Opinion: Third Voice - What happens when the donors start fundraising?

Dr Frederick Mulder is an art dealer and chair of the Funding Network London. He won a Beacon Fellowship prize last year for innovation in philanthropy.

The fundraising side of the charitable world often seems to be divided into those who have money and those looking for funds. But what happens when a group of donors start their own fundraising organisation? You get the Funding Network.

The network was started by former estate agent Sue Gillie, translator Polly McLean, GP Paul Kelland and myself. We had all been involved in social change philanthropy and wanted to create a setting in which anyone with a conscience and a bit of cash could join with others to hear pithy presentations - usually five in an evening or nine in a day, and with each speaker allowed six minutes to speak and six to answer questions.

After the presentations, we would raise money in an open pledging session - a cross between an auction and a revival meeting. Each project's sponsor would kick in the first £250, and those in the audience could give (publicly or anonymously) to all, some or none of the projects. The minimum gift, however, was £100.

Those who came to our first event gave a total of £60,000 to nine projects as diverse as the Jubilee Debt Campaign, Transport 2000 and Jamaican women in British prisons. We've been running events for three-and-a-half years, and our members have started new network groups in Bristol, Scotland and Cambridge. Between us, we have raised just under £1m for close to 200 groups, most of which are relatively small. Between 70 and 90 people regularly come to our London events.

Before the fundraisers among you reach for their keyboards, please read on. As we're a network of donors, all our projects have to be sponsored by a member; anyone (individuals, companies, charitable trusts) can join for £60 a year and is entitled to sponsor projects at any of our two day-long or two evening-only events a year in London.

We do, however, try to give charities that don't know our members (we have about 125) a couple of ways in. The best is to get a supporter or a trustee to come along to a funding event and become a member if they like it, at which point they can put their charity forward.

Giving circles are a big thing in the US but, as far as I know, we're the only such public giving circle in the UK. Everything you could want to know about us, our procedures and our grantees are on the web at www.thefundingnetwork.org.uk.

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