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Leading a billion pound charitable foundation

Welcoming Philippa Charles, head of the Garfield Weston Foundation, to Purposely, where she shares their unique approach to funding as well as her personal journey of turning her back on a corporate career to lead a charitable foundation.


The Garfield Weston Foundation is not just any foundation; it has become one of the most generous and progressive family foundations in the UK. Since its inception in 1958, the foundation has donated close to a billion pounds to good causes in the UK, granting between seventy and hundred million pounds annually.


Despite the size and importance of the foundation's financial resources, Philippa Charles, its leader, is known for her accessibility, humility, and empathy. She is renowned for being a straight talker and has a desire to keep things simple.


The foundation was set up by the Weston Family to benefit from the proceeds of their successful businesses, which include well-known brands in the food industry. These brands range from high-end retail, such as Fortnum and Mason, to household staples like Tip Top Ice Cream in New Zealand.


To ensure the support of the voluntary sector and provide opportunities for success, 80% of the Weston Family's wealth was put into a trust called Whittington Investments. This decision meant billions of pounds were dedicated to benefiting the UK in perpetuity.


Despite the significant amount of funding they provide, the foundation operates with a small team of eleven people although they have the support of the other Weston businesses. Their funding decisions are guided by their ethos rather than strict criteria, focusing on making the biggest impact in the short and long terms.


Twelve years ago, Philippa made the family charter public, which outlines their ethos of being flexible, responsive, and adapting to needs. This decision to openly share their charter with the Third Sector was seen as unique and transformative.


The foundation's decision-making process is informally guided by the Three C's: capacity, capability, and confidence. They consider an organisation's ability to deliver on their charitable mission, with confidence being a vital but often overlooked factor.


The themes that guide the foundation's grant-making are broad, covering areas such as arts and culture, education, environment, youth, heritage, welfare, and faith-based organizations. They fund both revenue and capital costs, including core and administrative expenses. The foundation takes pride in its hands-off approach, allowing the charities they support to decide how to spend the funds. The foundation strongly believes those closest to their communities are best suited to develop solutions and approaches to address those needs.


In addition to her role at the foundation, Philippa has held positions at Barclays Plc, Ernst & Young, and JM Consulting. She demonstrates her commitment to empowering women by serving as a Trustee of SmartWorks, an organization dedicated to helping women secure meaningful employment. She also oversees the Nominations Committee.


Overall, Philippa Charles and the Garfield Weston Foundation have made a significant impact in the UK through their unique approach to funding and their commitment to supporting the voluntary sector.

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