Inspiring philanthropy: Sir Alec Reed

In this occasional series of interviews with the City’s leading philanthropists we aim to bring guidance and inspiration to others.


Sir Alec Reed

Sir Alec Reed CBE founded employment agency Reed in 1960, which has become one of the UK’s largest private businesses. Reed has also founded several charities as well as The Reed Foundation and is a public advocate for philanthropy.

In 2007 The Reed Foundation created The Big Give, a website that allows donors to find and support charities.



What does philanthropy mean to you?

For me, philanthropy provides the opportunity to broaden my life and share my good luck.

How would you describe your philanthropy and what is your goal?

I would suggest my philanthropy has matched my approach to business: entrepreneurial with the goal of maximum impact.

What was your first experience of philanthropy?

My first experience of philanthropy was establishing Addicts Rehabilitation Charity (ARC) which included addict’s rehabilitation employment agency (AREA) and addict’s rehabilitation twinning (ART). It was in the 1970’s and I was based in Bond Street and at about that time the Observer newspaper ran a series of articles about people who were having difficult lives. They invited potential volunteers to contact charity organisations. I went to work with a drug addiction charity in Covent Garden. When people began to find out that I was an employment agent they were all after me to help them get jobs. A lot of them weren’t job ready, though, so we started an employment agency for drug addicts (ARC). Our best support came from small and medium sized companies, where the manager owned the company and could make the decision – ‘yes, I can give this guy a chance.’ The big companies were more bureaucratic and weren’t able to do that so readily.

Do you feel you are making a difference? If so how?

I feel like I am making a small difference and I hope I am achieving through this through encouraging innovation in philanthropy through initiatives such as the Big Give.

What is the biggest challenge you have had to date?

Managing the early days of the Big Give Christmas Challenge. For example, in 2010 we processed over 5,000 online donations worth over £2million in less than an hour.

Has your philanthropy had an impact on your personal or professional life?

It has broadened my perspectives and this has been life enhancing.

Of what are you most proud?

The fact that 18% of the Reed business is owned by a registered Charity, The Reed Foundation, meaning that one day a week everyone in Reed effectively works for charity.  We have over 3,000 permanent employees working across 425 business units in 180 locations worldwide so our charitable footprint is huge.

I am also proud of what we’ve achieved through the Big Give. Since our launch, we have raised over £66m for thousands of UK charities through our online match funding campaigns, the biggest of which is the Christmas Challenge. We have been featured in articles in The Telegraph, The Sunday Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Economist and have won awards from Third Sector, Charity Times and Technology4Good. We also launched a number of innovative initiatives including a Philanthropy in Schools programme and free Trustee Finder service for charities. We’ve definitely punched above our weight with relatively small input.

Why is philanthropy important today?

I think it’s evident that there is an increasing global gap between rich and poor. That’s what makes philanthropy so important.

What advice would you give to people starting out on their own journey?

As soon as you make the decision to be involved in philanthropy, “ring-fence” the amount you want to give by putting it into a trust fund or CAF account, even if you haven’t yet decided where you are going to spend it. I would also suggest you look at where you achieve the most impact. One of my primary reasons for distributing funds through Big Give is to leverage my original investment. Philanthropists who we work with in the Big Give typically see a four to five times multiplier.