September 3, 2011 1:42 am

How to give it: Peter Cullum

The philanthropist believes that charity is not just about writing a cheque, but being involved
Peter Cullum

Peter Cullum CBE, 60, is founder and non-executive deputy chairman of Towergate Underwriting Group and chair of the Cullum Foundation and the Towergate Charitable Foundation. The latter has raised £5m since 2005.

What was the first charity to make an impression on you?

As a child, it was the horrors of Biafra brought to us by TV. The other was Live Aid. It drove me to tears, and I admired Bob Geldof for having the determination to galvanise the globe. I was also involved in insuring Wembley Stadium for the concert. We didn’t charge a premium, which was quite scary from a liability perspective. Happily, there were no claims.

Which cause do you feel most strongly about?

There’s a wide range in the two trusts I chair, but personally my focus has been on children. I’ve done a lot of work for ChildLine and the NSPCC with Esther Rantzen. I admire her enormously. She’s been a pioneer, then stayed with the charity and is still very hands-on.

Why do you give to charity?

It’s the right thing to do. I’m in a privileged financial position and it’s satisfying to see what an enormous difference I can make to those who haven’t been dealt such a good hand.

Do businesses need to appear charitable?

If it’s just a tick in the Corporate Social Responsibility box, then that lacks integrity and is a bit tasteless. Having said that, the more pressure there is on large organisations to give, the better.

Why did you start a family foundation?

I sold part of my business in 2006 for a seriously large sum. I’d always said I’d create a charitable trust and involve my two daughters if I could. My eldest, who’s 30, now runs the trust. It’s part of their education that giving is good and that it’s not just writing a cheque, but being involved.

In the broad charitable world, what would you like to see changed?

I’d like to see the UK becoming more similar culturally to the US in terms of donation. We don’t make a song and a dance about it in Britain. We might make more money if we did, so perhaps we should.

How does the Towergate Foundation choose its charities?

We speak to staff and our customers, many of whom donate voluntarily. We then agree measures with the charity to ensure that donations are not eaten up by administrative expenses. About 75 per cent of customers donate happily, but I do get letters telling me to get lost and stop telling people who and what to support.

What’s your favourite example of a charity in action?

I visited Richard Branson’s Virgin Unite charity in Johannesburg at its school for young entrepreneurs. It’s inspiring seeing people who started from absolutely zero building up small businesses.

howtogiveit@ft.com

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