Rich and gen­er­ous? She’s got ad­vice for you


YOU WOULDN’T catch many people work­ing in the phil­an­thropic sec­tor ad­vis­ing donors on how to hold on to their money, or en­cour­ag­ing us not to set up char­i­ties. But that’s ex­actly what Anna Josse does — and she wants more of us to be in on this ad­vice.

Josse is the founder and chief ex­ec­u­tive of Prism the Gift Fund, an or­gan­i­sa­tion that, from its smart Baker Street of­fice, helps in­di­vid­u­als and or­gan­i­sa­tions do­nate and fundraise more ef­fi­ciently by ad­min­is­ter­ing their giv­ing. Lest you think we’re talk­ing small change, Prism fo­cuses on in­di­vid­u­als giv­ing a min­i­mum of £25,000 an­nu­ally (most far ex­ceed that). “The clients we get have a pri­vate lawyer, a pri­vate banker — they want that kind of ser­vice in their phi­lan­thropy,” she says.

Prism also helps clients man­age their tax ef­fec­tively, thus in­cen­tivis­ing these high-net-worth types to give even more. Over the years, she’s been as­tounded by the lack of un­der­stand­ing of phi­lan­thropy’s place in the tax sys­tem. “Lots of people are not aware of the char­i­ta­ble tax breaks. They’ve never heard of share giv­ing, or of the gift­ing of houses, even of gift aid,” she ex­plains. “I sit across to people earn­ing mil­lions and talk about gift aid and they sit there say­ing ‘what’s that again?’ Ei­ther they are time poor and they haven’t kept a record, or they sim­ply don’t know.”

Josse, an Ortho­dox Jew who still lives on the same Hamp­stead street she grew up on, has sought to bring some busi­ness acu­men to a sec­tor many as­sume is less cut-throat, but in re­al­ity is highly com­pet­i­tive and in­creas­ingly reg­u­lated. Her cre­den­tials speak for them­selves. On top of Prism, Josse co-runs pri­vate eq­uity firm Re­gent Cap­i­tal (with Prism co-founder Gideon Lyons), hav­ing earned her fi­nan­cial stripes es­tab­lish­ing the Euro­pean of­fice of the tech start-up Yazam at the turn of the mil­len­nium, and bur­nished her char­i­ta­ble ex­per­tise es­tab­lish­ing and run­ning New Is­rael Fund UK in the 1990s. A Manch­ester Univer­sity grad­u­ate (af­ter a stunt at sem­i­nary in Is­rael) and for­mer Jsoc chair, she also worked at the So­cial Mar­ket Foun­da­tion think-tank.

Armed with the fi­nan­cial knowhow, she spot­ted a gap in the giv­ing mar­ket and, in 2004, set up Prism, hav­ing spent 18 months study­ing in­no­va­tions in “ven­ture phi­lan­thropy”. At the time, run­ning Re­gent Cap­i­tal, she re­mained in­volved in the Adam Science Foun­da­tion and other char­i­ta­ble en­deav­ours (a list that to­day in­cludes World Jewish Re­lief). “My pas­sion was still very much phi­lan­thropy. I started talk­ing to some old NIF board mem­bers in Amer­ica and look­ing at the fundrais­ing struc­tures there, where they were re­ally pro­fes­sion­al­is­ing how people give.”

Thir­teen years on, the UK’s phi­lan­thropy sec­tor is more dy­namic, partly as a con­se­quence of the re­ces­sion and partly be­cause of the con­cen­tra­tion of ex­treme wealth in Lon­don, although Josse thinks we are still a decade be­hind the US in terms of in­no­va­tive ap­proaches in fundrais­ing. Prism now works with or­gan­i­sa­tions in­clud­ing the World Food Pro­gramme, and has mul­ti­ple streams: pro­vid­ing foun­da­tion ad­min­is­tra­tion, run­ning donor ad­vised funds (DAFs) for in­di­vid­u­als, and manag­ing col­lec­tive funds for groups look­ing to fundraise here with­out the bu­reau­cratic burden of es­tab­lish­ing them­selves as char­i­ties.

The lat­ter stream has grown ex­po­nen­tially since the refugee cri­sis de­vel­oped, when people started go­ing to Greece and Calais and un­der­tak­ing grass­roots fundrais­ing drives, then re­al­is­ing they needed a char­ity in­fras­truc­ture be­hind their ef­forts. Of the 80-odd col­lec­tive funds Prism ad­min­is­ters, some 40 are now fo­cused on refugee projects — with Prism do­ing

Lots of big givers are not aware of the tax breaks

ev­ery­thing from manag­ing on­line fundrais­ing pages to in­voic­ing to cre­at­ing con­tracts and vol­un­teer agree­ments. “We sent an in­de­pen­dent au­di­tor out to Calais to check all the pay­ments were go­ing where they were meant to be go­ing,” says Josse. “It’s a rig­or­ous process.”

Josse’s clients give to a range of causes, both here and in the UK — they don’t rec­om­mend char­i­ties, although they will flag up good fits — and some want to shout about it, while oth­ers prefer to give anony­mously. “But I of­ten don’t think it mat­ters what the mo­ti­va­tion is in terms of phi­lan­thropy; if some­one is giv­ing, that’s fan­tas­tic,” Josse says. Ul­ti­mately, “the aim of Prism is to get as much money as pos­si­ble out into the char­i­ta­ble sec­tor”.

Prism also ad­min­is­ters some grant-mak­ing foun­da­tions op­er­at­ing in the Jewish community and in Is­rael. The An­glo-Jewish community, says Josse proudly, is a par­tic­u­larly giv­ing one; and its char­i­ties are far bet­ter at ma­jor donor fundrais­ing. “When I go to non-Jewish char­ity din­ners they of­ten don’t have a clue,” she sighs, cit­ing things like the ta­ble host be­ing re­spon­si­ble for talk­ing to the ta­ble about the cause, or the use of en­velopes and pledge cards.

The Jewish char­ity sec­tor’s strength, she says, is that it is lay lead­er­ship led, with people bring­ing busi­ness ex­per­tise to the ta­ble. Equally, “ev­ery­one learns from ev­ery­body else, and there’s an ex­pec­ta­tion: I come to your din­ner, you’ll come to mine”.

Nev­er­the­less, she be­moans the lack of great fundrais­ers in Bri­tain gen­er­ally, mulling over whether there’s a British re­luc­tance to ask at play, and whether we need to be­come a bit more Amer­i­can and ed­u­cate at a young age about the value of phi­lan­thropy.

Despite this, she is clear that people should be dis­cour­aged from set­ting up new char­i­ties. In her view, there are too many that are badly run, cre­ated by people who get in over their head rather than ap­proach­ing it as they would set­ting up a busi­ness and re­view­ing what else is out there. She cites one client who wanted to set up a so­cial mo­bil­ity char­ity; Josse in­ter­vened and he is now do­nat­ing tens of thou­sands ev­ery year to the Sut­ton Trust.

“My ad­vice is that, be­fore you go down that route and choose your trustees, have you thought through the donor stream and the in­come stream for three years,” she says, with the re­signed air of some­one who has had this con­ver­sa­tion time and again.

To make set­ting up a char­ity worth­while, she says you need to know you’ve got three years’ worth of fund­ing at half-a-mil­lion a year. Plus, in the wake of the Kids Com­pany col­lapse, there has been far greater fo­cus on how char­i­ties are be­ing run. “It’s legally oner­ous, com­mon re­port­ing stan­dards bring an­other layer of com­pli­ance, and you’ve re­ally got to know what you’re do­ing,” she says.

In a sec­tor per­ceived as be­ing “nice and fluffy,” as Josse puts it, she does not mince her words. “Your no­tional char­ity might be fan­tas­tic,” she says. “But, quite frankly, with­out the fund­ing be­hind it, it doesn’t mat­ter.”


Char­ity mat­ters: Anna Josse

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