When solicitor and banker Fabian French moved from the City to the charity sector as director of fundraising for Marie Curie Cancer Care in 2010, one of the first things he did was take a close look at the finances. ‘I analysed the return on our fundraising activities to a level of detail that had not been done before,’ he says. ‘My time as a banker gave me a strong commercial and financial awareness and, in some cases, the charity sector is short on these skills.’
Philanthropy has always been important to French. While working for firms such as Merrill Lynch, he became a trustee for Goodenough College – an organisation that provides facilities to undergraduates in London. Then in 2007 he set up Inspiration In Sport to mentor young offenders.
‘It’s very easy to let the financial services consume you and I wanted to resist that,’ he says. ‘When I realised I was more passionate about charity work than banking work, I made it my day job.’ After five years at Marie Curie, French found a fresh challenge in his current role as chief executive of UK Community Foundations, which funds grassroots organisations in deprived parts of the community.
“Life is too short to spend your time doing something you are not passionate about and my involvement in charitable activities has improved my life and my contentment immeasurably
‘Community foundations are often called the best-kept secret in the UK, and I wanted to change that,’ says French. ‘Most people are unaware there is social deprivation within just five miles of where they live and UKCF is addressing that acute need in our communities.’ As the UK’s fifth-largest grant-making organisation, UKCF gives out £70-£80 million a year, a vital lifeline at a time where there are increasing numbers of people in need but less government money to support them.
‘The gap has to be filled by philanthropy,’ says French. French’s City background has informed his approach to the charity sector. ‘The commercial business-like approach has helped me improve performance,’ he says. ‘I’ve been able to strengthen UKCF’s finances and create a robust business model.’ French has also developed innovative programmes such as New Beginnings in 2015, which raises funds to support migrants arriving in the UK, and is working to encourage the corporate world to take a long-term approach to engagement in their communities.
‘There are too few companies working with charities in a strategic way,’ he says. ‘Investment in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is hugely important. Firms need to show they are involved in charitable activities to attract talent. Young people have more of a social conscience than most of my generation; they expect the financial services organisations they are joining to have an active engagement in CSR and not just pay lip service to it.’
For City workers, French also highlights the personal benefits of engaging in charitable activity. ‘It puts things into perspective and provides the opportunity to meet people you would never otherwise meet,’ he explains. ‘It expands your horizons and your understanding of the way the world works, which is difficult to achieve if you are buried in your career.’ ‘Life is too short to spend your time doing something you are not passionate about and my involvement in charitable activities has improved my life and my contentment immeasurably.’
For more information on how you can get involved, visit ukcommunityfoundations.org