London – As I boarded my flight home earlier this month from the Big Smoke, a single question rang loudly in my mind: What took you so long to visit?
Work took me to London for a July 5 presentation at the annual conference of the Institute of Fundraisers, England’s professional association of fundraisers. The following day, I participated in England’s Growing Philanthropy Summit.
Since I was already going to Londontown, the Beem family decided to make it its summer vacation destination. We’re an enterprising lot, after all.
Though it’s only been several weeks since we returned – on my 42nd birthday, to be exact – the memories are quickly fading. Still, several things stand out:
• London’s parks are unparalleled. Many of you know I’m a runner, and I was able to squeeze in 6- and 9-mile loops through Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park, adjacent green spaces that offer London an inviting yet convenient outdoor sanctuary. With temperatures in the upper 60s and 70s, the parks were the perfect way to see the city and its people up close and personal.
• Notting Hill is all the movie stacks it up to be – and then some. We were fortunate to find a reasonably priced flat for rent in the hip neighborhood (see http://www.vrbo.com/303500 for more information). Just two blocks from the tube station, we were steps from the renowned Churchill Arms Pub and surrounded by the educated, edgy energy that distinguishes London and its people.
• The city’s vast swath of temporal and intellectual history is respected and accessible. As I toured Westminster Abbey, I was initially blown away I could touch, inspect – even walk on – the tombs of Henry VIII and Rudyard Kipling. Thousands of others were doing the same thing the day I was – and millions would over the course of a year. As I wound my way through the revered cathedral, it dawned on me that Londoners and those who visit their city relish their experience with history above all else. It’s what made my visit so memorable.
• The United Kingdom’s fundraising practice is as far behind the U.S. curve as its parks, neighborhoods and cultural attitude are ahead of it. In 2010, U.K. philanthropists gave a total of about USD $17 billion, pale in comparison to the more than $303 billion U.S. philanthropists gave last year even after you adjust for the difference in the nations’ gross domestic products. The reason for the discrepancy is clear: English fundraisers are reluctant, if not unwilling, to personally qualify, cultivate and solicit major gifts, the bedrock of the United States’ philanthropic economy. And without them, the United Kingdom’s nonprofit sector ignores the surest fundraising tool and greatest philanthropic opportunity to grow the nongovernmental sector of its economy.
It took me 42 years to visit England, but I hope it doesn’t take me another 42 to return. The city has much to offer those from the United States interested in learning how to more fully integrate their nature, neighborhoods and history into daily living.
It also has something to learn about how to raise major gifts. England benefitted from philanthropy before the United States was born, but the U.S. invented the fundraising profession. And I’ve got a thing or two to say about that. Stay tuned.