Making a difference in the places that matter to you

So many of us are eager to get more involved in our local community—but local giving often raises a lot of questions. How do I begin to understand what are the most pressing issues in the community I care about? What is the most effective way for my support to make a difference?

These were questions raised during an event run by Coutts last week to launch their latest publication, Inspiring local philanthropy. NPC and the Community Foundation Network (CFN) collaborated with Coutts to produce the report, and it was wonderful to see it brought to life through the inspiring stories of the speakers at the event.

In the current environment of doom and gloom pervading the country, Andy Preston’s story particularly stood out. A former London hedge fund manager, he returned to his home town of Middlesboroughin 2008 and was struck and increasingly frustrated by the level of social and economic need in the town. He decided to launch a philanthropic foundation to help regenerate his local community, encouraging local individuals and businesses to join forces, raise funds and support local projects, such as a boxing club at risk of closure. ‘I was driven by a sense of, “If I don’t do it, who will?”’

The other keynote speaker was Marcelle Speller, an entrepreneur and 2010 Secret Millionaire. She is also the founder and CEO of, an online searchable database of local organisations vetted by their local Community Foundation. She told us how she is continually inspired by small local charities—‘they are the glue that holds local communities together’. In the UK today there are 145,000 small charitable organisations with an annual income of less than £100,000 and another 600,000 community groups that fall ‘below the radar’ of statistics. Marcelle set up after discovering that online giving was unavailable to large swathes of these small charities.

These two speakers embodied two different sides of the report. On the one hand, it’s a set of inspirational case studies—describing the work of philanthropists supporting the communities that matter to them. And on the other hand, it’s a very practical guide suggesting steps donors can take to support their local community, whether they want to volunteer, fund local charities, collaborate with other funders or establish their own operating charities.

Inspiring local philanthropy also helps to answer those initial questions of understanding local needs and finding the most effective ways to make a difference. Using local snapshots of five areas across the UK, the guide helps donors build a picture of key challenges in their community and identify funding gaps so their support can make the greatest difference.

I really hope that the guide and events like the one held last week at Coutts will inspire more of us to follow in Andy and Marcelle’s footsteps and take small steps (or in their cases, large leaps) to making a difference to places that matter to us.