THE BLOG

Charity Giving, UK and US Style

20/03/2015 11:02 GMT | Updated 19/05/2015 10:59 BST

As Churchill once said, "England and America are two countries divided by a common language."

I've recently returned to live in the UK after 25 years in the USA charity sector, so this resonates with me as I reflect on my new role as Chief Executive of international development charity, Send a Cow, and the differences between the US and the UK business environment.

I left for the USA in 1990, initially for a year to help with a sister organisation of the UK youth ministry I was working for. FOCUS was on the brink of bankruptcy and figuring out how they were going to survive. The obvious thing to do was raise some money. In my naivety, I thought 'how hard could it be?'

I quickly learnt that fundraising is not a science. If you passionately articulate the cause, mission and need and have the moxie to ask! My very first significant approach was to a lady in Washington DC, and it resulted in a $250,000 donation over five years. I was on a roll.

My professional life was firmly rooted in America - Philadelphia and Manhattan. The pace was relentless, but so were the opportunities.

So when I was asked to go and work for Geneva Global, which is a high network philanthropic advisory organisation that works with multi-millionaires and billionaires, I jumped at it. I helped wealthy people discover how to give away some of their money sensibly.

Often people would come to me with an idea but hadn't asked themselves, as a philanthropist, where their money was going to have the most significant impact. In business they would look for the return on investment (ROI), but fail to ask the same question about their giving.

I had a client who had grew up in a Barnado's orphanage; "I want to build orphanages in Africa," he said. But within the cultural context of Africa, orphanages aren't ideal because they institutionalise people and I couldn't say that to him because of his personal experience. Over a course of several conversations I got him to challenge his objective, until we realised, together, that what he really wanted to do was take care of children who didn't have parents. In Africa that meant giving land to other households so they could take that child into their homes. We did on a huge scale and his dream was fulfilled.

The joy of having lived half my life in America is coming back to the UK and seeing all the cultural differences. I'd say the genius of America is that you have a melting pot of cultures and personalities, so you'll have someone whose maternal grandmother is Italian, maternal grandfather is English, paternal grandfather is Polish and maternal grandmother is German. You don't just get the best of both world, you get the best of all worlds.

Americans are always willing to risk and fail. In England, traditionally if you were bankrupt your life in business was finished. In America it's quite common to meet very wealthy people who have been bankrupted two or three times but they've kept trying, and there's no dishonour. But I would say that the English culture is more creative, the charity sector incredibly so. In America, in comparison, its ideas that seem to grow.

Because Americans think and live big, more than any other nation, they live into their dream. American's are unshackled from the class issues that so often bog us down in the UK and Europe. There is a very clear class, but it's much more transient so you can be born out of humble origins but through personal effort achieve high status. In the UK class and money are not necessarily synonymous.

Interestingly there's more of a Christian cultural overlay in America, yet the Christian faith in the UK still has more of an influence - so you'll get the Archbishop of Canterbury quoted on the evening news talking about economic issues, something you'd never get church leaders doing in America.

Americans also respond well to Brits and the accent. They love the fact that we are all very polite and have all these old institutions and traditions, yet we're a very modern country.

Ultimately, it was an incredible opportunity that took me to the states and an equally incredible one that brought me home. I spent volunteering in Africa before starting at Send a Cow. I met our teams, farmers and the communities we work with and it's clear we have an effective, fast acting solution to poverty.

My challenge now is blending English heritage and success with American ideas and as a man with two passports and taxes in both countries, I feel best placed!