Applying the principles of construction to philanthropy

Steve Morgan CBE, founder of construction company Redrow and chair of the Steve Morgan Foundation, spotted early in the COVID-19 crisis that charities up and down the country were going to face a funding squeeze at precisely the same moment that need would be increasing.

The foundation had been inundated with requests for funding – and recognised they needed to scale up by bringing others to the table. Steve’s solution was to try to leverage others into the challenge, which he did by announcing that he would donate £1 million a week for 12 weeks during the crisis.

Steve was awarded a CBE for services to philanthropy in 2016.

“We decided to go public to get some awareness on this, and support other people to go public on this. Extraordinary times call for extraordinary solutions.”

This combination of business and charity mindset has been key to the success of The Steve Morgan Foundation. For Steve, applying business principles to philanthropy is key – it allows philanthropists to support the most efficient organisations, and in turn the maximum number of beneficiaries.

In the context of giving to charitable organisations, efficiency means seeking opportunities for collaboration, looking for solutions that are practical and scaleable, and keeping an eye on impact.

“I’m a builder, and I know how much things cost. If somebody shows me a plan, I build it in my head and cut the cost. The same goes for how I work with charities.”

For example, the organisation supports all the charities it funds to network with each other, through an annual conference. The conference aims to promote collaboration between charities, by placing charities with similar needs into break-out groups throughout the day.

During one of these break-out groups, two charities found a simple opportunity for collaboration that maximised resources for both: one charity had a bus that they used through the week for adults with special needs, the other had a centre for children with special needs who could borrow the bus for day trips over the weekend.

We have a lot of charities that now collaborate because we introduce them,” Steve says.

The Steve Morgan Foundation has awarded over 2,000 grants and supported 3 million beneficiaries since 2001, principally across Merseyside, Cheshire and North Wales. At any given time the portfolio will include around 100+ charities.

The foundation values engaging directly with beneficiaries, and conducts site visits on all charities receiving £10,000 or more in funding. As well as giving the foundation the chance to ensure that the charity is legitimate and doing good work, this also provides an opportunity to seek areas for collaboration or to identify other efficiencies.

In another example, Steve’s foundation provided a £3 million grant to support the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) to expand nationally, by putting in place a helpline for patients and their families running from 9am – 5pm.

“Charities are all about people. We want to try and get best practice for those people,” Steve notes.

At the same time, Steve understands the difficulty red-tape places on charities, just like it does on business. However, ultimately they need charities to be accountable, and so they take steps to measure all of the charities they support in the form of a quarterly report.

“We are not bureaucratic – in fact, I think we keep bureaucracy to a minimum. But we believe there’s room for all of us to improve, and we try and empower charities to do that themselves.”

Steve Morgan has a simple piece of advice for young philanthropists: It is important to have clear goals – just like you would with a business.

“If you can afford to give, and you know exactly what you want – just get on and do it.”