There are some people in this world who are true inspirations to us all. You might not have had the honour of meeting one of these people yet, but they won't be far away. They'll be quietly and diligently going about their business without you even noticing - but they'll be making a big difference to a lot of people who really need the help.
A few years back I appeared on the Channel 4 programme Secret Millionaire and I didn't quite know what to expect. During the filming of the show I volunteered incognito at a number of local charities based in Plymouth. It was there that I met some truly inspirational people, many of whom I still count as friends to this day. It was incredible to see them giving up their time and energy to help those most in need within the local community.
Having attended the Philanthropy Workshop (an organisation that promotes strategic philanthropy), I had already decided that helping local charities was what I wanted to do, and had set up a company, Localgiving, to help them raise funds online. But in Plymouth I had the chance to experience firsthand the struggles of those living in some of the most deprived areas in the city. I visited five amazing charities that were all trying to make a big difference in their local community. They left me with a lasting impression that has stayed with me ever since. It was the impetus I needed to pour my passion and energies into Localgiving.
One of the projects I volunteered at was an organic gardening project, now run by the same people in a new incarnation as Grow4Good. The scheme brings vulnerable people together to grow vegetables in a community garden, helping them to integrate into the community while providing them with skills and confidence, self-esteem and self-sufficiency. I also worked with Jeremiah's Journey which supports children who are faced with losing parents, as well as Friends and Families of Special Children, which helps mums and dads whose children have been recently diagnosed with a disability. There are so many of these local charities across the UK, all making a real difference in the community, helping people in difficult situations get from one day to the next and building a better future for them.
At the end of the filming you have to reveal who you are and then it's customary to offer a donation to help support the causes you've volunteered on. When I told the lady who runs one of the charities who I really was, she burst into tears. She thought she had a new volunteer who was going to come and help her. She didn't even look at the cheque I gave her; it broke my heart. This really made me think and showed me just how much these people care about helping their community.
I know there are places in the world where life is much worse, but there are some very real social problems in this country. There are groups of people desperately struggling for reasons that are out of their control, from health and financial issues to abuse and disability. But then there are also those generous, selfless people who are trying to do something to help the people in their communities, against all the odds. The problem is that there just isn't the funding or awareness out there to support these community groups and local charities doing this crucial work. With a handful of volunteers and scarce funding, recent research by the Charities Aid Foundation found that one in five fears for their survival, leaving vulnerable people with no support.
Currently only seven per cent of donations go to small charities in the UK, despite them making up over fifty per cent of the voluntary sector. These charities make a huge impact on the ground and their effect can be felt in neighbourhoods' right across the country. Even the smallest donation, as little as £5 or £10, can make a huge difference to them - even just keeping the lights on. So finding ways to help these groups develop their financial sustainability and engage with online fundraising can be really effective. It means that they do not have to rely solely on traditional income sources, like grants. This is what I've been working on over the last seven years; creating a simple and easy way for local charities to fundraise online and then leveraging donations through philanthropic investment. With over £9m distributed to over 4,000 charities, I think Localgiving is now making an impact.
The people behind these community groups are truly amazing; they are passionate and selfless people but they need all the help they can get to carry on the work they're doing. If you don't know of any local charities in your area, just take a look on Localgiving, and I promise you will discover people doing wonderful work right in your community, helping vulnerable people in great need of support. I'm sure it will inspire you, just as it has inspired me.