Fabian French of UK Community Foundations

In March French will become the chief executive of the umbrella organisation for 48 local community foundations across the UK

Fabian French
Fabian French

Raising the profile of "one of the greatest hidden secrets of UK philanthropy" is one of the declared aims of Fabian French when he takes over as head of UK Community Foundations in March.

Community foundations are vehicles for charitable grant-making, to which donors give money to address specific, often local issues. Although they distributed £65m in 2014, French believes that a high proportion of people in the sector are unaware of them and what they do.

"This an exciting chance to be part of an organisation that is making a difference to society at a grass-roots level, and is not properly understood," he says. "There is the potential to spread the word and get more support, which is exciting."

UKCF is an umbrella organisation for 48 local community foundations across the UK and has the goal of raising the combined value of their endowments to £1bn by 2020 – an "ambitious but achievable goal", according to French.

He says that Nick Hurd, the former Minister for Civil Society, was an advocate of community foundations, and he hopes that whoever forms the government after this year's general election will turn out to be just as supportive. "It is logical for the political parties to embrace community foundations because of the fantastic support that they give in local communities and the way they take the burden off local and central government," he says.

French, a qualified lawyer, moved from business into charity work five years ago when he took the role of director of fundraising and retail at Marie Curie Cancer Care. It is unusual for fundraisers to become chief executives, but French believes the key parts of the fundraising job – "raising awareness as well as money" – are also pivotal to his new role.

He is leaving the charity at a time when it is embarking on a restructure, but says he was ready for the next challenge and didn't want to spend another five years there.

"I know I made a difference during my time at Marie Curie, including growing fundraising income from £70m to £100m during a recession – I'm very proud of that," he says.

"I see the main challenge as moving from a well-established charity that is well loved and well known to an organisation with a much lower profile, where the potential to make real and lasting change is much greater."

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