At Baillie Gifford, we believe that our actions and behaviours should support society as a whole. Mark Urquhart, partner and chair of the firm’s Sponsorship Committee, explains how this affects our approach to sponsorship.
Baillie Gifford sponsors local and international organisations for many reasons. Above all though, we do it because it is the right thing to do. Throughout the firm’s history, our partners have supported charities and organisations in need through personal philanthropic activity. Although individual donations from partners did help those that received them, we felt that as a firm we could do more. In 2001, we officially founded our Sponsorship Committee and began working as a collective to help our community.
Since then, the firm’s approach to sponsorship has been shaped by three guiding principles.
Firstly, we sponsor organisations to help people; not to advertise our firm. This means we won’t sponsor international sporting events but instead use that money to support grassroots sports. We will always choose projects that help the community over those that draw the most publicity.
Secondly, we’re long term in everything we do. We don’t throw money at a problem and expect this to change anything. Instead, we work with charities over several years and help them to put sustainable plans into place.
Finally, our staff are central to our sponsorship activity. We want Baillie Gifford to be a place where people are proud to work and can make a difference. Our sponsorship committee is decentralised with subgroups covering areas such as arts and culture, communities and citizenship and international sponsorship. It’s important that our staff have a say in which organisations we support. Therefore, we avoid leaving decisions in the hands of a few and instead let subgroups pick the organisations we work with.
Our staff also feel engaged with the firm’s sponsorship by voting on our charity of the year and taking part in a programme we run called ‘Community Awards’. The programme runs three times a year and allows a member of staff to nominate a charity of their choice to receive an award of £1000. Since launching Community Awards in 2017 our staff have helped 226 organisations to receive a donation. The groups we have helped range from local youth sports groups to educational charities in the developing world.
One thing that has hugely impacted our approach to sponsorship has been the Covid-19 crisis. It has highlighted the benefit of being flexible and adapting to the needs of the organisations we work with. At the beginning of lockdown, we converted our staff restaurant from serving meals to our 1200 staff to providing food for those in need. We worked closely with local organisations to ensure that the meals we produced could be distributed to those in the community. We have also worked with local groups to supply devices such as laptops and tablets to hospitals and children in Edinburgh who are now studying at home. We did this so that people in hospital could stay in contact with loved ones and any children who didn’t have access to a laptop at home could continue their education and avoid falling behind.
In May 2020, we launched a Covid-19 edition of Community Awards to support charities affected by the pandemic. We recognised the difficulty that organisations in the third sector were facing and wanted staff to highlight those in their community that needed help the most. For the first time, we expanded this programme outside of Edinburgh and received nominations from our international offices. Covid-19 affects communities in New York, Hong Kong and all our international offices just as much as it does in our home office of Edinburgh. We have a social responsibility to help those in society and as a global investment firm, our approach must be global too.
The way we have adapted and responded to the crisis will likely have a long-term impact on our future sponsorship activity. It has highlighted how much more we can do but also how much we can achieve by supporting local organisations. One thing that will remain consistent, however, is our commitment to supporting our communities and making society a better place to live.