Lloyd Dorfmann

Lloyd Dorfman CBE

Lloyd Dorfman CBE is a British entrepreneur who founded Travelex in 1976, which became the world's largest retail currency exchange business. After an agreement was reached to sell the business in 2014, he focused his attention on a variety of business interests including The Office Group (of which he is Chairman and majority shareholder), which provides flexible office and meeting spaces, and Doddle, the parcel collection company, which he co-founded. He has a long association with a number of charities, including the Prince's Trust, which he now chairs, and the National Theatre, where one of the theatres is named after his family. He established the Dorfman Foundation in 2007, which focuses on the arts, education and a wide range of other charitable purposes.  

How did your philanthropy begin?

Being brought up in the Jewish community, philanthropy is something you become aware of from an early age. The community has always punched well above its weight in terms of its philanthropic contribution across education, the arts and welfare, both within the Jewish community and broader British society. I don’t know if I consciously thought about it at the time, but part of becoming successful as a businessman means being able to make an impact in some of the areas you know and care about.

What is the extent of your support for charities in donations worth £1m or more, including money banked in your foundation or given to a cause over an extended period?

In 2010 I gave £10m to the National Theatre as the lead donor to their £80m NT Future campaign, which was about redeveloping the theatre and welcoming in new audiences. I also gave the same amount to my old school, St Paul’s, which was £9m for rebuilding and £1m for bursaries so they can offer ‘needs blind’ admission, enabling bright boys to attend a top school they wouldn’t otherwise have the means  to attend. We have also given £4m to the Royal Opera House for their most recent redevelopment and £2m to Great Ormond Street children’s hospital for a new surgery wing. We are also currently discussing a donation with the Royal Academy, as part of the development for their 250th anniversary in 2018. 

We have made three donations of around £1m to the Prince’s Trust as part of their 40th anniversary campaign, the Royal Ballet School for their new residential centre in Pimlico, and to JW3, the new Jewish community centre in London.

We’re also giving around £500,000 to Westminster Abbey for the creation of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Gallery in their Triforium, which is the first major addition to the Abbey since the 18th century, and the same amount to JCoSS, a Jewish community secondary school, which is pluralist and serves the spectrum of the community from Orthodox to Reform.

We also support lots of smaller charities in London. But it’s not just about money: pretty much every working day I give some time to my various charitable activities. I have led three commercial companies that have become successful businesses, and feel I can share that experience by serving on the boards of many of the charities I support. For example, I became Chairman of Prince’s Trust International, soon after it was officially launched by the Prince of Wales last November (having become Chairman of the Prince’s Trust in the UK a few months earlier). This is his new global initiative to help disadvantaged young people around the world into some form of education, training or employment. My experience of start-ups, particularly building Travelex around the world, is obviously very useful. 


Its not just about money: pretty much every working day I give some time to my various charitable activities

How do you decide which causes to support at this level? Have your favoured causes changed over time?

We support world-class organisations that we are close to, and where we feel we can make a difference. There’s a lot of variety in our causes because everything I do is fairly multi-faceted and that’s reflected in the issues we know and care about.

One theme is the performing arts, which my wife and I have always enjoyed. Travelex, the company I founded, had been supporting the National Theatre with the Travelex cheap tickets season for a number of years. I was on the board of the National and they started talking to me about becoming the lead donor for the NT Futures campaign. It was a special, and quite a rare thing, to be able to help a world-class theatre in this way, so I decided to do it. We have a particularly close association with the Royal Opera House, which I am also on the board of. It is an amazing, world-class institution for both ballet and opera, and I think for the family to be associated with it is a lovely thing.

I supported my old school because I never went to university, so whatever higher education I got was thanks to St Paul’s. It’s not just a great British school but a world-leading school, with a distinguished history of over 500 years. Due to ageing infrastructure, it needed to rebuild itself. I also wanted to provide bursaries for bright boys whose parents wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford to send them there.

I have been on the board of the Prince’s Trust for nine years and was asked to become Chairman in 2015 (this year, 2016, we are celebrating its 40th anniversary). I believe enthusiastically in what it is doing and the Prince of Wales remains very engaged and passionate about its work. This year we will help 60,000 vulnerable, disadvantaged young people get into some sort of education, training or employment in the UK. The charity is changing their lives – many of these young people stand up and tell their stories about being in prison, being abused or addicted or whatever, and somehow or another, miraculously, they get a hand up from the Prince’s Trust which turns their lives around. It’s very powerful.

Our support for Great Ormond Street is because of a very personal family link. They gave incredible support to a family member when they fell ill, who thankfully made a full recovery. The family started a conversation with the hospital and we learnt they needed £2m to build a new surgery wing – it will have 48 beds and two operating theatres and will be called the Dorfman Surgery Wing.

Is your philanthropy influenced by your family, your faith, your colleagues or any other external factors?

My Jewish faith and my family are certainly important, but there are other factors. For example, I have sometimes given when my friends have asked. Vivien Duffield is a legendary philanthropist and also a good friend. She has put a huge amount of her own money into JW3 and really knows what she’s doing. So we were happy to give £1m because it’s a worthy initiative and because she is worthy of support. 

External factors are also relevant. The National Theatre appeal was taking place when the global financial crisis had just happened, the world was in recession, and public sector cuts meant that both government funding and Arts Council funding were going south. I certainly did bear those factors in mind when making the decision.

How is your family involved in your philanthropy?

My wife, two daughters and son are all trustees of the Dorfman Foundation. My wife loves ballet and is a governor of the Royal Ballet School so we are obviously happy to support them. I’ve also encouraged my kids to do their own thing: they have a certain discretion to support whatever causes they want. In the meantime my eldest daughter is leading the relationship with Great Ormond Street.  My younger daughter is very attached to Chickenshed, the inclusive theatre group in north London - she worked there for a while so is quite passionate about them and likes to support them. My son chairs the National Theatre Young Patrons, which is all about encouraging the next generation. That next generation of support is something all arts institutions need to be thinking about, especially at a time when government funding is being cut.

When Nick Hytner, artistic director of the National Theatre suggested renaming the Cottesloe theatre, I told him I needed to discuss it with my family. I told my wife that I had said to Nick: “Is Dorfman a name for a theatre? Why would you call a theatre ‘Dorfman’?”, and that he had said: “It’s a great name for a theatre.”  My wife said: “Well he would say that, wouldn’t he!” She is very down-to-earth and quite self-effacing but I thought it would be a great institution for the family to be associated with, especially after many years of the Travelex cheap ticket relationship. In terms of sensitivities, my daughters both have different surnames now but I did ask my son, who’s a producer and actor, to check it wouldn’t be excruciatingly embarrassing for him. His response was: “I think it’s amazing and I’d be really proud.”  So I said: “That’s great, so let’s do it.” And that was that!

How does it feel to be able to offer this level of support?

It is a privilege and a pleasure to be in a position where you can make a difference to some of these organisations through which you can change lives and help people who have some disadvantage or vulnerability. It is very rewarding. 

But you do also get interesting reactions, like when some people asked why I gave all that money to a theatre and not to something like medical research. I think it is quite important not to over-intellectualise philanthropy: we enjoy the arts and the National Theatre needed support, so you do what you want to do. For people who want to support medical research that’s also a wonderful thing and that’s their prerogative and privilege and they should do that. But if you want to support things other than medical research, then that’s fine too.


I think it’s important to do positive things, and also to be responsible towards society

What are your experiences and expectations of working with charities?

I think the recipients have got better at nurturing and developing relationships with donors, as indeed they should, and need, to do. It’s not rocket science: donors want to feel valued and appreciated. We all like to go into restaurants, pubs and shops and be recognised: “Hello John. Your usual table?”

The important thing is once they have established a relationship, they need to keep donors close and warm because they never know when they’re going to want to call on those relationships again. You would be surprised how often they let the relationships go cold. We do get invited to a lot of charity dinners, galas, balls and auctions. I know that charities do need to hold these fund-raising events to tell people about their work and build their networks, so we do go to some we’re invited to. But the best experiences are normally the special ‘money can’t buy’ ones – for example, my wife was invited to sit and watch a ballet at the Opera House from the wings, which is a very special experience if you’re a supporter and love ballet.

Our support for Westminster Abbey may be surprising as I’m Jewish so I don’t have many an occasion to go there. But I’ve come to know the Dean, John Hall, who’s a very good man. I’ve had dinner with him a few times and been invited to some amazing events at the Abbey, including services to mark the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt and the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, attended by the Queen and Prince Phillip. These were memorable experiences. And why not? The Abbey recognizes that we are supporting them to enable them to build a new museum and gallery, so why wouldn’t they want to establish strong relationships with their donors and invite them to special occasions?

Data on impact is important for many donors and it is always good to see the numbers. Charities need to produce evidence that their work is effective and be held to account. Given the complexity of governance these days they absolutely have to do that. But by the time we think about giving money we have already satisfied ourselves that this is an organisation worthy of support. I’ve often already sat on the board for a number of years and know what they are doing and that the numbers add up. So I’ve never had occasion to question the impact of the charities I am involved with.  Do I need to know that the National Theatre is making an impact? Do I need to see figures about Great Ormond Street? They gave a family member world-class medical care, that was an impact of one, and it was enough on its own.

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

We are not a big foundation. We put some money in when we started in 2007 and we top it up from time to time. We’re not one of the big third or fourth generation family foundations who are processing lots of grants or specialise in a particular area. That’s not us. We’re supporting things that we’ve come to know and understand through personal relationships and experiences, and we expect to carry on doing that.

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

We do need to encourage other people. In the last 25 years a lot of people have made a lot of money, and there are countless opportunities for them to put something back and get involved in philanthropy. A personal passion of mine is supporting the arts, which is all the more important at a time when Arts Council England is having its funding slashed. So I have encouraged some business leaders I know to help prevent the spread of a “cultural wasteland” by giving more to the arts. But you can’t wag your finger at somebody and say: “Why aren’t you doing this and why aren’t you doing that?” because if they don’t get it, and can’t see that it’s a privilege and a pleasure, then I’m not sure that somebody else telling them is going to make them understand.

All I can say is that there are only so many pairs of shoes and so many suits you can wear. So if you’ve been fortunate enough to make some money, then absolutely you should put something back. And I can also talk about my giving and the occasions where my name has been used on buildings and so on, because that might lead other people to think: “I could do that” or I’d quite like to do that” because perhaps they hadn’t realised they could.

I also share my three-pronged philosophy. Firstly be prudent and careful with investments because it was bloody hard to make that money, particularly if you started from nothing. Secondly put something back at whatever level you can. And thirdly be sure to enjoy it.  Otherwise what’s it all for if you haven’t used that position to do good work, help and support others and enjoyed doing it along the way? As I said, I don’t over-intellectualise it: I think it’s important to do positive things, and also to be responsible towards society. You can also get a lot of pleasure from doing it, and seeing the difference your contribution can make.

Are there any other thoughts on the experience of being a large-scale, transformational donor that you would like to share?

We don’t know what the economic impacts of Brexit are going to be, but perhaps people aren’t feeling quite as buoyant as they were. So, now more than ever those people in a position to make significant donations need to lead from the front. Public funding and support for many charities, especially in the arts, was already declining well before the referendum on the UK’s EU membership was called, and it is likely to continue. If there is an economic fallout from the result then it will get even worse, so we’ve got to bear that in mind and respond if we can.

Across all countries covered in this report there is a wealth of experience of major philanthropy. We asked donors to share their advice on giving donations of $1m or more.

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