Consider your secondary goals — we all want to make the world a better place but we normally have secondary goals with that too. The number one reason people contact me is that they want to engage their children with their giving, to teach them about the world through philanthropy. For other people they want to use philanthropy to help them build relationships, to remember a loved one or to have a new opportunity. Whatever you secondary goal is, you need to be honest with yourself about it and then work out how to integrate that element too.
For someone who wants to set aside money to establish a Philanthropic Foundation or Fund, what does it take to make sure your resources are being impactful and truly effective? In this interview series, called “How To Create Philanthropy That Leaves a Lasting Legacy” we are visiting with founders of Philanthropic Foundations, Charitable Organizations, and Non Profit Organizations, to talk about the steps they took to create sustainable success.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Antonia Mitchell.
Antonia Mitchell began her philanthropic career as a major gift fundraiser for some of the world’s largest charities including Great Ormond Street Hospital, Baker and The University of Oxford. Today, she runs Aurelia Philanthropy a consultancy advising high-net-worth individuals, families and foundations on their charitable giving. Alongside this she is an experienced Trustee and periodically comments in the media on matters related to philanthropy including for The Financial Times, BBC and ITN.
Thank you for making time to visit with us about a ‘top of mind’ topic. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today?
The first experience was the one which introduced me to philanthropy. The Cold War had just ended and there was a realization of the suffering of people in Eastern Europe. I remember my parents going through their wardrobes and collecting warm clothes to send to those in need. They have both become very active philanthropists since but it is this first time of watching them move to help strangers, which really inspired me in my current career.
The second experience is when my husband and I lost our daughter, Shoshana, to stillbirth. I thought the world had collapsed on me and I had no idea how I would ever stand up again. Incredible charities were there to help catch my husband and I, as we fell down an abyss of pain. They provided clothes for our daughter, memory boxes, well-trained midwives and therapy. I had already been working in charity for a decade by that point but this was the first time I understood the power of receiving charitable support and how critical it can be.
You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? We would love to hear a few stories or examples.
That’s a tough question!
Like most entrepreneurs I think the main character trait you need is self-belief. You are going to get a lot of setbacks starting out but you need to be able to rise above them. I remember talking to an accountant who was a supposed charity expert and he was adamant every donor was happy with their giving and would not be interested in a service like mine. I have subsequently found this view to be wrong and demonstrated the limitations of his relationships but at the time it took a lot of self-belief to trust myself.
I am a real people person and that is critical to my work. Charitable giving is at the very core of a person’s morals and as a result I am often in the inner sanctum of families and there when tensions run high, particularly between different generations, as to what the focus should be. My abilities to understand what different people want and help them to find a cohesive solution is not only important but probably one of the elements I enjoy doing the most!
My final character trait is passion. I have gone into this work because I truly believe in it and I am passionate about philanthropy and the impact it can have. I love being able to pass this onto people and seeing my clients increase their giving because they are getting so much out of it!
What’s the most interesting discovery you’ve made since you started leading your organization?
A lot of charities are average but some are truly exceptional. A big part of my role is finding the hidden gems for my clients which I love to do, but I also find it deeply frustrating seeing the amount of mediocrity in the not-for-profit sector.
Can you please tell our readers more about how you or your organization intends to make a significant social impact?
The focus of Aurelia Philanthropy is to changing the relationship between donors and charities. I established the company after seeing too many donors no longer excited by their giving and charities failing to engage their supporters. At the centre of our ethos is a belief that giving to charity should improve the life of the giver as well as the recipient. The reality is that if donors feel great about giving, know they are making a difference and it helps them to connect with their families then they will ultimately give more and help more of those in need.
What makes you feel passionate about this cause more than any other?
I truly believe charitable giving should improve the lives of the giver and the recipient. Supporting great charities means making life changing differences to those in need. Feeling positive and engaged by doing it, means philanthropy becomes a passion rather than a duty, resulting in people giving more to charity.
Without naming names, could you share a story about an individual who benefitted from your initiatives?
I worked with a philanthropist who was highly successful in supporting medical research but was frustrated by his daughter’s perceived lack of interest in charity. Talking to her I was able to realize she was actually highly engaged by philanthropy just in the area of homelessness, which her Father had totally missed, much to her frustration. By working with both of them I found a cause which combined both their interests and made philanthropy a uniting cause for them, rather than the dividing one it had become, as well as obviously making a considerable difference to the charity who benefitted from their support.
We all want to help and to live a life of purpose. What are three actions anyone could take to help address the root cause of the problem you’re trying to solve?
- Find a cause you feel truly passionate and engaged by, ask yourself what the key thing you want to change/improve in the world is and then support a charity working to achieve it.
- Don’t give to lots of charities, instead focus on one or two, it is more profitable for the charities that way and means you feel more connected to them.
- Be as involved in the charity as you can be. See if there are volunteering opportunities, events they run or information they share. The more you know about where your money is going, the more connected you will feel.
Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Create A Successful & Effective Nonprofit That Leaves A Lasting Legacy?” Please share a story or example for each.
- Good Trustees — If I was to write a PhD, it would be about why unpaid trustees are the most dangerous element for charities. Business Boards are chosen for their specialist and complimenting skills, to give wide ranging support for all aspects of the business, for Nonprofits Trustees good intentions are too often considered to be sufficient. I recently engaged with a major foundation where the Trustees were at war with each other, everyone was jockeying for attention for their personal causes. As a result there was a lack of cohesion in their thinking or ability to create a single strategy. It is therefore key that you think through who you are appointing as Trustees, what their role is and what skills they are bringing.
- Futureproof yourself — Foundations are often established by an individual or couple with the aim to support causes close to their heart, the issue for many is that the world is changing. This might be that your cause loses relevance as found by a widow in Australia who established a foundation to fund vests for orphans. Undoubtedly a major need in 1921, less so in 2021! Likewise, families change over generations, causes close to my heart would have been unthinkable to my grandparents and positively abhorrent to my great-grandparents. Founders therefore need to consider about how they feel about their money being utilized in different ways to the one they originally wanted.
- Engage with the charities — Donors regularly talk to me about their frustrations with giving to charities and charities regularly speak to me about how they struggle to get to know their donors. My advice to my clients is always the same, go through a proper process with the charities you are looking to support. Ask for proposals around topics you are interested in and visit the charities for yourself before you choose to support them. Once you decide who to give to, then go to events you are invited to, read the reports and talk to their teams. It is only by doing all of this that you can really understand where your money is going to. All too often charities that look good on paper are poor in practice (and vice versa) which is why getting to know where your money is going and how it will be used makes such a big difference.
- Don’t try to be all things to all people — if you establish a not-for-profit you can look forward to being inundated with requests for funding. Add into this that if anyone finds out about your Foundation they will request funding too. I often dread the question as to what I do for a living, as it will mean that everyone from my neighbor to my Dentist will then pitch me their charity of interest. It can be easy to end up spreading yourself too thinly, as a result you will not feel the real connection to any cause or that you are making a real difference. I always recommend you choose a few causes you feel truly passionate about and make an effort to make a real change to them, you will feel more passionate and excited by it and the charities will engage with you more effectively.
- Consider your secondary goals — we all want to make the world a better place but we normally have secondary goals with that too. The number one reason people contact me is that they want to engage their children with their giving, to teach them about the world through philanthropy. For other people they want to use philanthropy to help them build relationships, to remember a loved one or to have a new opportunity. Whatever you secondary goal is, you need to be honest with yourself about it and then work out how to integrate that element too.
How has the pandemic changed your definition of success?
I have two young children, so like a lot of working parents, I think the pandemic has allowed me to reflect on the importance of personal success within my family environment, instead of simply looking for external recognition.
How do you get inspired after an inevitable setback?
I am lucky in my job, as its default position is to inspire! I get as frustrated as anyone by a setback but every week I get numerous charities telling me about incredible work they are doing to make the world a better place. I also work with incredible clients, who are going above and beyond to help them achieve. It is hard not to feel inspired in that situation!
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world who you would like to talk to, to share the idea behind your non-profit? He, she, or they might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
My current philanthropic heroes right now are Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively, I think they are doing so much to utilize philanthropy to get their personal message and brands across but also doing good with it. Although if they contacted me I’d probably faint!
You’re doing important work. How can our readers follow your progress online?
You can follow me on twitter at @AurPhilanthropy. I am a bit new to the twitterverse, so please come and say hi!
Thank you for a meaningful conversation. We wish you continued success with your mission.