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Cause & Effect: Daniel Finkelstein
Cause & Effect: Daniel Finkelstein

Lord Daniel Finkelstein OBE is a Conservative peer and a columnist for The Times. He is a winner of Political Journalist of the Year, and three-time winner of Political Commentator of the Year. His not-for-profit experience includes working as Director of the Social Market Foundation and Director of Research for the Conservative Party. He also co-founded Enterprise Europe and is a recent Chairman of think tank Policy Exchange.

Daniel Finkelstein Re. Election Film Picture - David Bebber

Photo – David Bebbe

If you don’t want to raise money, you’re probably in the wrong job. The truth is, the director of a not-for-profit organisation has to go and raise the money. The health of the organisation will be massively dependent on that and it’s a very large part of your leadership responsibility. You just have to spend a lot of your time making clear to donors that they are personally important to you and finding new ways of making money.

It wasn’t actually that difficult to build an audience and build its prestige. At the Social Market Foundation, I realised that it didn’t matter how interesting what we had to say was if no-one was listening. We needed to have a strong voice. We needed to have a clear identity and you needed to put a lot of work in to the press and getting its name around and it was amazing how quickly you could achieve that. We understood that there was quite a big market for stories about new things that might influence John Major and we just did that again and again and again. Every paper that we had was designed to hit that.

Competition doesn’t take away, it adds. It’s really, really easy to get yourself into a competitive frame of mind with other organisations in the same field. You feel you’re competing for funds and for attention and for prestige. But very early on in my time at the Social Market Foundation, Madison Perry of the Adam Smith Institute said to me, “I don’t take that view. I really welcome you. It expands the market.” And I thought, “My goodness, you’re right.” And I’ve taken that view with every organisation I’ve worked with since.

Everything that goes in the paper tomorrow is similar to what was in the paper yesterday. As a journalist, I’m constantly getting people who are sending me things like, “Please would you attend our whisky tasting”. It’s not just that I don’t drink, it’s that first of all, I don’t review whisky. Or drinks of any kind. I’m a political commentator. An awful lot of attempts to get in the newspaper seem to be based on the bizarre sort of assumption that the newspaper’s going to suddenly do something different because of what you offered them.

You don’t always know it’s going to work. When the Berlin Wall came down, I gathered together five or six friends and we brainstormed what would help newly liberated people in Central and Eastern Europe. We came up with the idea of bringing people over to give them experience working in a British business. We called it Enterprise Europe. We had an intuition, that’s all we had, that it would be helpful. And we had a patter in which we sold it to people to give us money. But we didn’t know it would be helpful because we had to do it first before we could prove it. And I’m rather moved by the fact that it genuinely was.

Success is closing yourself down. Our original object had been to help people recovering from Soviet Communism. Now all those economies had moved on, and I’m quite proud of the fact that when we reached the point where we could see we were no longer needed, we wound the organisation up.

Voluntary body executives don’t use their trustee boards as much as they might. They’ll take a lot of trouble to get you to be involved and then, when you are involved, they don’t quite know what to do with you and they could get more value out of you. I feel sometimes as if I’ve been asked sometimes to join something that I’d be willing to give more of myself.

If I can’t be the money philanthropist, I can be the speaking and influence philanthropist. I’ve never been, nor am I now, in a position to write all these huge cheques I see people writing at charity dinners. But there are real contributions I can make that are very valuable to those organisations. Speaking to raise money for their breakfast and lunches and dinners and things like that. Helping them to get speakers. Things that I can do. And I thought well, that’s my responsibility and I’d like to do it.

Cause & Effect is a series from Hope, in which leading figures who have been involved in building and promoting good causes tell us what they’ve learned from their experiences. Interview by Michael Isaacs.

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