Interview: Show them the money

Alec Reed, Philanthropist wants the wealthy to give to charity through his new philanthropic website.

Alex Reed
Alex Reed

There is not much fat on Alec Reed, either in person or in his professional and charitable life. The man who founded the jobs agency Reed Employment in the 60s and managed its very early expansion on the internet in the 90s remains light and fast on his feet, even at 75.

Despite his wealth, Reed's charitable endeavours show no signs of excess. They are managed by a small group of staff tucked away in a corner of his commercial offices in London, and they often work with other charity partners. The only big things about Reed's latest foray, an online service that enables wealthy donors to search for charitable projects, is its name - theBigGive - and the amount of money it hopes philanthropists will donate to the charities that present opportunities on the site.

Reed may be a millionaire entrepreneur, but he is studious and academic. He is the founder of the Reed Business School, based on a historic hunting estate in Gloucestershire, and is a visiting or honorary professor at several universities.

He says that philanthropy and charity have played a major part in his life. As well as giving away his own cash, he created the Reed Foundation, which holds a sizeable chunk of Reed Employment's shares. He launched several charities and social enterprises, such as the internationally-focused Womankind and Ethiopiaid. He has also been involved as a trustee, funder and supporter of many more, including Oxfam, Help the Aged and War on Want.

"I got interested originally through a series of articles in The Guardian and The Observer in the late 60s and early 70s called 'The sad society'," says Reed. "I chose to work with drug addicts and started an employment agency to help their rehabilitation."

Another inspiration for him was Cecil Jackson-Cole, the Christian charitable entrepreneur who developed Oxfam and founded Help the Aged. "In a way, he's my hero, although I never met him," says Reed. "But I liked the way he went about things, such as creating companies that could contribute to charities."

Despite his enthusiasm, Reed has the odd gripe. "There are too many charities, but on the other hand it is great for people to come up with new ideas," he says. "Charities need challenging all the time. It is often the small charities that have the better ideas." He adds that those asking for money might find him more interested in contributing skills or contacts.

Of theBigGive, he says charities must remember that giving away money is very personal and some wealthy donors find it problematic.

"For people with a hell of a lot of money, it can be hell getting rid of it. Some donors like to match funding; others like to pay for core costs. I particularly like to pay for fundraising."

TheBigGive was born from Reed's realisation that "there was no shop window if someone wanted to give large amounts of money away". Reed says the project's advantages include its low cost, its anonymity and the way it enables the wealthy to make direct contact with exactly the right people in charities.

Charities can ask for a minimum of £100,000 for a project. There is no upper limit. "You can submit a world-changing £10m project that someone might be attracted to," says Reed.

Reed says he will now be encouraging all charities looking for large gifts to go through theBigGive. Whether he will be tempted by any of the projects on the site is another matter.

"I'm not a very good giver," he says. "There are a few charities I do give to now and again, but I prefer to get involved."

2007: Founder, theBigGive website
2003: Founder, the West London Academy
2000: Founder, the Academy of Enterprise
1997: Founder, Women At Risk
1994: Awarded CBE
1993: Founder, Reed Restart at Holloway prison, London
1989: Founder and chairman, Ethiopiaid
1988: Founder, Womankind Worldwide
1971: Founder, Reed Business School
1960: Founder, Reed employment agency

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