Banging the drum for local giving

July 19, 2016

From professional musician to head of Tees Valley Community Foundation, Hugh McGouran reflects on the changing nature of the organisation that has provided a vehicle for people to give something back to their local community for 28 years.

Hugh McGouran has not followed an orthodox path to becoming chief executive of the Tees Valley Community Foundation – one of 48 charitable organisations of its kind around the UK.

He left school to become a professional drummer and international tour manager, before returning to the North East eight years later to join his father’s hairdressing supplies business.

After his father sold the business, Hugh had a string of jobs including car salesman and door-to-door Betterware vendor.

In his thirties, Hugh studied for a degree in public administration at Teesside University. As part of this, he spent a year working at the Citizens Advice Bureau, where his love for third sector working began.

Seven community jobs in nine years followed, before Hugh was appointed to the position he holds now.

Community foundations is primarily a US model (although, as Hugh argues, the concept was initially seeded in the UK before being embraced Stateside thanks to more favourable tax laws). They provide a vehicle for individuals, families, entrepreneurs, companies, charitable trusts and public sector bodies to donate to community-based activities in a defined geographical area.

When Hugh first arrived at Tees Valley Community Foundation in September 2010, the organisation (which was first established in 1988 and was previously known as the Cleveland Community

Foundation) was in flux as a particularly active period for community foundations when a lot of public funding was being channelled through them (a method favoured by the New Labour government) was coming to an end.

With a reduced staff, Hugh had to draw on his sales experience to reshape the Tees Valley Community Foundation to again focus on private individuals and companies.

Hugh and the team now have a network of between 50 and 60 donors and manage around £1 million of charitable giving to Teesside community projects each year.

Unlike other community foundations which can rely on established multi-generational wealth, the Tees Valley Community Foundation’s clients tend to to have more of an entrepreneurial background, with corporates representing around 90 per cent of the client base.

Hugh explains: “Teesside is unique as we don’t have a lot of ‘old money’ here. The vast majority of people who give us money have either earned it themselves or their parents did. It’s rare that there’s even a third generation.”

He continues: “The vast majority of people who give money to us grew up here and want to give something back. It might be that a person has sold a business and has a capital gains strategy to manage or it is a corporation located on Teesside that is passionate about the area.”

Once an individual or business contacts the foundation, Hugh, his team and the foundation’s 11 trustees work closely with them to create a bespoke package of giving.

Hugh explains: “We talk to all our potential donors to find out what interests them and what they think is important and then put a proposal together using our extensive knowledge of charitable causes in Teesside.”

Although some donors want to remain anonymous, Hugh and his team always encourage them to meet the organisations and projects they help. “The buzz is amazing,” Hugh enthuses.

But with the emergence of new ways of giving – entertainment-based causes such as Comic Relief and digital platforms such as Just Giving – Hugh is also mindful that Tees Valley Community Foundation must adapt in order to appeal to the potential donors of the future.

“Established entrepreneurs – who the foundation has traditionally dealt with – have been more focused on establishing a legacy, whereas younger entrepreneurs now tend to have a stronger social conscience earlier, but want to see quicker results,” Hugh reflects.

“As a result, the foundation is beginning to look at diversifying and at different ways – through social media, for example – to engage with more people.”

In recent years, the foundation has also increased its work in providing ‘intelligent investment’, as well as capital.

It has established an ever-growing network of Teesside-based professionals, such as accountants, lawyers, quantity surveyors and estate agents, who give their time to charitable organisations free of charge.

In addition, Hugh was awarded funding to employ a business development manager to help assist charities become more commercially focused.

“Obviously, it isn’t relevant for everyone we help, such as the very small groups and organisations,” says Hugh. “But for others, there are real opportunities for them to adopt a more business-focused strategy that would strengthen what they do.

“Also, our sector has come under a lot of scrutiny recently with the Kids Company scandal. We, as an organisation, must be professional and instil that in those we are helping, and deliver our service in a way that is transparent, ethical, safe and legal.”

Hugh remains confident that by maintaining its high level of service while adapting Tees Valley Community Foundation to suit the needs of donors and recipients, it can continue to provide benefit to Teesside.

He concludes: “We are in a strong position but by looking at new markets and new platforms we can continue to engage with the enthusiasm that exists in Teesside for the people and communities who live here.”

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