Big Giver: Helen Bowcock, the Hazelhurst Trust

The philanthropist likes to get to know the people behind the groups she funds

Helen Bowcock and her husband Matthew founded the Hazelhurst Trust in 2000 after selling their software company.

"It seemed logical to give away some of the money we made when we sold the business," says Bowcock.

The trust focuses mainly on organisations in Surrey and those that work with young people from deprived backgrounds. Seventy per cent of its funds are distributed by the Surrey Community Foundation, and it gives the rest out itself.

The trust typically awards funding worth about £6,000 a year over a period of between three and five years, but also gives larger grants.

Between 70 and 80 per cent of the money the trust allocates each year is given to organisations operating in Surrey, but it also funds national organisations, as well as a number of groups in north-east England. It is funding eight organisations in the current financial year.

At first, Bowcock says, the trust had broad funding criteria and gave to organisations in the UK and abroad. But its funding priorities soon changed. "We realised it was time-consuming to try to give money away effectively overseas," she says. "We wanted to focus on something more tangible and have personal relationships with the organisations we funded."

Bowcock says one of the most important factors influencing her funding decisions is the impression she gets when she meets the people in charge. "We invest in people," she says. "Their commitment and their capacity to explain what they are doing is crucial. Once we feel confident in people, we fund their work in a more flexible way.

"We like to get to know them so they feel comfortable asking us for a second or third grant. It's unsatisfactory when we give someone one-year funding and don't hear from them again."

This dialogue can be as straightforward as charities and community groups inviting the Bowcocks to events they are hosting, or meeting them to discuss how the grant has been spent, Bowcock says.

The trust tends to fund smaller groups, for whom a grant of £6,000 a year is a significant proportion of their income. "Increasingly, our preference is for small, grass-roots community groups, which are not necessarily accomplished at fundraising but are good at what they do," she says.

Bowcock would be put off if a group received large amounts of government funding. "It would make us feel like the poor relation and would create an uneasy relationship with the charity," she says.

Interview by Kaye Wiggins


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