Charity Support, Advice, Impact Measurement, Philanthropy Impact – NPC

Are new charities like the Amy Winehouse Foundation necessary?

By Plum Lomax 7 August 2015

Last Thursday marked the four-year anniversary of the tragic early death of singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse. Coincidentally, it was also the night I went to see Asif Kapadia’s brilliant new film, Amy, which uses video-footage and interviews to portray her life, her rise to fame and then her downfall and death.

I was particularly interested in the role of Amy’s father, Mitch. I had previously perceived him to be something of a philanthropic tour de force, someone who, through his grief, set up the Amy Winehouse Foundation in 2011 primarily to tackle substance misuse and to support vulnerable young people through music.

Kapadia’s film portrays Mitch in a very different light though—so much so that he threatened legal action until edits were made. One of his criticisms of the film was that it never even mentions the foundation and its work.

A few things struck me. The first is how often a new charity is created out of tragedy, in part to retain a legacy to the person lost, and in part to address the cause of death. This is understandable, but there are risks attached.

The level of duplication in the UK charity sector is well documented. Indeed, last year’s outgoing chief executive of the Charity Commission, Sam Younger, arguedthat too many people set up a new charity without establishing whether there was a genuine need or whether another charity was already doing similar work‘.

There are plenty of examples to explain Younger’s concern. Think of the numerous single-issue cancer charities: 102 in England and Wales dealing with leukaemia, or 123 tackling breast cancer. There are close to five hundred working on alcohol and addiction.

NPC always advises clients thinking of forming a new charity or foundation to look at existing options first. They may be better placed to join forces with others who have already built up knowledge and expertise. It was good enough for Warren Buffett, who decided to hand $31 billion over to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, saying, ‘What can be more logical, in whatever you want done, than finding someone better equipped than you are to do it? Who wouldn’t select Tiger Woods to take his place in a high-stakes golf game?

This is why we welcome the new steps added last year to the Charity Commission’s guidance on setting up a new charity: the watchdog recommends looking at alternatives before starting a charity, whether that’s funding an existing organisation in the same field, joining in as a volunteer or trustee or setting up a named fund within a community foundation.

In the case of the Amy Winehouse Foundation, the singer’s profile puts it into a slightly different camp. Not only does the foundation support existing organisations already working in the field, but Amy’s name gives the foundation a standing to raise awareness of difficult issues such as drug addiction, bulimia and self-harming.

With this in mind, we look forward to seeing the results of the foundation’s Resilience Programme for Schools, a drug and alcohol awareness and prevention programme for secondary schools delivered in partnership with Addaction across the UK. It is funded by the Big Lottery Fund and will be evaluated through that gold-standard of techniques, a randomised control trial.

Indeed, even just watching Amy is a form of education in itself. Its lessons on addiction and health are stark. Despite her family’s opposition to the film, Kapadia and Mitch Winehouse may have more in common than they realise.

A version of this blog was first published by Spears Magazine as part of our philanthropy series.