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Million Pound Donors Report 2017 | Sir Paul Ruddock

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“I think that philanthropy has four elements to it: giving money, getting money, giving skills and giving time"

Sir Paul Ruddock

Sir Paul Ruddock co-founded Lansdowne Partners Limited in 1998, an alternative investment management fund which grew to be one of the UK’s most successful hedge funds. He chaired the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) from 2007-15, and now serves on the boards of museums and arts organisations in London and New York, as well as chairing the endowment of Oxford University. He and his wife Jill Shaw Ruddock have given away around £40 million over the last twenty years. He was knighted in 2012 for services to the arts and philanthropy.

Sir Paul is a self-taught philanthropist who believes in backing inspirational organisations and people, chiefly in the arts. His two daughters have started getting involved, each managing a modest amount from the family foundation. His advice on philanthropy: "The key is doing something that you think matters. If you give to something that you really care about, to an organisation where you trust and like the people running it, then your philanthropy should emerge quite naturally."

When and how did your philanthropy begin?

My love of the arts began as a young child. For my eighth birthday my parents bought me a copy of the Lewis chess set from the British Museum, and around the same time they took me to the Victoria and Albert Museum where I was impressed by the cast of Trajan’s Column. Both museums have been instrumental in my life ever since. I had a phenomenal education at King Edwards School in Birmingham, then Oxford University. So those four organisations get a large part of our support because I think that if you’ve been successful in any walk of life you should give back to the institutions that helped you. We’ve given about £9 million to the V&A, £5.5 million to King Edward’s School, Birmingham, over £5 million to the British Museum and around £4 million to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (the Met). We’ve also given £2 million to Bowdoin College, the American university that my wife attended, over £1/2 million to Oxford University, and over the years we’ve cumulatively given around £500,000 to Afrikids, which educates and supports children in Ghana.

I also strongly believe that philanthropists have got a lot more to bring than just writing cheques. I think that philanthropy has four elements to it: giving money, getting money, giving skills and giving time. For both my wife and I, it’s never just about giving money. We are also prepared to help raise lots of money, as well as using our skills to help the organisations that we support. Giving our time means sitting on a lot of committees: I’m chair of the Oxford University Endowment and I’ve spent many years on the boards of the V&A and the British Museum in London, as well as being on a number of boards and committees of the Met.
 

Do you remember the first donation that you made and how it came about?

I think the first meaningful philanthropy was about 1993 when I called up my old school and said: “I’d like to help. Could I give you some money?” They asked: “What would you like to give for?” and I said, “The library.” It was interesting because they said, “We’re not sure books are the way to go. Could we buy computers instead?” So for three years I gave £33,000 a year and they used it to wire up an intranet in the school and buy computers. I was running Schroder and Co’s European business in London at the time, so whenever we upgraded the firm’s computers I donated all the excess machines to the school until it got to the stage where the kids were buying the latest models themselves! So my first significant philanthropy involved engaging with the organisation to find out what they actually needed.

In 2008 the then-Chief Master at my old school, who had been a year above me at school, asked us to fund the building of a new performing arts centre. I agreed to pay half if they could raise the other half, because I think matching is important to show commitment on their part. In 2012, Jill and I opened the centre – it has a 450 seat concert hall, a 120 seat theatre, rehearsal rooms and a ballet studio. It’s amazing! The school educates massively talented children who are not typically from affluent backgrounds, and it has produced a lot of great leaders. That school has been so important, it’s been the key to my life outside of my family.

What is the focus of your philanthropy now, and how did you go about identifying it?

My focus is primarily the arts in the sense of supporting museums, research, funding exhibitions, and helping with gallery renovations because I think it’s core to explaining culture and civilisation to people today, and inspiring them. My wife is much more focussed on the performing arts. She’s been involved with most of the independent theatres in London and was very active with the Donmar Warehouse for many years: she was on their board and raised a lot of money for them. She’s also interested in active ageing and tackling loneliness and isolation in older age, so she set up the Second Half Foundation which supports a centre in North Kensington that provides 80 hours of activities for 5,000 members.

Then there are quite a few other smaller charities that we support, sometimes as a result of being introduced to them by people we know and trust. For example, one of my partners at my old firm was involved with Afrikids , which runs an orphanage and a halfway house for teenagers in northern Ghana and does lots of other good work like getting children out of working in the goldmines. I’ve been very involved with them for 15 years as a donor and an ambassador. There’s also a small charity called the Ethiopian Heritage Fund that I helped found, which restores ancient art in Ethiopia.

 

“I enjoy being involved with these great institutions, helping direct their vision and strategy”
Sir Paul Ruddock

What has been your approach to learning about the issues you focus on?

I’d say I’m self-taught: I’ve never been to any conferences about philanthropy or done any formal learning. I come from a business background so I know that if you’re going to write a big cheque you need to know what’s going on. I need to have confidence in the institution that it’s going to be well spent, to know there’s good oversight, and that there’s not going to be misappropriation.

We believe in backing inspirational individuals and institutions, that’s core to our philanthropy. Sometimes an inspirational individual might be at a very small charity, so we do support some of those after looking at their accounts, and we never back a big institution unless it’s got good leadership. For example, I’ve been heavily involved with the V&A over the years so I’ve seen for myself that they give tremendous value for money.

What is your attitude to measuring the impact of your philanthropy?

Impact is important but not always easy to measure. How can I measure the impact of building a performing arts centre at my old school? I can’t, except for the fact that it is used almost every day of the year both by the school and the community. But is there a financial outcome? No. Is it something that makes the school more attractive to bright kids who want to go there? Is it something that gives them more of a springboard for playing musical instruments or drama or singing or whatever? Absolutely. But the outcomes are not particularly quantifiable. With museums, if you renovate a gallery, as we’ve done a few times, you can quantify the uplift in visitor numbers very clearly. The Sutton Hoo gallery at the British Museum, which we helped renovate, now sees an average visitor spending seven minutes in the gallery compared to two-and-a-half minutes before the renovation. But frankly I tend to be less concerned about measuring that sort of direct output because it’s not always about the quantity, it’s about doing something that can be inspirational. If that performing art centre produces future leaders in the National Youth Orchestra or another Simon Rattle then that’s success. It’s about allowing standards to be lifted and raising aspiration.

Impact can also include inspiring others to give, and setting the bar much higher than it was before in terms of the size of donation. After my gift to King Edwards, another ex-pupil gave our old school £2.5 million for a science lab and said he never would have given that sum until he heard about mine.
 

How has your strategy and focus evolved over time?

My focus and strategy has stayed pretty consistent actually – we’re not going to suddenly start giving a lot of money to healthcare charities. Different people have different views on this but I figure I pay a huge amount of tax and an awful lot of that goes on state education and state health. The total budget for the national museums is 0.05% of UK government expenditure, and the total amount of money allocated to all museums is about the same as what’s spent on one hospital. I’m always trying to make a difference when I get involved with something. I’m not a believer in just throwing money at an institution, it’s almost always for a specific project or to fund a specific position or specific research, or to support a particular exhibition on something that is in the general area of interest to me.

My philanthropy is not focussed on tackling deep poverty or homelessness or those sorts of issues. There are plenty of people that do and it is of course very valuable. For me, however, culture is so central to inspiring people and creating a better quality of life. If you think of architecture, it’s so much more exciting living in a place with beautiful buildings like London or Paris or Rome or New York than it is being in some brutalist concrete city. I think beauty and culture and art and artistic endeavour are very central to civilised societies and are core to ensuring a much better quality of life, and ironically it’s one of the areas on which central government doesn’t spend much money.
 

Have you ever been particularly pleased with a donation?

I’m very pleased with the performing arts centre we built at King Edward School. At the opening I had all these pupils coming up saying “This is just so fantastic. Thank you so much.” And I get that every time I go back to the school.

Also, the medieval and renaissance galleries that we spearheaded at the V&A were considered amongst the best gallery renovations done in a generation in the UK: they are extraordinary. They, and the Sutton Hoo gallery at the British Museum, have been a huge success.

On a more modest level, charities like Afrikids are obviously very important to support. Twelve years ago, with two of my colleagues, we paid for a medical centre that ended up becoming a major health centre in northern Ghana, so on a very different level that’s very satisfying.

 

What is your attitude to risk in your philanthropy and how does this influence your approach?

That depends on who we are backing, and why. Clearly the amount of our donation tends to be proportionate to the size of the charity, because I would not want a charity to be dependent on me. For my biggest donations I’ve almost always felt that there should be some sort of matching by the institution or equivalent fundraising because it makes the institution work that much harder, which I think is good.

Secondly, we think about reputational risk. I like to see process, I like to see things well mapped out, I need to feel I can trust the individuals. It’s like in business where I always ask: do I trust these people? Do I think they’re good at what they do?

Excellence is something I care about a lot. I would be very disappointed if we gave a lot of money to an institution and came out with something that felt mediocre and underwhelming, so that is clearly a risk.

Finally, risk can be minimised by recruiting the right people to work alongside you. If I meet someone who wants to join a board and they say: “I’m looking to flesh out my portfolio between profit and non-profit,” I think: go away! That shows no interest specifically in our charity. You want people who care about the institution, they’re passionate about it and can bring skills to it.

 

“Don’t be put off by thinking that you’ve got to give large amounts of money from the start”
Sir Paul Ruddock

Are your family involved in your philanthropy? If so how?

I’m obsessed by the ancient and medieval worlds, and my wife is more obsessed with the theatre, but it’s not like we allocate a particular pot to each of our interests, because we completely support each other. We obviously talk about what we do the whole time, and if we were thinking about a £1 million-type donation we’d talk about it, but if it’s a much smaller amount we’d just do it. We have two daughters aged 25 and 23 who’ve just recently got involved. We’ve given each of them a very modest amount, a few thousand pounds, that they can direct out of the family foundation. They’re still very young, they’ve got lots of things on their plate, so we want to encourage them, and want them to have a real social conscience - which they do - but we don’t want to force it on them either.

And frankly I also don’t want the main thrust of the foundation to move in a different way from what my wife and I want to do, because we created that wealth. So the children will be involved over time, and when they get older they will probably have more influence, but at the moment it’s early days.
 

What do you enjoy most about philanthropy?

I think the best thing is getting more and more involved with the organisations that we support, not just as a donor but as someone with some knowledge about their work. I enjoy being involved with these great institutions, helping direct their vision and strategy - it’s fun too!
 

What have been your biggest lessons learned?

I’ve learnt that fundraising is a bit like wooing: you don’t go on a first date and ask somebody to marry them, so in the same way you shouldn’t go on a first date with a philanthropist and ask them to give you a lot of money. It’s a process, and by the time you are asking for a lot of money you should know them well and have a clear sense that they’re receptive to giving, so then the question is how much and for what.

The issue for a lot of professional development people is they’re not necessarily moving in the same kind of circles that the donors are. Our world is very much between London and New York, because my wife’s American, so we spend eight months here, three months in America and the rest travelling to other places. It’s sometimes hard for development people to feel at ease in the world of big donors. That’s why having well connected individuals on boards is very important, so they can support the development staff.
 

What advice would you give to other people who are at the beginning of their ‘philanthropy journey’?

The key is doing something that you think matters. If you give to something that you really care about, to an organisation where you trust and like the people running it, then your philanthropy should emerge quite naturally.

Secondly, don’t be put off by thinking that you’ve got to give large amounts of money from the start. It’s ok to take some time to get to know the organisation and do normal due diligence, finding out how the money would be used, before making a significant commitment. And as I said earlier, it’s about giving time and skills too, like helping to lobby government. I’ve been involved in a couple of successful governmental initiatives: to make some tax relief available for gifts of works of art to national institutions, and the 10 per cent uplift on charitable legacies. You can use your influence wisely to try and persuade government to spend more money or focus on certain areas of charity that are important.

Thirdly: enjoy it. If you’re not getting some pleasure or satisfaction out of it then there’s probably something wrong.
 

Are there any other insights on the experience of being a philanthropist that you would like to share?

I don’t particularly like the word ‘philanthropist’ and I think the British press blows hot and cold about major donors. They think it’s just about wanting publicity and recognition, but I don’t know a single person that’s given a multi-million pound donation because they want to see their name on the wall. Even if you’re a billionaire, that’s a lot of money, so most people do it because they genuinely believe in helping.


Discover more about Sir Paul Ruddock’s philanthropy here

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