Sarah Bates talks to Mike Sheen about how she co-founded The Diversity Project Charity in the wake of the Presidents Club scandal and how the initiative is taking an inclusive approach to fundraising.
The Financial Times' landmark exposé of the Presidents Club in 2018 was a watershed moment in the City's ongoing struggle to modernise or replace outdated aspects of its culture, and served as a stark reminder of how much more there is to do.
The annual men-only fundraising dinner was a throwback from a time most would happily leave in the past and few were sad to see it go.
But its demise also left a funding shortfall for a number of smaller charities less able to withstand losing such a lucrative source of income.
Upon hearing about the charities affected, Sarah Bates, the current chair of Merian Global Investors and the Polar Capital Technology trust, and the other co-founders of the Diversity Project Charity stepped in, and have since raised nearly half-a-million pounds for the charities affected.
How did the Diversity Project Charity come about?
I was one of the founders of the Diversity Project a few years back. When we had the Presidents Club debacle in 2018, I had a sort of rush of blood to the head and said to [financier and campaigner] Helena Morrissey: "Hold on a second - obviously people are shocked by what has happened, but there are some really good charities supported by the Presidents Club who are going to lose funding."
We thought it was an opportunity for the financial services savings and investment industry to not only express our views but to do something to help.
It was a practical response to what had gone on. It was the Diversity Project saying it needed to do something and step in.
A number of organisations very kindly donated. We raised just under £500,000 in 2019 and have donated or made grants to 22 charities, a number of whom were going to lose out as a consequence of the demise of the Presidents Club.
Some of those charities are smaller local ones that people who donated wanted us to get involved with, because they very much typified our emphasis and aims with regard to diversity and inclusion.
The Presidents Club is understood to have raised over £18m for charities over the course of its history. How did you go about selecting the charities most in need of funding?
We did a very careful audit of the charities that had money donated to them.
First off, we targeted the smaller charities because we thought they were the ones who were going to find it most difficult to suddenly replace the funding they would not have been getting in the future.
We put in place a minimum grant allocation of £10,000 to those charities and we were asked to come up with particular projects they thought the money would be useful for.
We wanted to be responsive to what they really needed in the circumstances, rather than being prescriptive.
The Diversity Project Charity also helps with larger charities like the NSPCC, which we support with its Speak Out campaign.
The campaign helps to explain to young people what could go wrong for them and what their responses should be.
At the smaller end there is a Cardiff-based charity called Women Connect First, which supports some of that city's most disadvantaged black and ethnic minority women.
We provided them with core support, which with additional support from others, helped them to raise £400,000 towards childcare programmes that will allow women to go to job interviews or benefits appointments, for example.
What does diversity and inclusivity look like in practice when it comes to charity fundraising?
It is not necessarily straightforward. When we started out we had to think seriously about how we raise funds and in our first events in 2018/2019 we obviously made sure that we had gender equality in the people working there, that people were treated reasonably, and that we held some exciting events.
But it has led us to realise that we need to be a bit more innovative on the digital fundraising side.
We hold these great big events - some of which are wonderful and I am not saying we will not do more - but they are culturally quite entrenched. There are people who do not feel comfortable about those big, boozy dos.
We have had to be more inventive. For example our Mosaic project, which will have donating firms' names in lights on digital billboards around London railway stations, which they can then link to their own diversity and inclusion efforts.
Two years in, how close do you think you are to making up that funding shortfall the Presidents Club left behind?
We have given out just over £400,000 in grants so far and raised nearly £500,000, and while that amount is going up, thanks to our Mosaic project, it is not as much as the Presidents Club raised in a year.
[The Presidents Club] was very effective in terms of fundraising. We have to work on it and it is quite hard work. But this is why we are saying to people ‘join in, we can do this'.
What are the next steps for the coming year?
We have stepped in for a number of the smaller charities and enabled them to bridge that funding gap.
In the year ahead, we are working with one or two of the bigger charities, but on specific areas with a diversity and inclusion focus. For example, we are working with Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) and its family support unit.
We are helping GOSH support things like accommodation and travel vouchers, and food for families, who really are not in a position to even think about such things because their children are very, very ill.
More than half of these families come from outside of London, so they really do need help.