Interview: Freemasonry & Philanthropy

Dr David Staples, Chief Executive & Grand Secretary of The United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE)

Tales about Freemasons have inspired many urban legends, conspiracy theories and Hollywood movies. Their history and rituals arouse people’s curiosity and imagination. But it’s the fraternity’s commitment to humanitarian causes that should be brought more into the spotlight.

Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and a Freemason, once said:

“Masonic labor is purely a labor of love. He who seeks to draw Masonic wages in gold and silver will be disappointed. The wages of a Mason are earned and paid in their dealings with one another; sympathy that begets sympathy, kindness begets kindness, helpfulness begets helpfulness, and these are the wages of a Mason.”

In 2018, Freemasons have raised £48 million for charity. Additionally, they have contributed 18.5 million hours of volunteer work.

Dr David Staples, Chief Executive & Grand Secretary of The United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE), was so kind to answer some of my questions about their philanthropic work and how they manage the corona-crisis.

RsL: Why is philanthropy such an essential part of Freemasonry?

Staples: Giving is deeply rooted in the foundations of Freemasonry. The first ceremony that a Freemason undergoes teaches that importance of equality and the duty to look after those less fortunate than yourself. We encourage our members to help those that may be struggling and a key part of being a Freemason is supporting the community.

RsL: In 2017, the United Grand Lodge celebrated its 300th anniversary. What are some major lessons Masonic lodges have learned over the centuries when it comes to philanthropy?

Staples: Freemasons were one of the first organisations in England to provide free hospitals and schooling to the public. We recognised the Prince Hall lodges for African Americans in 1784 – Freemasons have practised charity, and believed in the equality of all peoples for centuries.  From major donations to large National charities, to targeting gifts to grass root organisations and individuals, we have learnt that each age brings its unique challenges, and Freemasons will be there to help and serve the communities from which they are drawn.

RsL: How do you decide which philanthropic cause you are going to support? How does the decision process work? Are organisations contacting you or do you initiate the contact?

Staples: Freemasons give on many levels. Each member will be disposed towards charity as it is such an important part of our ethos however each lodge will have a set of causes that it regularly gives to after collecting donations from its members, their friends and family. Many lodges hold all sorts of fundraising events, but it is not all about money. In addition to the £48 million that Freemasons raised last year, our members also gave over 18.5 million hours of their time volunteering for civic, community and charitable causes.

Freemason Symbol

RsL: A Masonic lodge can be found in pretty much every nation on this world. Are there any differences between the lodges in regards to their charity work? Do they decide independently what cause they are going to support?

Staples: Lodges decide on which charities and causes they wish to support whilst the Masonic Charitable Foundation, our grant-making arm, manages large donations at a national level. The United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) is the governing body for English Freemasonry in England and Wales. A number of Districts are recognised by UGLE and engage with UGLE on a number of matters including protocol and charity. Details of these districts, and lodges recognised by UGLE, can be found on our website

RsL: What are some challenges the fraternity is facing due to the corona-crisis?

Staples: Not being able to take part in our meetings and socialise with friends has been the biggest challenge for our members – both are a huge part of being a Freemason. UGLE has had to consider alternative ways to support and engage our membership in that absence of physical meetings, whilst also ensuring that we step up our support for those struggling at this time. Encouraging virtual social gatherings and taking part in social media initiatives, such as #TimetoToast has been instrumental in nudging our organisation in to the 21st century and we have found that lots of members are reconnecting with friends online.  

RsL: You have established the Freemasons’ COVID-19 Community Fund. Can you talk a little bit about it?

Staples: The Covid-19 Community Fund was created to identify high impact, grass roots projects which we could deliver that would make a real difference supporting the National Effort across the UK to fight coronavirus, or support those suffering as a result of the pandemic. A sum of £1 million has been used to produce 300,000 meals for the vulnerable – often cooked in the kitchens of our Halls and delivered for free by our members. We have collected and donated over 380 tonnes of food for donation to local food banks. Nearly 1000 computer tablets have been donated to care homes and hospitals to enable families to keep in touch, at distance, with their loved ones, and we are supporting women’s refuges, and young carers at this time of increased need. We hope to support the UK in coming out of this tragic time and are investigating initiatives across the country and to make a noticeable and meaningful contribution to our recovery.

RsL: What plans, hopes, fears or expectations do you have for the United Grand Lodge of England?

Staples: My role as chief executive is to modernise the Headquarters and administration of Freemasonry, but most importantly to help the public understand what Freemasonry is, who we are and what we do. We know that 40% of the public have heard of us but have no idea what we do and stand for. At the turn of the 1900s, Freemasons were widely respected in their communities; they had many public roles in society, would take part in public ceremonies for the laying of foundations stones for important civic buildings and public parades. Many famous suffragettes were Freemasons and we were widely respected as good people of conscience. Some would say we lost our way in the latter half of the 20th century, retreating into ourselves more than we ever should. My sincere hope is that we never forget our roots, and focus on helping our members to improve themselves and to improve the society in which they live; that an organisation focussing on Integrity, Respect, Friendship and Charity flourishes in a time when such values are needed more than ever.

Interview with the European Fundraising Association (EFA)

The European Fundraising Association (EFA) is a network of national fundraising associations all over Europe. The organization supports the not-for-profit sector and aims to improve the standard for the fundraising profession.

Eduard Marček, president of EFA and co-founder of the Slovak Fundraising Centre, was kind enough to answer some of my questions regarding EFA’s work, fundraising during the corona-crisis and future goals.


RsL: The European Fundraising Association was founded in 2002. What are some major lessons you have learned when it comes to European fundraising?

EFA: Fundraising has changed dramatically over the past 18 years since EFA was first founded. With rapid advances in technology, we’ve seen new platforms for fundraising emerge, charities embracing digital and social channels, as well as changes in the way that the public choose to give. While there are many differences in how fundraising has grown and developed over the years, across the board we’ve seen a shift to more open and transparent communication, with greater emphasis on donor care.

Demonstrating care for our supporters, beneficiaries and communities is critical and it’s been extremely positive to see charities work so hard to ensure that donors recognize how valued they are.

There has also been growth in the recognition of fundraising as a profession, and now 5,000 people across Europe have invested in an EFA certified fundraising qualification. This shift towards professionalizing the sector is something that EFA and all its members – national fundraising associations – are working hard to achieve, encouraging new talent into the profession and to develop future sector leaders.

RsL: What are some challenges European charity organizations are facing at the moment?

EFA: The pressure that the coronavirus has put on the charity sector is immense. Social distancing measures have heavily restricted the sector’s ability to deliver beneficiary services and, fundraising activities alike. Charities are facing worrying funding shortfalls and are having to seek emergency rescue packages from national governments across Europe. Ultimately, there is real concern as to whether many will be able to make it through this period, how they can afford to retain staff and continue their vital services.

However, in times of adversity we often see new strengths emerge. The coronavirus has certainly accelerated the shift to digital fundraising channels. What’s more, charities are uniting and supporting one another through the crisis. Through this dark time, we’re seeing charities coming together and doing what they do best; protecting the communities around them, whether that is their beneficiaries and supporters, their local community or their workforce and volunteers.

RsL: How would you compare European charity and fundraising with the likes of US or Asian fundraising activities?

EFA: Within Europe there is a myriad of cultures, regulations and tax incentives for charitable giving, so fundraising activities can vary widely from country to country, meaning that it’s difficult to make broad brush comparisons. The great thing about this sector is the willingness to work together to help accelerate social change irrespective of national boundaries. When a new fundraising channel yields results, the emphasis is on sharing what we’ve learnt and helping each other grow.

RsL: Digital streaming and social media have become popular tools to raise awareness about social issues. Has EFA any plans to expand its media presence in the near future, like creating your own TV channel or show?

EFA: As a small organization with limited resources, we find that digital channels and social media are an important way for us to communicate with our members and the wider European fundraising community. We publish regular news, serving as a hub of information for fundraisers, and we host occasional webinars, partnering in the recent Project Everyone conference.

RsL: What are EFA’s plans for 2020? What can we expect?

EFA: Working to support and develop European fundraising, our main focus for this year had been to update our EFA Certification scheme, which means reviewing the core competencies and skills required to be a professional fundraiser. This is progressing well, and we hope to launch the new scheme before the end of the year.

We also aim to open up our membership and welcome more actors in the fundraising industry among our members, not just national fundraising associations. This will help us grow our network and gain stronger voice on the international scene.

Currently, with the coronavirus heavily limiting what charities can do, we’re also exploring how we can increase our support for the sector. This has included developing a hub online to share resources that can help charities fundraise during current times, and participating in virtual events.

RsL: Where do you see EFA in the next 10 years? What are your hopes, wishes or fears?

EFA: I would love EFA to expand and strengthen its network of fundraising bodies, so that we can not only enrich each other with experience and identify common needs, but gain a stronger representative voice. We hope also to play a stronger role in helping the nonprofit sector and fundraising profession grow, partnering with other European and international actors.


Interview with Wings for Life

About 150.00 to 250.000 new spinal cord injuries (SCI) occur each year, primarily caused by road and sport accidents or by a fall. SCI can lead to several different health problems like loss of sensations and paralysis. The Austrian foundation Wings for Life is determined to find a treatment that will help victims of SCI to regain their mobility. The not-for-profit organization was launched in 2004 by two-time motocross world champion Heinz Kinigadner and co-founder of the energy drink company Red Bull, Dietrich Mateschitz. Under the leadership of Anita Gerhardter, Wings for Life has funded 211 SCI projects in 19 countries. The organization was generous to answer some of my questions about its work and projects.


RsL: What are some major lessons Wings for Life has learned in the last 15 years regarding the support of spinal cord injury research? What experiences have you gained?

WfL: Medical research is unfortunately a very complex and a not linear process. It needs lots of effort and patience. It is more about finding little components of a huge mosaic for a profound understanding.

Considering that spinal cord research is a pretty young research discipline we have already reached significant milestones. Due to different of our funded research projects we have nowadays a much better understanding of biological reactions after a spinal cord injury. A profound understanding gives us the possibility to think about developing therapies.

RsL: How many grant seekers are contacting you per year and how many of them are getting approved?

WfL: Each year, we receive up to 250 grant applications from scientists from institutions and universities across the globe. The applications then need to pass a strict selection process. This year, we are able to fund 63 cutting-edge research projects.

RsL: Can you describe how the Accelerated Translational Program (ATP) works? Why is such a program even needed?

WfL: We’ve launched the ATP to “translate” more medical discoveries into actual therapeutic treatments for patients. It is needed as there are so many hurdles at the step from basic research to clinical application. This is not only in our case, but in research in general. The ATP supports the scientists to overcome these hurdles with a combination of money, a network of experts from the different fields and the necessary know-how.

RsL: Can you give us an example of a project that has been granted with the ATP?

WfL: One of our ATP studies, STIMO, received recently a great deal of publicity in the press. STIMO is an innovative rehabilitation program. It combines two different treatments: Epidural electrical stimulation, the application of electrical current to the spinal cord, and robot-assisted walking training. The study is still going on, and the final results will be known within 1-2 years. However, early results are very encouraging. So far, three participants have completed the study and all of them saw their functions improve significantly.

RsL: What events (art, sport, …) are you planning the coming years?

WfL: On top of our agenda is – of course – the Wings for Life World Run. It’s our biggest annual fundraising event where hundreds of thousand people all across the globe run for our cause. It’s huge fun and 100 percent of the entry fees go to spinal cord research.

RsL: One of Red Bull’s subsidiary companies is the Terra Mater Factual Studio. Do you have any plans to co-produce TV-shows or movies with them? I know it may sound far-fetched but you should seriously consider it. Think about James Cameron’s science fiction film Avatar, whose protagonist is a paraplegic. The movie earned more than 2.7 billion dollars at the box office. Now imagine Wings for Life and Terra Mater would have produced the movie. The profit could have been used to fund more spinal cord research.

WfL: In fact, we’re very happy that the Red Bull Media House recently produced an inspiring film Any One of Us. It features the professional mountain biker Paul Basagoitia and the candid journey to beat his devastating spinal cord injury. It has been aired already on the first film festivals and will be available to the general audience hopefully end of this year. The movie is dedicated to Wings for Life and we’ll receive proceeds.  

RsL: If you could change or improve anything about the philanthropic sector (in Austria or worldwide), what would it be?

WfL: Traditionally, philanthropy is not as deeply rooted in our culture as it is in the United Kingdom or the U.S. for example. But we’d say that the situation is quite good and there are so many people being generous and doing something for humanity. Especially at Wings for Life we are very grateful that we receive such a great support. The more people support us the sooner we should reach our goal of finding a cure for spinal cord injury.

Thanks to the Wings for Life – Team for answering my questions!


For more information:

Wings for Life: Website

Wings for Life World Run: Website

Stimulation Movement Overground (STIMO): Website

Any One of Us: Website




Interview with PETA (Germany)

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, better known as PETA, is one of the leading organizations when it comes to animal rights. 400 employees and over 6 million members fight against fur farming, factory farming and animal testing. PETA Germany is celebrating its 25th anniversary – a good reason to ask them about their future plans.

RsL: What PETA projects and campaigns can we expect for 2019 and beyond?

PETA: As long as people continue to use and abuse animals in various ways, we will have to have campaigns to end this exploitation and put an end to speciesism.

RsL: According to WWF’s Living Planet Report 2018, the size of populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians has declined 60% in the last 50 years. Has PETA similar reports or figures about the decline of animal wildlife?

PETA: We don`t have our own figures.

RsL: PETA is known for its controversial ads. Your organization knows very well how to use the media to raise public awareness. Do you think PETA should become a media enterprise on its own to further increase its influence?

PETA: No, we don`t want to be a separate media enterprise.

RsL: We are witnessing the rise of online streaming distribution. WWF has produced a documentary series, Our Planet, in partnership with Netflix. Has PETA a similar collaboration planned with any of the streaming services? What is your long-term strategy regarding streaming platforms?

PETA: We currently have no plans for a similar collaboration with any of the streaming services.

RsL: Has PETA ever considered producing fictional feature films with stories regarding animal issues (like Okja)?

PETA: No, not yet.

RsL: If you could change or improve one aspect about the philanthropic sector, what would it be?

PETA: That more people were actually actively philanthropic during their lifetimes, in other words, committed to improving the world with both their personal visions and financial support.  

Thanks to Harald Ullmann, second chairman of PETA Germany, for the interview!


For more information click on the links below:

PETA International:LINK

PETA Germany: LINK


A Dying World

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) has published the first intergovernmental report of its kind. 145 international experts from 50 countries and 310 contributing authors have worked on the report.

The overall message is: One million plant and animal species are facing extinction, many within decades! The five major reasons for this dramatic development are: alterations in land and sea use, exploitation of organisms, climate change, pollution and invasive alien species.

“Key indirect drivers include increased population and per capita consumption; technological innovation, which in some cases has lowered and in other cases increased the damage to nature; and, critically, issues of governance and accountability. A pattern that emerges is one of global interconnectivity and ‘telecoupling’ – with resource extraction and production often occurring in one part of the world to satisfy the needs of distant consumers in other regions,” said Prof. Brondízio.

The full report will be published later this year.

For more information go to: IPBES


Interview with WWF about upcoming projects and the miserable condition of our planet

For more than five decades, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has been a champion for the preservation of natural habitats. Despite WWF’s many successful campaigns and efforts, the current situation of our environment is rather bleak. According to WWF’s Living Planet Report 2018, the size of populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians has declined 60% in the last 50 years. The World Wildlife Fund is more than ever dedicated to its mission to protect and restore nature. Reason enough to ask WWF about its upcoming projects and plans to save the world.  

RsL: What WWF projects and campaigns can we expect for 2019?

WWF: Some anticipated projects that you can expect for 2019 are Earth Hour, the launch of Our Planet that is in collaboration with Netflix, and the plastics campaign.

Some information about these campaigns: Earth Hour is the world’s largest grassroots movement for the environment. This year’s Earth Hour focused on raising awareness of the importance of nature. You can find some quick facts about Earth Hour here.

The plastics campaign asks people to sign a petition that asks world’s governments to take action for a UN agreement to end plastics leakage into the seas by 2030.

Our Planet, a Netflix series, is created in collaboration with Silverback Productions and WWF that features jaw-dropping nature stories, grounded in the best science, and highlights the most pressing challenges facing nature today.

The main goal we are working towards is the upcoming “Super year” 2020 where we aim to inspire the world to act to show governments and key decision-making bodies that nature matters and we have to protect it. Based on our goals, we decided 5 pillars that will support it in 2019: Brand revolution, Earth Hour, Education, Living Planet Report, and Our Planet.

RsL: What do you hope to accomplish with Our Planet?

WWF: WWF’s Living Planet Report 2018, released in November 2018, presents the stark reality of the impact humans are having on our planet. The report shows that global populations of vertebrate species have declined, on average, by 60 percent since 1970, due in large part to human activities. We now have the solutions and technology to reverse this trend, which involves a transition to a more sustainable use of the planet’s resources. But it is also clear that continued degradation of our planet is unsustainable and will be to the detriment of humanity, as well as the other species and wild places.

Our Planet shows the beauty and wonder of the natural world, but it also highlights the fragility of the planet and the negative impacts of humankind. It shows a path forward by pointing to solutions, so audiences come away understanding not just the threats that face our planet, but also what we can do to save it. The powerful message it conveys will dovetail with a unique opportunity to call on global leaders to commit to urgent action to protect the one place we call home, sending the clear message that it is no longer acceptable to continue to destroy our environment and that urgent action is needed.

RsL: Documentaries are a suitable medium to raise awareness, but movies are more popular and have a much larger audience. Has WWF ever considered producing feature (theatrical) films with stories regarding environmental issues?

WWF: We are not aware of such considerations.

RsL: In the past, WWF has released charity albums like No One’s Gonna Change Our World and Environmentally Sound: A Select Anthology of Songs Inspired by the Earth. Are any other albums planned for the near future?

WWF: We have no plans as of now.  

RsL: How important are social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook for your campaigns? Which one has proven to be the most effective and gave you the best results?

WWF: WWF has over 25 million social media followers. Social media channels are very important for WWF to reach the right audiences with our conservation campaigns. We have a robust audience journey planned for supporters who join our social media channels.

The channel that will be most effective completely depends on the campaign goals. At WWF we believe in continuous testing to see if the messages are resonating with the audience on that particular social media platform. We like to keep the experience on the social media channel rather than driving people out of the experience.


Thanks to Kirmaine Chen and Michael Parsons for the interview!


For more information click on the links below:


LINK: Plastics Petition

LINK: Earth Hour Facts

LINK: Our Planet

LINK: WWF’s Living Planet Report 2018

LINK: Silverback Films



The Human Element Official Trailer

THE HUMAN ELEMENT is a new documentary from the makers of THE COVE, RACING EXTINCTION and CHASING ICE directed by Matthew Testa and produced in association with the Earth Vision Institute. You can rent or download the film on iTunes.

The official synopsis:

„With rare compassion and heart, THE HUMAN ELEMENT follows environmental photographer James Balog on his quest to highlight Americans on the frontlines of climate change, inspiring us to re-evaluate our relationship with the natural world.“



Link: Earth Vision Institute



Teaching girls martial-arts to combat sexual violence

The Austrian aid organisation SONNE-International is offering young Indian women martial-arts courses so they can defend themselves against sexual violence.

SONNE-International was founded by Chairman Erfried Malle and the Styrian physician Dr. Susanne Prügger in 2002. Their mission is to support education and training to decrease poverty. Their strategy is „to help people to help themselves”. Target groups are children and adolescents, women and underprivileged communities in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India and Myanmar.

According to their website, their methods are:

  • Partnerships:

„We choose, conceive and implement the projects together with our local partners in a participatory manner. The partners are responsible for conducting the project on site, for writing regular reports, for administering the finances and for carrying out annual audit reports. SONNE-International provides the financial means, administers, controls and evaluates the projects and keeps contact with the funding bodies and with major as well as small donors.“

  • Gender equality: 

„We put particular emphasis on gender equality when conceiving our projects as well as with regard to their execution, administration and management.“

For more information about the organisation and its projects visit the homepage: SONNE-International


Any story suggestions?

Because of the overwhelming amount of philanthropic activities and efforts, it can be quite a challenge to find the right story to report about. If you have any recommendations or suggestions what I should write about (news, projects or humanitarian organisation) let me know. Or maybe some of you have an inspiring story to tell how you or somebody you know has improved the world?

Send a mail to: info [AT] readingsaves [DOT] org



Interview with Greenpeace, Red Cross and UNICEF about philanthropy & entertainment

Money, or lack thereof, is a major concern in the world of philanthropy. The funding process is a challenging and exhausting experience, even soul-crushing. Securing financial support for a charity or development project can decide about life and death. Even if you successfully accomplish the task and gather enough money, another urgent cause will emerge soon after. It is a never-ending battle. The budget and good will of generous donors have a limit, though.

I pitched the idea that the philanthropic sector should adapt to the ways of the entertainment industry by producing and selling movies, video games and books. They are huge moneymakers. Money that could be used to finance development programmes.

I have asked several organisations for their opinion on this matter. Three of them were kind enough to answer my questions:

This interview has been edited for content and clarity.

ReadingSaves: What is your opinion about the partnership between the entertainment industry and your organization?

Mang: Partnerships with the entertainment industry have helped to raise awareness as well as funds for UNICEF. Fame has some clear benefits in certain roles with UNICEF. Celebrities attract attention, so they are in a position to focus the world’s eyes on the needs of children, both in their own countries and by visiting field projects and emergency programs abroad. They can make direct representations to those with the power to effect change. They can use their talents and fame to fundraise and advocate for children and support UNICEF’s mission to ensure every child’s right to health, education, equality and protection.

Marecek: Cooperation with celebrities can definitely raise awareness for certain causes. The Red Cross Red Crescent Movement and many other organisations carry out campaigns with celebrities.

Carretero: At Greenpeace, we have a strong history of working with Key Influencers and have seen time and time again the positive impact they have had on our campaigns and projects. They have helped us to access new channels and platforms, reach new audiences, and have given us the opportunity to test and try a range of innovative projects that otherwise might not be possible.

Key Influencers also strengthen the people-powered campaigning that we do. Their support can have a significant impact on mobilization (for example, boosting petition signatures), which can have a considerable effect on our campaign outcomes. They also help to increase public awareness, typically through attracting major media attention to a campaign or action. Celebrities and influencers can also have major impacts on our fundraising, particularly through making appeals to our supporter bases or even through contributing personally. They can be wonderful incentives for our supporters to purchase tickets to our events, and can introduce us to influential networks of their own, which can help us both programmatically and financially.

Key influencers also help us to influence big decision-making bodies – whether that be world leaders, governments, CEO’s of companies, etc. They can make groups like Greenpeace more relevant, and help to validate the work that we do. They also share our stories and act as a familiar voice that helps to build trust and bring in a range of new audiences. We are incredibly grateful for the influencers we work with and the multitude of others who are supporting charities, as they are using their platform to create real change at a time when it is needed most. They have a very unique ability to really engage people in a deep and meaningful way, and we are so appreciative for what they do.


ReadingSaves: Do you think selling entertainment products (books, movies, video games) could help your cause?

Mang: Examples for current partnerships with the entertainment industry: Disney Partnership (Link) and Paddington Movie (Link).

Marecek: The Red Cross is open to cooperate with many industry sectors. Of course partnerships between the entertainment sector and humanitarians have the possible potential to be fruitful. The core competence of humanitarians is to deliver aid to those in need. I think that should be the contribution of the humanitarian sector – also in cooperations with the entertainment industry.

Carretero: While selling products such as video games, movies, toys, etc. can be a great business model for some groups, Greenpeace typically avoids mass production of products, as we believe that there is already enough ’stuff‘ being produced in the world today. We try to incorporate Key Influencers into our story, into our campaigns, and into the every day work we are doing to protect the planet. We have typically avoided selling items or manufacturing products to further engage with influencers or the entertainment industry, but understand that it may work for other organizations.

Christoph Topitschnig