Sir Terence Conran – philanthropist of the month

8 July 2011 | By Cause4 staff

Last week the long-term future of London’s Design Museum was secured after a donation of £17.5m by philanthropist Sir Terence Conran. An estimated £10m of the donation will be generated by the sale of the lease of the museum’s current property in Shad Thames. Sir Terence’s donation will allow the museum to relocate to the Commonwealth Institute in Kensington, a property that offers three times more exhibition space. In explaining the reasoning behind such a donation, Sir Terence speaks of his own ‘dreams and ambitions for the Design Museum’. This is no coincidental stroke of good fortune for the Design Museum, and if there is any element of luck involved, it is of the most home-grown variety.

This is because Sir Terence is a man passionate about the future of British design; in this sense, the Design Museum is his baby, having started it up nearly 30 years ago in the basement of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Charities, and indeed donors, admiring this heartwarming news item should be aware of Sir Terence’s long-standing association with British design. Both parties can learn much about philanthropy from his example. Not even did the collapse of his company Habitat a few days earlier dampen his spirits or douse his fiery passion for the future of British design; instead he said that he was ‘more interested in the future of my own business and design projects’. Here is a philanthropist who (forgive the cliché) is prepared to put his money where his mouth is. Sir Terence sees the success of the Design Museum as integral to our country’s economic growth, and recognises its role in improving the quality of life for ordinary people in the UK. Legal expert Blake Bromley suggests that over the next 10 years donors will become increasingly sceptical of donating to charities as a means to alleviating social and economic problems.

This seems surprising to us at Cause4, since a philanthropist such as Sir Terence Conran should be entirely satisfied that their contribution does indeed achieve this goal. Their continued involvement with a charity, not only through monetary donation, but also through investing their time and interests, results in a far more satisfying donor/charity relationship. Fruitful relationships and consequently generous donations only happen when people are inspired by a cause. Why is it that those who have least give four times as much as those who have most (in proportion to their income)? Those who have most clearly feel the weight of financial responsibility, and it seems that charities are not doing enough to entice them to part with large amounts of money.

Charities are often inefficient in communicating the effect of a donation, or (shamefully) in acknowledging receipt of a donation. Given charities’ failures in this area, it is hardly surprising that over 50% of wealthy donors think that their donations are mismanaged. Research undertaken 5 years ago shows that there are 3 million people in Britain with assets valued between £70,000 and £350,000. We need to tap into this potential philanthropic gold mine. The key to seeing more donors like Sir Terence Conran is to match people’s passion with the appropriate charity. His model of a ‘living legacy’ will boost philanthropy and lead to greater satisfaction on the donor’s part.


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