Marcelle Speller – Building the local giving infrastructure
Successful entrepreneur Marcelle Speller used her winning business skills to connect under-the -radar local charities with philanthropists. Here she shares her enriching journey.
My philanthropic journey started in 2005, after the sale of Holiday-Rentals.com which I had co-founded nine years previously. Without the need to make money, I could now focus on something that had always been a goal – to do something worthwhile. It’s hard to describe without clichés, it’s not “giving back” as that infers you’ve taken away; maybe it’s as simple as trying to leave the world a better place in some small way.
After a few false starts, I took the Institute for Philanthropy Workshop. We visited charities and NGOs in the UK, Vietnam and New York. But wherever we went it was the small local charities that inspired me. They are directly accountable to their beneficiaries - the glue that holds local communities together. In the UK they are seriously threatened by government spending cuts, and the fact that online giving, rising at 50% per year, is not available to small unregistered charities, thus making them even more disadvantaged versus larger charities.
My ‘light bulb’ moment came when I realised I could help them in the same way that Holiday-Rentals.com let private owners of holiday homes compete on the web with large villa companies.
The problem was, how was I going to find these small local charities? Pure serendipity brought the solution. Matthew Bowcock, the chairman of the UK’s Community Foundation Network, was in my cohort on The Philanthropy Workshop. He could give me access to the 26,000 local charities that have been vetted by their local Community Foundation.
As with any start-up enterprise – social or profit-driven, it’s been hard work. Most of my time is spent behind a computer, which can make me feel disconnected from the local charities I’m trying to help. But again serendipity brought the solution. I was asked to appear on channel 4’s Secret Millionaire and was filmed for 10 days in Plymouth. I volunteered with five amazing local charities and realised that each of them would benefit hugely from Localgiving.com.
They all know the needs of their community, and are doing ground-breaking projects that I could never have thought of. Jeremiah’s Journey, set up by doctors in the oncology department of Plymouth Hospital, helps bereaved children. With my donation, they are now also able to help children who are about to lose a parent. And they have already raised £10,000 through Localgiving.com. I go back to Plymouth regularly and see the difference that I have helped these amazing people make. It gives me a sense of community, of belonging, and it recharges me.
So that was my journey. Warren Buffett has said that giving money away effectively is more difficult than making it. By giving locally you can see that you are giving effectively, and you can have the most joyous, enriching experiences.