Alastair Stewart | Connectivity, competence and philanthropy.

In early March, we headed to the leafy expanses of rural Hampshire for the first filmed edition of Beacon’s ‘Philanthropy Stories’. We were travelling to meet with veteran TV journalist and presenter Alastair Stewart.

Alastair is best known for breaking news stories and political interviews. He even moderated the first ever political leaders’ debates between prime ministerial candidates back in 2010.

Lesser know, though, is Alastair’s long-standing involvement with charity. With this in mind, we sat down to hear about his journey in philanthropy.

Beginning our chat, I asked Alastair about his first involvement with philanthropy and how it felt.

He told me he was sent by his first television employer to present a cheque to a school in Hampshire. Upon seeing their work educating children with mental disabilities, he fell in love with the charity and began supporting it himself.

Our chat then explored a variety of other charities Alastair has supported over the years, including Naomi House and Brooke animal sanctuary. We also touched on a visit to Senegal where he saw first-hand the latter’s West African work.

Explaining what convinces him to support a charity, Alastair highlighted:

  • Connectivity – being drawn into the mission of the charity, and;
  • Competence – being convinced that the charity is effective.

“Most of the charities that my wife and I either work with or support, are ones that mean something to us and do it well.”

He elaborated on the importance of these issues, by reference to his support for the Royal British Legion – his father and mother having served in the Royal Airforce and WRNS, respectively.

While this personal connection stimulated his interest, it was the charity’s demonstrable effectiveness which turned the curiosity into lifelong support.

After ruminating on personal philanthropy, the conversation took a turn to politics (we couldn’t let the opportunity pass by…). I questioned Alastair on whether the government had a role to play in stimulating philanthropy in the UK.

The answer was resounding:

“One hundred percent ‘yes’.”

There are a number of wealthy individuals who are willing to go above and beyond their tax contribution if they see the money being used effectively, he stated.

He proposed that this engagement need not be the preserve of a single government department. Rather, each department would need to consider how it might benefit from attracting additional private wealth towards social causes.

Alastair also spoke passionately about the need for the opposition parties to build their own strategy for captivating this demographic.

Finally, I asked Alastair what advice he had for prospective givers…

“Select the top three charities which come out of conversations with me, with other friends, and then engage them – interrogate them.”

“You’ll be getting something done that you want done, by people and with people who you know to be competent, and you will see what happens to the money that you kindly find to give.”