How to do good

Sir Trevor Pears CMG

Executive Chair, The Pears Foundation

One of the questions I’m often asked is how, as a philanthropist, I can be confident that I, and our team, are doing the best we possibly can with our resources. This is something I have thought about constantly over the past two decades as Executive Chair of our family foundation.  As much as I believe that Pears Foundation is doing good, on principle I am never fully at rest that I and we cannot do better.

I am guided here by Saul Alinsky who said that “One of the most important things in life is what Judge Learned Hand described as ‘that ever-gnawing inner doubt as to whether you’re right’.  If you don’t have that, if you think you’ve got an inside track to absolute truth, you become doctrinaire, humorless and intellectually constipated”. It is that sentiment of constant reflection which drives my family and our foundation team to harness our inner doubts for the sake of continual learning and improvement. It is that ever-present doubt which tells us to listen to others. In turn, it is that listening that forms the basis of everything we do, helping us form relationships and partnerships based on trust and mutual respect. We don’t put much time or resource into building our own profile.  Instead, Pears Foundation strives to function behind the scenes, rarely visible. We think that is often the appropriate place for a foundation; we are a part of the story, but it is the work that really counts and that work should speak for itself.

This approach was reflected in our family’s response to the pandemic.

Our immediate priority was to understand the impact of Covid-19 on our grantees and their beneficiaries so that we could support them through a period of unprecedented challenge, uncertainty and loss. As a result of having strong existing relationships and partnerships my brothers and I were able to promptly make two commitments: to increase the Foundation’s giving by up to 50%, and to provide reliable and flexible support. We were also guided by the principles of adaptive leadership, developed by Ron Heifetz. This theory holds when the challenge to be tackled is one where learning is required, as opposed to a problem where there is a technical fix. We chose to work with existing partners who we knew would be open to learning together with us, anticipating likely needs and articulating and sharing insights through open and honest conversations. This is what allowed us – and them – to adapt our responses for the maximum benefit.

As a result of the open communication and transparency that existed between the foundation and our partners we were able to commit to unrestricted core funding renewals with a very light touch, providing our grantees with flexibility to use the funds where they were most needed. This was particularly helpful with Covid-19 appeals supporting vulnerable communities that had been disproportionately affected and who needed immediate and direct support. In many other cases we provided additional unrestricted funding to give organisations the capacity and flexibility to respond to the constantly changing situation.

We were able to partner not only with individual organisations but also with the DCMS Community Match Challenge. Together, we worked through nine organisations to get much-needed funding out to small groups and local communities in England. Pears Foundation supplemented this with additional funding for Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Ireland. We were able to get this funding delivered quickly because we were working with existing partners, each of whom had member or federated structures, so that they, in turn, were able to get the funding to small, often volunteer-led organisations on the front line where the need was greatest. In total over 2,500 grants were made to frontline civil society organisations in the first year.

These frontline organisations included Girlguiding and Scouting groups, who could reach disadvantaged areas and identify where provision was most vulnerable; Contact who supported families with disabled children profoundly affected by the closure of schools and services; UK Youth who awarded rescue grants to small, local youth clubs at risk of closure; Home-Start who increased support for 1,822 families; Carers Trust who supported very pressurised unpaid carers; local MIND groups who were given funding to expand services to support mental health and wellbeing in local communities; and the Samaritans who were able to maintain and increase support for people experiencing severe mental health crises.

This intensive rollout of funding was only possible due to our having spent many years investing in relationships and partnerships with these organisations. In some cases we had previously invested to assist in building their central infrastructure though unrestricted grants or strategic projects such as the first ever joint staffing post between the Scout Association and Girlguiding UK. We trusted our partners to know where and how the funding was best spent and we knew they had the capacity to administer the funding. We also had high confidence in our existing channels of communication for open and honest conversations about the challenges, including the tight timescale set by the DCMS.

Working together on this fund has enabled us to learn a great deal about how we, and our grantees, can address adaptive challenges together. The experience has strengthened existing partnerships and enabled us to trial and develop new ways of funding local communities around the country, all of which we will learn from and build on in the coming years.

For all of us Covid-19 has been an exercise in adapting and working with uncertainty; but living with uncertainty, in the form of that ‘ever gnawing inner doubt’, was already a part of my DNA as a philanthropist. Listening and reflection in and of itself, however, would not have been sufficient to get us through this crisis. Uncertainty had to be intertwined with another essential value that is core to my philanthropy and gives me the confidence to go forward – trust. Viewing our philanthropy as a genuine partnership with the organisations we support strengthens our trust in them and in ourselves and, hopefully, also their trust in us. Because of the depth of that trust, and the knowledge and understanding it helps to foster, we can face uncertainty together, and in doing so, be confident that we are doing the maximum good.