This guest blog for our 20th anniversary is by Marcelle Speller, Ex-NPC Trustee, and Founder and Chair of Brevio.
My journey in philanthropy started in 2008, and I feel that NPC have been travelling and growing alongside me ever since, giving me huge support and encouragement in my work as a social entrepreneur. For 16 of NPC’s 20 years, NPC has been right there with me.
I had just completed The Philanthropy Workshop and had a fairly clear idea that I wanted to use my business skills and internet experience, as well as my funds, to help local charities in the UK. I needed to find out more about philanthropy in the UK, so I went to as many meetings and events that I could find. That was probably when I went to my first NPC conference; I think it was an event about Guidestar, and it was very helpful.
I discovered that if charities were too small to be registered, other online giving platforms did not accept them, nor could they claim Gift Aid. And I knew that people wanted to find and help charities in their local communities, but it was very difficult to find the charities.
NPC supported me
So I set up LocalGiving. NPC supported me, quoting LocalGiving in their report Inspiring Local Philanthropy, which had been written together with the Community Foundation Network and Coutts, and I was invited to speak at the launch event.
Although it is essential to have a focus in one’s philanthropy, I think it’s also important to keep abreast of other issues. To that end, NPC’s range of meetings and events were always inspiring and useful. I remember being totally fascinated by Diana Barran’s work on criminal justice, later the Minister for Civil Society from 2019-2021, and the first NPC data lab on that critical issue.
Then one day in about 2015, NPC’s Chief Executive, Dan Corry, and Richard Atterbury, then the Chair, asked to meet me in the LocalGiving offices. To my great surprise and honour, they asked me to become a trustee of NPC. What a gift that was! I loved having the opportunity to get involved in those trustee meetings with such a distinguished group of people. I remember commenting that the meetings felt like workouts for my brain after suffering for far too long behind computer screens!
The trustees were also very supportive. Sir Harvey McGrath helped establish LocalGiving’s development office in Northern Ireland. Peter Wheeler and Fran Perrin worked with me on the research that led to the Smarter Grants Initiative.
Working on systemic changes
By 2016, LocalGiving was proving to be a valuable new income stream for local charities, as well as offering much needed training in digital skills for small charities. It was sustainable, and I decided to hand it over to a younger social entrepreneur. My work at LocalGiving was done, but I felt that I had more to contribute to the sector.
I had come to realise that researching and applying for grants was a major frustration and waste of time for charities. Charities did not want to criticise funders (the source of their revenues) so we conducted anonymous research, and we were able to spotlight the grant-makers who were working smarter.
The Smarter Grants Initiative led me to set up Brevio. It is a platform which automates grant research and takes the man hours, of both charities and grant-makers, out of the initial steps in grant applications, freeing up hundreds of millions of pounds lost to administration every year.
It’s a challenge to make systemic changes in our sector, but I can honestly say that without NPC’s Tris Lumley (always available with a supportive chat, a proverbial, and these days a virtual, shoulder to cry on) I would not have come so far. We share an obsession with the use of data in grant-making decisions. The NPC Local needs databank is invaluable to help our donors identify the social problems in a geographic area that they wish to support, or what area needs most support in their chosen focus area.
And that, of course, is another key strength of NPC: the ability to convene people for learning, discussion, and to drive positive change in the sector. NPC has tackled topics such as funding digital innovation, theory of change, impact measurement and the ever-illuminating State of the Sector reports. And of course, the annual NPC Ignites conference; a regular meeting place of inspiration and learning for everyone who’s anyone in the third sector. I’ve spoken at NPC Ignites in the past, it’s an event no one in our sector should miss. Tickets are available here for this year’s conference in October.
So, my thanks to everyone at NPC! You’ve given me so much inspiration, encouragement, support and fun over the years. Many congratulations on your 20th birthday—here’s to the next decades!