Big Giver: Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust

Stephen Pittam, the trust secretary, tells Sophie Hudson about its aims to liberate people

Joseph Rowntree
Joseph Rowntree

In 1904, The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust was one of three foundations to receive a generous share of the Rowntree confectionery company from Joseph Rowntree. It currently has an endowment of about £150m.

Stephen Pittam, trust secretary at JRCT, says it has developed a sustainable income formula and is currently spending about £5.5m a year on grants. These grants fall into three main themes: power and responsibility; peace; and racial justice.

It is committed to addressing the causes of problems and is primarily a responsive grant-maker, says Pittam. It hands out grants ranging from a few hundred pounds to hundreds of thousands, with the average amount being about £50,000. Some are multi-year grants, others are one-off grants.

There is a lot of competition - in 2010, the trust received 600 applications and 105 were successful. "We respond to people who have fire in the belly, are passionate about the issue and know how to make change happen," Pittam says.

Organisations applying for grants are given four pages to make their case, and there is no set form to fill in. This means people can "express themselves in their own way", says Pittam.

Stephen PittamHe says it is vital for charities to read the trust's guidelines, because those that do are usually more concise in their applications and make a better impression.

The number of applications has started to rise in recent years, according to Pittam, and he says he's noticed that many of these organisations have lower levels of reserves than in previous years.

Once a charity is funded by the trust, he says, it has a policy of "power with" rather than "power over" that organisation.

"We speak the language of liberation," he says. "We liberate people to get on with the work they want to undertake.

"But we are interested in the relationship, and we try to encourage organisations to be open about successes and failures. We want to hear when they have problems and would rather try to help them resolve them than suddenly face some kind of crisis."

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