Eyewitness: The Funding Network Forum

Philanthropists, campaigners and celebrities pitched up at the Dragon's Den-style fundraising event. Kaye Wiggins joined them

Clive Stafford Smith at the Funding Network Forum
Clive Stafford Smith at the Funding Network Forum

It was like a celebrity version of Dragons' Den. In London's Canary Wharf, five celebrities pitched for donations from a wealthy but critical crowd, each of them arguing on behalf of their own charity of choice.

But fame didn't sway the philanthropists gathered at the recent Funding Network event. They listened intently to all five cases, asked plenty of difficult questions and, after coffee and biscuits, pledged cash to the ones they deemed worthy.

The appearance of James Bond star Daniel Craig, asking for cash for a theatre and education charity in Kenya, created a flutter of excitement, but the crowd was left underwhelmed as the craggy actor read notes from a sheet of paper and left the room immediately after the pitch. His chosen charity came third out of five.

So if Bond wasn't enough, what did sway the crowd to open their wallets?

Passion for the cause was the main criterion. The big winner, who raised more than £15,000, was human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith's charity Reprieve. His charismatic pitch centred on a plea to help former Guantanamo Bay detainee Binyam Mohammed. There was a Bond flavour to his pitch, too, as he regaled the crowd with tales of tracking down CIA agents in his mission to help the imprisoned.

Other enthusiastic presentations that went down well with the audience included Irish actress Eva Birthistle's impassioned cry for help for Ugandan children and a plea from Felicity Finch, the voice of Ruth Archer in long-running Radio 4 soap The Archers, for money to rebuild Rwanda in the wake of the genocide.

A good dose of business acumen also went down well. Second place went to social entrepreneur and author Jeremy Leggett's pitch for SolarAid, a charity supplying solar lights in Africa. He presented the scheme as a cost-efficient social enterprise, talking about profits, markets and entrepreneurs. The Dragons would have been impressed; the donors definitely were, pledging £13,600.

Members of the audience said they wanted to be moved by a cause, to feel personally connected to charitable projects they funded and to believe they would work. They were swayed by a combination of passion and proof, rather than the glamour of celebrity backing.

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