Image of Fred Mulder

DR FREDERICK MULDER CBE

Dr Frederick Mulder CBE is a global expert in the field of European printmaking 1470-1970, with particular expertise in the work of Picasso. He has worked as a private dealer in this field, based in London, since the early 1970s.

Having established the Frederick Mulder Foundation (formerly the Frederick Mulder Charitable Trust) in 1986, his philanthropy now focuses on climate change, inequality and the persistence of global poverty, and social change. Frederick has played a key role in encouraging others to give through his work as founder of The Funding Network (TFN). 

How did your philanthropy begin and how has it evolved?

When I was young I belonged to a church that practised tithing, so I grew up being used to giving a portion of my income for a purpose outside myself. When I ceased being a Christian, I stopped giving for a few years and didn’t come back to it until my early 30s after I had become an art dealer. I was doing well, and I heard this statistic on the radio that 35,000 children died every day of malnutrition and preventable diseases. I remember being really stunned by this and thinking, that’s 100 jumbo jets a day full of children.

The art world is a very comfortable world to work in, but I became increasingly aware that there were many people that didn’t have access to the kind of things we in the art world simply take for granted – food to eat, proper shelter, medical care and so on. So I became determined to use my ability to do well in a world that I was good at to help address some of the injustices of the world.

The natural area for me to focus on was international development issues. I started by supporting Oxfam because I had been a student at Oxford, so I knew about them and had met someone who worked there. They organised for me to see some Oxfam projects by stopping over in India on a business trip to Australia.

Then I got interested in environmental issues, not because I’m particularly oriented towards nature – because I’m actually a rather urban person – but because I think that environmental issues are actually issues of fairness to future generations and to people we don’t know or can’t see. Domestically, it’s the people who don’t live in very good housing who are most likely to suffer from pollution issues. Globally, it’s future generations that will suffer the environmental consequences of decisions that we make today, and the way in which we use, or misuse, our natural resources.

I set up my charitable trust, now the Frederick Mulder Foundation, in 1986 and have put in at least 10% of what I’ve earned each year. That went up to 90% overall in one year, 2007, because my children had grown up and left home, so I didn’t have the same level of expenses as I used to have. In that year, my major sale was the most expensive single sheet print in the world, a Picasso Minotauromachie, which went for about $3.5m, and I put 75% of the proceeds of that sale into my trust.

Then in 2012 I sold a wonderful Picasso linoleum cut collection, the most extensive and important collection of its kind in the world, for $20 million. I’d spent ten years putting that collection together and I was able to place it in a museum in the city of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in Canada, near where I grew up, which I know will make incredibly good use of it. It will be a wonderful resource for the city, the province and the country. I put half the proceeds from that sale into my charitable trust, and intend to give that away over the next ten years or so. For me, that sale was doubly satisfying in terms of where I was able to place the collection and how I was able to use a significant part of the proceeds.

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I've never been envious of someone's wealth, but I've occasionally been envious of their ability to give!

How do you decide which causes to support?

When I had less money to give away I was more reactive. I did try to be strategic in the sense of having a limited number of areas, but I didn’t scope the field or have a real focus. Now that I’ve got, compared to what I had before, rather more money to work with (roughly £1m a year), I feel more responsible; I want to develop some expertise and really try and make a difference in a couple of areas. For example, rather than supporting general environmental issues, I’m focusing on the way institutions and capital markets can be incentivised to move us from a high carbon to a low-carbon economy. And within global poverty, I’m now focusing on factors like illicit financial flows.

Some people want to see immediate results and payback for their donations whereas I find the older I get the more I want to work further ‘upstream’, anticipating future issues and addressing them earlier rather than later. Philanthropic funders can think further ahead than democratically-elected leaders bound to election cycles, and are often willing to do so. I’m interested in structural issues like the rules of trade and illicit financial flows; those are really important issues that are keeping much of the world poor. And with the environment, I’m really interested in the financial, legal and institutional drivers that sustain a carbon intensive economy, and how you incentivise the move towards a low-carbon economy.

I’ve also become more interested in the bigger plays – both in my art dealing and in my philanthropy. I used to deal in a wide range of art, but over time I increasingly wanted to handle the most interesting and iconic objects, especially the work of Picasso and Munch. I’ve had pretty much all their great prints go through my hands, which is very satisfying. And on the philanthropy side, while I do support many small projects that present at The Funding Network, in my direct philanthropy I don’t want to spread my donations around too much – I’m interested in the big plays that are going to make a big difference in the long term.

What are your plans for developing your philanthropy in the future?

I’m going to focus on three areas: climate change; inequality and the structural reasons for the persistence of global poverty; and social change philanthropy. I’m certainly going to continue supporting The Funding Network  and other organisations that are developing the philanthropists of the future.

Is your family involved in your philanthropy?

I have three children who are all now on the board of my charitable foundation. They do take an active part, despite being busy with their own lives. Through the foundation, each of them has an amount they can give away on a discretionary basis, so they don’t have to compete with other projects that I, or their siblings, bring forward. They also suggest projects for funding from the main pot, which sometimes get through or sometimes get sent back for review – just as mine do. They’ve knocked back one or two of my things and that’s good!

I want my children to be philanthropically minded and to carry on giving money away after my death. They’re not yet as involved as I am, but you never know when you will fall under the proverbial bus, so I want them to be able to carry things on and distribute what’s left in the foundation, including the extra funds I plan to add from my estate.

I’m 70 now, but I’m continuing to work, so there will be more money going into the trust, which will have a limited life-span because I didn’t want to create a foundation that only gave away the income each year without touching the capital. So I can give away about £1m each year, which is still not that much in the great scheme of things. But any single person can only do a little bit, and knowing that I can’t do very much has never put me off. If you can help one person then you are doing something.

Have you ever been particularly pleased with a donation?

One of the things we did at the Network for Social Change (an earlier donor circle I was involved in) was to be one of the early supporters of Jubilee 2000. At that time the issue of third world debt did not have a single voice, and our support of that project turned into something really important. 

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If you can help one person then you are doing something.

How did it feel to be able to fund such important and innovative work that might otherwise not have received support?

It felt great. I think that was the first time I realised it was worth investing in something that wasn’t at all certain of happening – but if it did happen then it would make a huge difference. At the wind-up of the campaign Bob Geldof spoke to the supporters and he said that for every pound spent on the campaign, we achieved £50,000 of debt relief. I realised that was real leverage. I know that not everything I do will be as successful, but it gave me a taste for investing in big plays. You have to have the courage to back the great ideas, even if the payback takes a long time, because that’s where the real leverage is.

Can you tell us about your experiences of working with charities – what do you expect from them?

I don’t want to be a burden to them. I do want a minimum of information, but I don’t want to have lunch with the CEO every other week because I want them to get on with the work that I’m facilitating. Of course, it’s very nice when they say thanks. Some charities are very good at it and on the whole they’re getting better. I think the days of charities feeling they’re doing you a favour by taking your money are gone!

You have played a key role in growing philanthropy and enabling collaborative giving. What motivated you to invest your time and philanthropic resources in this?

I had a bad experience early on, in the early 1980s, with a charity that took advantage of my lack of experience. I’d given them a couple of large grants and they asked for a third grant, then less than a month later they went bankrupt. They hadn’t told me at all that they were in financial difficulty and I remember thinking that if I’d had a peer group with whom to check out those giving decisions, that might not have happened.

That’s why I helped to set up the Network for Social Change almost 30 years ago – I wasn’t the driver of it, but I was there at the beginning. And then in 2002 I was one of the four founders who set up The Funding Network. We were the first open, public giving circle doing live crowdfunding, though the term didn’t exist yet! We invite a group of four or five charities to present their work to us and to anyone who wants to come (now we have 60-150 people regularly at our events). We give them a level playing field; they each ask for the same amount of money, usually £6,000, and each has exactly six minutes to present and six minutes to answer questions. Then we have a quick pledging session where we try to make each project happen – which we usually do.

Now TFN is in eight countries: as well as the UK, we’re in Australia, the US, Canada, Bulgaria, Romania, South Africa and Turkey, and hopefully soon New Zealand. We've had over 4,000 unique givers in London alone!

I see TFN as a place for what I’d call the ‘mass affluent’, as opposed to the very wealthy, to give intelligently and for potentially bigger philanthropists to cut their teeth. We get a lot of great projects pitching at events, and even if you sat there and didn’t give anything you’d get a fantastic education by listening to the charities that come and present.

Do you think philanthropists should invest more in growing and strengthening philanthropy?

Yes, especially in countries that don’t have a strong philanthropic tradition or where an established tradition has been lost, as is the case in the eastern European countries that TFN is working in. I think anything that gives people the chance to learn to give, that educates people about giving and encourages them to do so is useful. With TFN you learn by doing it, and it’s worked well. We’ve had more than 6,000 unique givers over the years – mostly giving smaller gifts around £100 or £200, though many are a lot bigger. We’ve always focused on the mass affluent rather than the very wealthy – people who are really helped by a peer group and a sense of security in order to feel safe and educated enough to give more than the minimum.

Do you have any advice for other people who have the capacity to give at this level?

Virtually anyone can give at The Funding Network level (in London the minimum is £100 and elsewhere it’s less). Whether you have the potential to be a really significant giver or not, TFN events are a great way to get started; you get a sense of the landscape and the chance to put your toe in the water. TFN’s Strategic Funding Group (where we do bigger grants) are a good way for those who can give at higher levels to find good things to fund and to benefit from the experience and knowledge of other givers who are also at the event.

It can also be useful to get some training – I did The Philanthropy Workshop (TPW), which was very helpful. Don’t try and do it all on your own. In my experience, the better your support structure, the more rewarding and more effective your philanthropy will be.

Also keep learning, both from your successes and from your failures. And keep an eye on what’s coming over the horizon: one of the most important things philanthropists can do is to be ahead of the curve by addressing issues like climate change and growing global inequality before the problem then gets so embedded it is even more difficult to shift.

Are there any other thoughts on your experience that you would like to share?

When I look back at my giving, some themes emerge – not so much in the causes I’ve supported, but more in the way I’ve supported them.

Leverage has been an important part of my giving. As I said, I was initially motivated to give with others as a kind of ‘insurance’ against making poor decisions. But I very quickly learned that there was another, more positive side to this coin – by giving with others I could have far more impact than I could on my own. In the early days, my gifts of a few hundred pounds could easily turn into a grant of several thousand pounds by giving with peers at a TFN event. Now, with the Foundation, I can join forces with other like-minded grant makers and a grant from me of, say, £50,000 can, with collaboration, become several times that amount and then you’re talking about serious impact. So leverage and collaboration have always been important to me.

I’ve done my best to be an approachable and pragmatic funder, and I hope I’ve been able to help several of my grantees in very practical ways, in addition to providing them with funds. For example, I’ve hosted many small events and meetings in my home; I’ve made loans to help them manage their cash flow; and I’ve made introductions to other people who I think might support them.

And finally, I hope that in a small way, I’ve shown leadership – most obviously through The Funding Network, which I’m proud to have co-founded and to support as it expands internationally, but also by being open about my giving to try and de-bunk this notion of it being somehow vulgar to be public about our giving. We only make something the ‘norm’ by doing it publicly. And frankly, in order to meet the challenges which lie ahead, we need to get everyone giving more to effective and transformative charities and causes, and also looking at how their wealth is invested so that their charitable giving is not undermined by the activities of companies in which they are invested.

I want to be part of a culture shift which sees philanthropy or, perhaps more precisely, the proactive and strategic management of our financial and other resources, as something every person and every institution does in the interests of future generations. On the institutional side, we’re proud to be taking a lead in the Divest/Invest philanthropy campaign in the UK which is asking trusts and foundations to divest their portfolios of fossil fuel-intensive investments and to reinvest those funds in the only sustainable future we can have – a low-carbon economy via renewables, energy efficiency projects and the like.

Above all, I have always enjoyed giving and having the chance to make a difference in this way. For me, it’s a privilege that I never really thought I’d have. I’ve never been envious of someone’s wealth, but I’ve occasionally been envious of their ability to give!