J Christopher Flowers, 53, founded and runs the private equity investment firm JC Flowers & Co. He donates through the JC Flowers Foundation, is non-executive chairman of the malaria charity Nets for Life (www.netsforlifeafrica.org) and a major donor to Christian Aid (www.christianaid.org.uk).
What is the first charity you can remember supporting?
When I was a kid supporting my local church in Wayland, Massachusetts, and going on a sponsored “Walk for Mankind”. I can’t remember where the money went, but it was kind of fun.
Which cause do you feel most passionately about?
I support many causes, but I’d say the work we do with Christian Aid, the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church in Africa distributing malaria nets. That seems to help people in an immediate and profound and basic way.
Do you ensure that your donations are used effectively?
I’m the non-executive chairman of Nets for Life so I spend a lot of my time monitoring our activities. I’ve been in the field in Africa a number of times, trying to make sure I have a feel for what we’re up to. The first time I visited Zambia, two things struck me. Firstly, individuals there generally did not know how you contract malaria, which is why a lot of our money goes into education and training. Secondly, they buried a child that day who had died of malaria. It was a sad thing, and helping to make that less frequent is something I feel passionately about.
How do you choose a charity?
I use a three-part test. The most important perhaps is that it has a good, sound intellectual basis. Is it an effort that makes sense and is doing some good? The second question is, do I like the people running the organisation? There’s no sense in supporting jerks even if they’re doing something worthwhile. Finally, I support causes with which I have an emotional tie. I think Yale is similar to Harvard, for example, but I support Harvard because I went there. The same is true with the church association.
Do some charities wield too much power?
Big organisations have enormous resources and economies of scale, but they can’t bring the idiosyncratic attention to detail that the smaller ones can, so I think there’s room for both.
Is charity a necessary companion to capitalism?
Different cultures which are equally capitalist in their approach to material goods are wildly varying when it comes to charitable giving. So, no, charity is not an essential companion. Whether it should be is a different question.
What’s your favourite example of a charity in action?
I’d come back to our work with Christian Aid and Nets for Life. On a recent visit to western Zambia to distribute mosquito nets there were all-day celebrations and queues round the block, so it felt like this was something special to them.