but did not know how to ask to go to the bathroom.
I was doubly lucky to be later re-united with my birth parents. I was fostered by the wonderful Guy and Ruby Smith who brought me up in the Midlands of England as they would their own. And I've been lucky ever since. My IT company started as a social enterprise, a company of women, a company for women. It eventually went public and I'm enormously proud of my 31 years in business. The older I get, the better I used to be.
I'm often asked for the secrets of commercial success. One secret is to choose your partner very carefully. The other day, when I said, "My husband's an angel" a woman complained "You're lucky, mine's still alive".
I was on Desert Island Discs last year. My husband need never worry were I to be marooned on a desert island. Several charities would quickly come and find me!
* * * * * * *
I hope today will encourage giving – Fundraisers are a vital part of this. Certainly I've had a wonderful time, giving money away! Let me take the opportunity to talk about the 'pleasure' of giving. The internal (warm) satisfaction of making something happen, making something better. I get that pleasure whenever I see my gifts in action. So am spreading the word. Learning to give always at a level I was comfortable with.
People concentrate on issues that they know and care about. In my case that was IT (my professional discipline) autism (my late son's disorder) and the Arts (over and over again, across the years, one can see examples of how the Arts can reach out).
Whenever I found a gap I tried to help. Donations, large and small – the small ones always regular to allow a bit of planning. And always accompanied by involvement – it's demeaning to "just" give money – and anyway one wants the fun of commitment. If you don't commit you're just taking up space.
* * * * * * *
Giles was our only child, a beautiful baby who turned into a wild, unmanageable toddler. Not the Terrible Twos but he was autistic.
I have another example of how philanthropists choose to donate in very self-centred ways.
My first autism project had Giles as the first resident in the first home of the first charity I set up. It now supports over 50 adults. All with autism and what is euphemistically called "challenging" behaviour.
I believe that giving is a social and cultural activity not merely a financial transaction. Sure, money can be given as a compassionate act of detachment. In giving to make a difference, I try to make it a committed act of love. I started with that hands-on support service for my late son. Love transcends death. Autism continues as an on-going focus of my life.
My largest project, financially and it took me five years, was Prior's Court School near Newbury. It is also the one which has given me the greatest pleasure. It has 60 day and residential pupils all with both autism and moderate to severe (most people would say profound) learning disability. Few have any speech. And I have a major collection of contemporary British abstract art on permanent loan there.
Art can be held quietly and unpossessively in the attention: "eternity in a grain of sand" and is a steady, visible enduring good in an unreligious world. The aesthetic values enhance daily life and reduce its many stresses. As regards the very vulnerable pupils, I quote the UN Convention Article 31:
"Every child" (every child) "has the right to rest and leisure,
to engage in play and recreational activities and
to participate freely in cultural life and the arts".
Most donors aim to give tax-efficiently. And those tax incentives have recently been improved for the Arts. Thank you Nick Hunt.
I support Music for Autism, mainly training performers. I support people on the autistic spectrum to paint and sculpt. The Royal College of Arts is planning an exhibition of such work for Autism Awareness Day April 2nd next year. I cannot describe what pleasure I get from such very very personal charitable gifts.
I've sponsored three books: Design for Special Needs, the Art of Prior's Court School and a History of Autism. Again, you can see these – while socially desirable – directly satisfy my interests. (£¼m).
I've got a photographic book in gestation – on Holocaust memorials – again something I can do.
Locally, we've supported two heritage buildings and our local theatre, and local museum. And the local River Society. Generally anonymously. The Community Foundations are brilliant in channelling small (or large) donations. I note that 70% of all private giving going to the arts goes to bodies in London. I recognise today's sponsor, Arts Council England.
Let me tell you about the five works of art I've given recently. Three commissioned portraits, two to the Royal Society and one to Cambridge University. And a dramatic mural to an Oxford medical centre. Plus a small statue I found by chance to one of the Oxford Colleges. I enjoy the commissioning process. I can still enjoy all this art. It feeds my spirit. But there are overlapping types of philanthropy. If you have a painting and give it to a museum, that's a great gift. If you pay for someone to bring children to see it, that's a great gift. But if there's no-one to pay the electricity bill, no one is going to see it.
To find out why we should give one has to dig deep. I invest in society so that I can see things getting better, see the results of my giving. Giving is not just an afterthought in a good year. Giving and the service of others gives significance to my wealth and meaning to my life.
So fundraisers have to become focused on the donor – become donorcentric and stop emphasising how wonderful their organisation is, stop talking about the needs, no matter how serious, but rather to "sell" the pleasures of giving.
I'm always learning. A fundraising Master Class I went to a couple of years ago stressed the importance of building relationships – and that these cannot be hurried. And of research to tailor my Ask. But to Ask earlier than I had been doing and not be afraid to spoil a relationship. So what can happen if you Ask? You can get a Yes, a No or total indifference. Yes is what you all want. No doesn't close the door, it's a Not Now – at least you've registered the mission of your organisation and gathered information which will help in crafting another Ask in a year's time. Indifference – well it doesn't matter any which way.
The pleasure of giving varies from individual to individual. If someone is a "doggie" person, it's no use asking for contributions to a cat charity. You have to find out about people, their likes and dislikes, initially by research – and then by building a relationship. In general, this takes years rather than months. Don't waste time on people who've never given to anything... there's no ought or should about philanthropy. And if they don't, they won't.
I believe that the good life is fulfilment of the person rather than satisfaction of the body. But wherever I have looked the priorities have always been
with spirituality – essentially the strategic search for truth – far behind.
The non-material side of life is a basic human need and indeed a human right – a necessary component of both mental and physical health. The Arts address this spiritual yearning.
The religious organisations seem to get the best balance between physical, intellectual and spiritual care. Perhaps because they have a much better grasp of the meaning of life and believe they know our ultimate destiny.
To the philosopher, spirituality (properly: the breath of life) is the antithesis of materialism... Materialists believe that the only things that matter are those we can verify with our senses. Their main goals are wealth and power since the more abstract ones are so difficult to measure. I'm a self-made millionaire so I know that economic sustenance is important. But not all-important. Social responsibility demands that we develop a spiritual dimension to life; there's a need to address people's inner, emotional lives.
Giving is a private expression of personal beliefs. A voluntary use of money. Perhaps the motives hardly matter. The fact is that people give and it's the birthright and defining characteristic of the human species. Sikhs believe in life in three equal dimensions, one of which is sharing one's time, talents and earnings with the less fortunate. The Quaker Society of Friends generally gives anonymously. Muslims give "in charity" to individuals rather than to charitable organisations and – like many Jews – think of giving as a duty not an option. Giving to someone to help their self-sufficiency is viewed as more valuable than giving which might engender a dependency culture. It's justice in an unfair world.
Money is wonderfully effective but, if we are not to patronise the beneficiaries of its benevolence, the passion and the human touch must also be there. I try always to remember how awful it was to accept charity and be expected to be grateful. Grateful for not having died in the Holocaust as a million children did. So I work hard to give without demeaning people, without patronising them. Altho's I mainly give in a business-like strategic way, it is always with a warm heart and with a warm hand – what's the fun in writing gifts into my last will and testament? I want to give in my lifetime.
I'm so lucky to have something worthwhile to get up for each morning! The more I give away, the richer my life seems to become.
* * * * * * *
Giving is learned early, perhaps as part of family tradition. Devout people give dutifully to satisfy divine will. Enlightened self-interest is when we give to others and so, indirectly, help ourselves; perhaps as insurance – to Age UK for possible future benefit ourselves. This combines with the altruistic: it's the right thing to do "giving makes me feel good". I've said how my life of service is some sort of repayment or assuagement of survivor guilt;
Recent research shows that corporate giving not only helps staff recruitment, retention and morale but is directly good for business. The positive branding – and brand is as brand does – also leads to improved sales – new customers, more loyal customers, buying more.
The charity Arts and Business sparks partnerships between commerce and culture – by making connections and providing expertise to help alliances prosper. I believe in partnerships of all shapes and size. We want a funding structure for the arts and culture that enables the greatest variety of art forms to flourish, including the unpopular ones.
So the giving spectrum moves from no reward whatsoever, through acknowledgement, prestige and fun to tangible returns and a sniff of immortality. Something which marks "I was here. I was here". The motives hardly matter, the important thing is that we all give.
Why is giving always high on the list of virtues? I guess that's because anyone can do it. We might not be particularly "moral"; we might be partial to a drink too many; or have a roving eye; prefer light reading to philosophy. We may not see ourselves as all that spiritual. But we can all give.
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As the Founding Ambassador of Philanthropy I did not concentrate on the tax incentives – tho' I note that it's easy to donate a valuable work of art after you're dead. You have to be very determined to do it if you are alive. I pledged as Ambassador for Philanthropy
to inspire the idea that giving is a pleasurable act of desire and compassion;
to help, change or challenge any aspect of society;
by raising the bar on our capacity to be generous.
Have a look at the website: www.ambassadorsforphilanthropy.com.
It's a scientific fact that philanthropy helps the feelgood factor. Brain scans show the pleasure centres in the brain are stimulated when we act unselfishly. Giving is a pleasure. It starts with the donor. Feelings. Dreams. Values. Giving is like a gift to themselves.
Whatever else you forget, the essence of my message is the pleasure of giving.
Giving, giving back – is now recognised as one of the mega trends of the 21st century. Ladies and gentlemen, we learn from stories. They have influence. Giving is contagious. That's why I've shared my story. I've been given so much, what else can I do but give?
I believe in the value of the arts and their contribution to the quality of our lives. Your work is extremely important for our society and for us all. Enjoy the day! Thank you all.
Copyright April 2011
Dame Stephanie Shirley
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