Rennie Hoare

Rennie is Partner and Head of Philanthropy at C. Hoare & Co., the UK’s oldest privately owned bank which has been owned continuously by the Hoare family for 12 generations since 1672. He also chairs Hoares Trustees Limited, which is the trustee of the Master Charitable Trust, a donor advised fund.

Alongside his role at Hoare’s Bank, Rennie chairs Philanthropy Impact and is a trustee of the David Nott Foundation. He particularly enjoys mentoring the next generation of philanthropists.

1. How does the family business operate and where does philanthropy fit in?

Hoare’s Bank is a 352-year-old family bank. It was founded by Sir Richard Hoare in 1672 at the Sign of the Golden Bottle and has been owned continuously by our family for 12 generations. Sir Richard and his wife Susanna had seventeen children so, if you’re looking at the success of the bank, a large slice of it can be put down to Susanna’s resilience and fortitude. Now, there are two and half thousand living descendants of the founder. Of these cousins, eight of us are partners at the bank.

We carry unlimited liability, which means a big focus on the way we do business. The relationships that we have with both colleagues and customers are also integral to ongoing success. Interwoven through this is my work as Head of Philanthropy. This covers three broad areas – what we do as a family, what we do as an organisation and then how we bring that to bear for our customers.

2. Has there always been an understanding that you would be involved heavily in the philanthropic side of the family business?

No, but it was an area of the business I was naturally very drawn to. When I joined the bank in 2016, I moved around different departments for between three and six months. Through this, I realised that we had three very strong assets in philanthropy – annually donating up to 10% of our profits to charity, double matching colleagues’ monthly Give-As-You-Earn donations, and having customers who are really involved with philanthropy. But we lacked someone sitting in the middle and coordinating our philanthropic work. So, at the end of 2017, I wrote the job description of Head of Philanthropy and then took up that role from the beginning of 2018.

3. What do you look for in terms of the causes or social issues that you, the family and the Bank support?

One of the first things I did on becoming Head of Philanthropy was to look at the Golden Bottle Trust which is our family’s charitable trust that runs alongside the bank. We make about 300 grants a year. At that time, we were looking at each grant on its individual merits rather than how they fitted into the overall giving. This meant we were making very well-informed individual grant decisions but lacked overarching coordination. To help with this, using a profiling system called Care4most, we profiled each of the Hoare family members working in the bank to see what they cared about. These profiles were amalgamated to show collectively what we, as a family, would like to achieve. When we compared this profile with our organic, bottom-up grant making, we found a mismatch between desired impact and actual impact. As a remedy, we decided to dedicate a third of our giving to ten causes that are closely aligned with the profile’s top priorities. The areas we focus on are health and well-being; reduced inequalities; climate action and partnerships for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

4. You take a really innovative approach to philanthropy. Do you think that there should be more innovation in the philanthropic sector?

I think that there are basic tools that people could use that make philanthropy more effective and more useful for the charities receiving funds. A big driver of mine is providing more unrestricted funding to charities. There was some excellent research done by The Fore which surveyed small charities and asked: ‘If you could receive £1.00 of restricted funding, how much unrestricted funding would you take in replacement for that one pound?’ They said about 62 pence. So straight away, if you want to maximise your giving, give unrestricted – it is a third more powerful. I think embracing the power of unrestricted funds in grant making is something that it would be great if more people could explore.

5. Do you think it takes a certain type of philanthropic leader to be able to give unrestricted funding?

I think it’s just about the positioning of it. I see philanthropic funds as a type of capital that is near unique. You’re not putting financial return requirements against it, so you can take quite a lot of risk in a way that almost all other forms of capital cannot. Philanthropic capital is a great way of proving there is a different way of addressing problems. When our family co-founded Westminster Hospital in the 1700s, it was the first hospital that provided free at the point of use healthcare. It was small – it had just 20 beds – but it showed that there was a different way of providing these services. Taking risks and proving that you can solve things in different ways is essential. So, I think its broader than taking a specific type of leader, it’s more about the framework that you’re operating in.

6. Are there any lessons that you’ve learned along the way that you think are valuable to aspiring philanthropists in the future?

There are probably two things. One is that there’s no substitute for actually getting going with something. In the philanthropy space, you can risk being frozen into inaction, but you learn a huge amount from getting on and doing it. The second is that doing anything massively worthwhile doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and commitment.


7. Do you put a lot of importance on generational continuity when it comes to giving back in philanthropy?

When we looked at philanthropy across the wider family, it is a very good proxy for the right values and the right culture. Although there are only eight Hoare family members who are the partners at the bank, any one of our two and a half thousand cousins can apply for a grant of up to £5,000 for a charity that they’re very involved with. So, it’s almost like venture philanthropy. You’ve got a cousin embedded into a charity who acts as custodian of that grant. That means we can safely get to the corners of the charity world whilst also reinforcing an important aspect of being part of the bank and the family. We see philanthropy as a constantly reinforcing cycle rather than a one-off handover from one generation to the next.

8. What are your aspirations in the mid to long term in terms of your own philanthropic work?

The one thing I would love to see is a greater adoption of people using both their grants and their investments to affect change, something we call total portfolio impact. It’s quite different from a lot of the ways that people have traditionally done things, but I think there’s huge power in thinking of all the levers that you can pull rather than just the grant making.

9. Do you see the need for a change in the philanthropic landscape in the UK?

One of the things that I’ve been putting my time towards is a charity called Philanthropy Impact. I joined as a Trustee in 2018 and have been Chair since 2020. Their mission is to get more and better philanthropy in the UK. They do this by focusing in on professional advisors. A few years ago, they did some research that showed that if you have advisors who can really speak about philanthropy, their clients give 17 times more. The training of professional advisors seems like an achievable goal and the end result would be a dramatic benefit to the whole charity sector. We are doing a lot of work to raise awareness about high-quality training, and to deliver it. I think it could really move the needle.

10. Do you think we could educate people more on the variety of philanthropic structures and vehicles for charitable giving in the UK?

I think the problem is there’s an assumption that everyone knows all the different available structures. For most people, a donor advised fund (DAF) is the correct structure – this is an umbrella foundation which allows multiple donors to operate under the same charity number. The DAF provider deals with all regulation and administration, while the donor can focus on which charities they’d like to fund. Even when I go and speak to younger advisors, probably no more than 15% of them know what a DAF is. So, if the advisors who are meant to know about more modern tools don’t know about it, it is unlikely their clients will.

Leaving it down to the clients to decide on the right structure without the full picture, just makes no sense. I’m still searching for a philanthropist that makes donations because they love the administration! Why set up your own foundation? It’s £20,000 worth of fees, and leaves you dealing with huge, ongoing governance. Trusting an organisation that can help you to do it safely just seems like the sensible decision for most people.

Quick fire round

Philanthropic role model or favourite philanthropist that you’ve looked to and learned from?

One is my father, Edward. He’s been involved with environmental grant making since the 1970s. The other is Alexander Hoare. He was the instigator of thinking about impact investment for the Golden Bottle Trust.

Favourite philanthropic project that you’ve worked on?

My work with Philanthropy Impact.

The three most important skills that one should have in philanthropy?

  1. Having confidence in yourself to start doing something.
  2. Being open to listen.
  3. Doing it because it is a pursuit of a passion.