Why I Give: Marcelle Speller

Why I Give: Marcelle Speller

Tags: charities, philanthropy, institute, localgiving, matched, sustainable, foundation, workshop, moment, experience

Marcelle Speller Published 15 September 2011

If it fails I’ve lost £1.5m. But it must be sustainable.

Q. Which causes do you support?
A. I give to a couple of charities that I support for personal reasons, such as the Helen Bamber Foundation to help survivors of human rights violations. But the main thrust of my philanthropy is aimed at local charities, which are inspiring. They are doing difficult things and are totally accountable to their beneficiaries.

Why I Give

Q. How did you get involved with philanthropy?
A. I met Sal LaSpada [chief executive, Institute of Philanthropy] at an INSEAD alumni event on fundraising. I spoke to him afterwards and said: "I have the opposite problem -- I'd like to give some away." I then did an Institute of Philanthropy workshop, which was utterly brilliant and quite life-changing. It was a proper light-bulb moment.

Q. Light-bulb moment? How come?
A. I made my money by setting up holidayrental.com, which helps private owners of holiday homes compete with big companies. Through the workshop I realised I could use this experience to help small charities compete with big charities. Online giving is the domain of large charities -- the top 5 per cent get 80 per cent of the donations. So I set up localgiving.com, a website that lets people find small local groups, learn about them, and then donate.

Q. How does it work?
A. Local groups upload information to the website. They put in photos, details of what they do, why the community needs them, what their impact is and so on. They also put up a shopping list and details of any volunteer vacancies. All the groups are vetted by their local Community Foundation, which have lots of knowledge about local charities. The relationship with the Community Foundation Network started after I met its chairman, Matthew Bowcock, who was also on the Institute of Philanthropy workshop. It was pure serendipity!

Q. How much have you invested in this?
A. I've spent three years working full time, unpaid and have put quite a lot of money into it -- about £1.5m. It has been given as a loan as I want to recycle the money into other social enterprises. If it fails I'll have lost it but I believe in things being sustainable, which localgiving.com has the potential to be. When it pays me back I'll then go and do something else.

Q. Is it going to be successful?
A. We launched the pilot in 2009, which was a valuable learning opportunity. We've got about 60 per cent of the country covered and will be national by the end of the year. We have nearly 750 charities on board and have raised £100,000 without much publicity. We tested a matched-fund promotion in Plymouth, which was very successful. One charity raised £5,000, which was matched to £11,000. We're looking for more funders to put up matched funds so we can do it again in other regions.

Q. Is this your most rewarding giving experience so far then?
A. This would be when I did Secret Millionaire in Plymouth. It was an intensely scary experience and I was way out of my comfort zone but it was hugely fulfilling. I gave away £93,000 to five charities. But the best moment was when I realised these charities, and so many more around the country, would benefit from localgiving.com.

Q. What has been the least rewarding?
A. I went to Asia with some people who wanted to build an orphanage in a particularly scenic area. I said the orphans aren't here, they're in the shanty towns, but that wasn't what they wanted to hear. The best thing to do is to talk to local charities as they're on the front line. It's no good ploughing in from England thinking you know best.

Q. So what next for your philanthropy?
A. I'm trying to educate small charities that have been dependent on government grants about how to raise funds. That's what the matched-funding programme is about -- getting small charities fundraising, which we will then match. It's helping them be sustainable.

BIO /Marcelle Speller
1950 Born in Manchester
1971 BSc in Environmental Sciences; works in advertising
1982 Completes MBA at INSEAD; works in marketing for global companies
1996 Co-founds Holiday-Rentals.com
2007 Attends the Institute for Philanthropy's Philanthropy Workshop
2008 Launches localgiving.com
2011 Receives OBE for philanthropy

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