Cecil Jackson-Cole: Britain’s First Philanthrocapitalist?

Tuesday 12 March 2019

Cecil Jackson-Cole’s legacy in shaping post-war philanthropy remains largely unrecognised. He was a restless social entrepreneur and philanthropist who thrust new thinking into the sleepy, post war charity sector and whose legacies include Oxfam, ActionAid and venture philanthropy. A decade ago Bishop and Green coined the term ‘philanthrocapitalism’, when they envisioned successful business entrepreneurs as the next evolutionary step in philanthropy. Seventy years earlier Jackson Cole was pioneering an entrepreneurial approach to building successful charitable ventures[a].

By Rob John, Associate of the Centre for the Study of Philanthropy & Public Good


Last summer I picked up a press release on the proposed merger of two UK non-profit housing associations – Anchor and Hanover – to create the largest provider of specialist housing and care for older people in England. This was not exceptional news in what is such a turbulent sector, but what caused me to stop and think was Anchor’s relationship to one of the most beneficially disruptive figures in modern British philanthropy: Cecil Jackson-Cole.

Early days in the East End

Cecil Jackson-Cole was born in modest and difficult circumstances in the east end of London in 1901[i]. With his father mobilised during the Great War, Jackson-Cole forwent education beyond the age of 12 in order to support his mother and siblings by picking up odd jobs in the City of London. He was a natural salesman and entrepreneur. After the war his father bought an ailing furniture and lettings business called Andrews & Sons. Young Jackson-Cole became manager and two years later, aged 19, bought out his father with savings prudently accumulated from his wartime jobs.  By his early 30s Jackson-Cole had burned out while building his business in tough economic times and retreated to a nursing home with mental and physical stress. It is during this interlude that Jackson-Cole reflected on his faith and values to shape the course his life should take.

Oxford – the Turning Point

During the intense wartime bombing of London Jackson-Cole relocated his family and key business interests to Oxford.  This was to be a formative move in his thinking about charity and business.  Jackson-Cole lived in Boar’s Hill, a short distance outside the city. His neighbour was Gilbert Murray, a retired professor of Greek at the university. Murray was amongst a small group of Oxford dignitaries who had formed a support group for the National Famine Relief Committee, set up in 1942 to advocate on behalf of the Greek people, who were suffering widespread starvation during the wartime naval blockade. The support group called itself the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief, and in December 1942 Jackson-Cole offered his services as its Honorary Secretary. He would transform this small initiative into a global development agency.

The First Experiments

Little has been written about Jackson-Cole, widely known as ‘CJC’ by friends and colleagues. One exception is Maggie Black’s 1992 biography of Oxfam, A Cause for Our Times[ii], which celebrated its first 50 years. Her book is notable for crediting CJC as the driving force behind the creation of Oxfam. Black describes Jackson-Cole as ‘this eccentric philanthropist [who] decided to take up the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief in which he would find expression for his particular sense of mission’. Jackson-Cole’s audacity was to bring entrepreneurial flair and hard-nosed business-thinking to the sleepy, conservative world of charity.  To grasp just how disruptive this was at the time, one has to remember that in the 1940s most charities were the preserve of the great and good, organisations with noble intent but unprofessionalised, risk averse and without modern fundraising practices. In the spring of 1943 CJC galvanised the Oxford Committee into action by organising the fundraising for the Greek Red Cross.  He was not only to shake up this modest university charitable venture; it was the beginning of a transformation of the whole charitable sector in UK.

The first fundraising drive began by appealing to university members, which quickly widened to involve the whole of Oxford city. CJC was an accomplished organiser who recruited dignitaries and mobilised volunteers; he opened a gift shop in the city centre that raised £3,000 in under a fortnight (the equivalent of nearly £135,000 today). He kept up momentum through repeated appeals and published the names of even the most modest donors in local newspapers. When the appeal was closed the equivalent of over half a million pounds had been raised for the Greek Red Cross.

The Beginning of Oxfam

At the end of the war, the network of famine relief committees in cities across England gradually disbanded. With considerable prescience CJC predicted a continuing role for a charity that would meet poverty and suffering in post-war Europe. His experimentation with the Oxford Committee had successfully developed an efficient fundraising model on a modest footing; and surely, if something worked it should be scaled. His first step was to second a manager from Andrews & Partners (the estate agency business he set up that would later open a branch in Oxford). CJC always viewed his business as a resource for developing charities and as a vehicle for its staff to actively engage in charitable work. An early recruitment poster for Andrews encouraged potential staff to join “a Company which gives a third of its profits to the staff, a third to charity and the remaining third for the organisation.”

Image: First Oxfam shop, Broad St, Oxford

In the 1940s charities seldom employed professional staff, relying instead on volunteers and unpaid trustees. By 1948 the Oxford Committee was directed by Leslie Swain, one of CJC’s most capable business managers, who received a modest salary from the charity, topped up by the business. To bring someone from the private sector into an executive role in a charity was years ahead of its time.  Swain improved the original gift shop on Broad Street and transformed it into a business that would provide funds for the Oxford Committee. By turning what we would call today ‘pop-up’ premises into a permanent, managed business was arguably the beginning of the charity shop sector – today charity stores across Britain turn over £270 million and engage nearly a quarter of a million volunteers.

CJC also introduced the charity world to advertising. In 1946 he instructed Andrews to pay £55 for advertisements in The Timeson behalf of the Oxford Committee – an extravagance when print space was still subject to post-war rationing. He raised £1,200, proving to sceptical, risk adverse trustees that such investments could yield substantial returns[iii]. Way ahead of his time, CJC used codes in return addresses to analyse the cost benefit of using different newspapers and ad formats. And he scrupulously ensured all donations received a thank-you letter signed by a prominent dignitary. In the advertisements the Oxford Committee was referred to as ‘Oxfam’ to save space, and what was originally its telegraphic address became the public name of what would become world’s most prominent development agency. Advertising was ramped up during the 1950s. Appeals on BBC Radio followed in the next decade, each carefully planned and promoted to maximise the public’s generosity and promote the name and impact of Oxfam. Seeing far beyond the transformation of the Oxford-based charity, CJC envisaged an international dimension as early as the 1950s. In the 1960s sister organisations were established in Canada and Belgium, laying the groundwork for Oxfam International, which is today a global federation of 20 agencies.

In 1959 a pastor from the Hong Kong branch of the Lutheran World Federation was invited to speak at Oxfam’s World Refugee Year conference. Ahead of the event he dispatched to Oxfam a box full of handicrafts made by Chinese refugees. Here is a rare example of CJC missing an opportunity, for Oxfam did not at the time see the potential of selling such exotic items to raise funds. A conference participant from the Huddersfield Famine Relief Committee did, however, and ‘Hudfam’ began importing and selling refugee handicrafts as a fundraising and awareness raising tool[iv]. A few years later Oxfam caught up with Huddesfield and in 1964 set up Oxfam Activities Ltd as the trading arm that would formalise the cycling of profits back into charitable work and foreshadow the Fairtrademovement.

It took the business-minded Jackson-Cole to see a need, spot opportunities and use all the pragmatic wiliness of an entrepreneur to transform not just a small charity but a whole sector. CJC remained formally involved with Oxfam until 1966, and long after in an ‘emeritus’ role. Maggie Black says that “for the first 12 years of its life, Oxfam owed more to Jackson-Cole than to any other individual.”

The Serial Social Entrepreneur

Older people were a particularly vulnerable group during the Second World War in Britain. A number of ‘Old People’s Welfare Committees’ were formed, which later became Age Concern. In 1961, while still heavily involved with Oxfam, CJC launched a fundraising drive to address the plight of older people caught up in natural and conflict-related disasters in the former Yugoslavia, ‘East Pakistan’ (now Bangladesh) and Rwanda – called the Help the Aged Refugees Appeal. The fundraising appeal became Help the Aged, then opened a trading shop in Bexhill, and successfully raised money for projects with older people overseas and in the UK. The new charity campaigned for better day care and specialised housing for the elderly. Jackson-Cole brought to this new venture his experience of growing Oxfam and his deep understanding of the housing market as the founder of an estate agency business. In 1968 CJC created the Help the Aged (Oxford) Housing Association to provide sheltered housing, and by 1972 financed new build properties, diversifying into rental and leasehold accommodation. Three years later the housing association was renamed Anchor (to merge in 2018 with Hanover to become the largest provider of care and housing for older people). Help the Aged itself continued to thrive as a charity and in 2009 merged with Age Concern, with its international work continuing as Age International. All this organisation and field building was set in motion with astonishing foresight and skill many decades earlier by Jackson-Cole.

In 1972 CJC became an early pioneer of child sponsorship in developing countries. He launched Action in Distress to match 88 UK donors with 88 children in India and Kenya. The initiative was successful and over the next decade grew rapidly to include development projects in Rwanda, Burundi and The Gambia that focused on the whole family rather than individual children. Action in Distress became ActionAid, another highly respected international development and advocacy organisation active today.

As far back as the 1940s CJC established his personal Settlement Fund to manage income from his business interests. In the 1950s an informal committee called the Help for Vital Causes Groupcoordinated the role played by Andrews’ staff in the charities CJC funded.  This later became Voluntary and Christian Service(VCS) – arguably the first ‘venture philanthropy’ model. It was through VCS that initiatives such as Help the Aged, ActionAid and housing associations were incubated before spinning out as independent charities.

Anticipating Venture Philanthropy

Combining early stage funding with advice on strategy and operations is the heart of what became known as venture philanthropy. This approach was clearly intuitive for CJC, who serially grew charitable ventures using his own risk capital, volunteers from his business and the marketing and fundraising tools that were, until then, the preserve of the commercial sector. Voluntary and Christian Service embodied this approach during a decade of experimental philanthropy. In 1965 CJC created his first endowed charitable trusts, Phyllis Trust, named after his first wife, and the Christian Initiative Trust. These, and a third created after his death, became the only shareholders of his business, Andrews & Partners. This bold move codified the relationship between the business and the charities it incubated. The company was covenanted to pay a dividend to the shareholding trusts, giving each its annual cash flow for grantmaking. Phyllis Trust was the major shareholder and recipient of the largest portion of dividend. The trust was later renamed World in Need(WIN) during a period when Alec Reed (the entrepreneur and philanthropist) chaired the company and the trust. In the 1980s WIN was an early supporter of charities that addressed the newly identified AIDS epidemic, and in the 1990s was a key supporter of the emerging microcredit sector.

Image: Cecil Jackson-Cole

In 1996 I joined the team of Opportunity Trust, part of a global network of microcredit organisations – providing small loans to entrepreneurs in developing countries.  When attending the charity’s board meetings as a programme manager, I was struck by the number of trustees who represented our major donor at the time – World in Need. That was my first exposure to this highly unusual, but effective practice of a cornerstone donor being intimately involved in managing the growth of a charity it supported. Five years later I was recruited as the director of World in Need. As well as identifying social entrepreneurs for World in Need to back from idea to sustainable organisation, I began writing widely about Jackson-Cole’s prescience in philanthropy, by anticipating the venture philanthropy model that was usually thought of as an American invention. The period 2000 – 2005 was a formative one for the development of social investment in the UK. There was considerable interest in innovative philanthropies and financing for the emerging social enterprise sector. WIN began experimenting with programme related investment in early stage social enterprises (in collaboration with new players such as Venturesome) while continuing its more traditional role in engaged grant making. WIN was the first institutional funder to back Impetus Trust, with a grant of £50,000. Impetus, later to merge with the Private Equity Foundation, became the UK’s dominant new venture philanthropy initiative.

The consulting firm Monitor recognised that World in Need had a unique history in this form of engaged philanthropy in the UK. In 2002 the firm offered pro bono consultancy to the WIN trustees to provide them with options for scaling up. Jackson-Cole would have instinctively embraced the opportunity to achieve more social impact by growing a proven model. The trustees, however, were split between maintaining status quo and an ambitious growth plan that would involve raising funds beyond the company dividend. Following a boardroom ‘reorganisation’ and the departure of its executive director and chair, World in Need rebranded as Andrews Charitable Trust to continue its mission much as before the consultancy. It was also a turning point for the business, which began to openly describe and market its unusual ownership structure and charitable involvement, and encouraged many more of its employees to volunteer for charitable work[v].

The CJC Legacy

As an effective businessman Jackson-Cole had both strategic vision and the pragmatic ability to get things done. He cajoled, encouraged, built coalitions, but showed little patience for convention. His intuitions about how to achieve social change in a business-like way foreshadow modern, organised philanthropy, perhaps foreshadowing what Matthew Bishop and Michael Green coined ‘philanthrocapitalism’ in 2008[vi].  Their portmanteau attempts to capture the problem-solving, opportunity-seeking spirit of the entrepreneur who builds businesses, shapes industries, and who applies this skillset to their philanthropy.  This ‘hyperagency’ of the wealthy business-philanthropist is rightly debated, and indeed the subject of study at CSPPG.

Jackson-Cole was a canny entrepreneur who went about the business of giving in much the same way he built his company, with an eye for management talent and a well-honed marketing message.  Virtually all the organisations he founded or transformed still exist today and many are household names. He pioneered company volunteering, professionalisation of the charity sector, the charity shop industry, advertising for fundraising, child sponsorship, social housing and venture philanthropy – motivated by a desire to support the “marginalised and distressed at home and abroad.”

In November 2001 an evensong at Westminster Abbey commemorated the centenary of CJC’s birth. The modest gathering was a quiet celebration of the remarkable life of an individual who disrupted the comfortable ways of the charity sector and brought it into a new era. His story deserves a much wider audience.


Rob John

Rob is an independent philanthropy researcher based in Cambridge and an Associate of the Centre for the Study of Philanthropy & Public Good at the University of St Andrews. From 2000 – 2004 he was the Executive Director of World in Need and Christian Initiative Trust. Rob was the first director of the European Venture Philanthropy Association and is co-founder of the Asian Venture Philanthropy Network. He has held visiting research fellowships at business schools in Oxford and Singapore. He can be contacted via https://about.me/robjohn


[i]He was named Albert Cecil Cole at birth but later took his mother’s maiden name, Jackson, and dropped his father’s name Albert. His father was an unsuccessful shopkeeper who drank heavily and created a difficult home life for his son.

[ii]Maggie Black, A Cause for Our Times: Oxfam, the first 50 years, Oxford (1992). The author has drawn extensively from the sections in this book dealing with Jackson-Cole.

[iii]The Bodleian Library has many interesting archives of the Oxford Committee, including newspaper cuttings and committee minutes  https://blogs.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/archivesandmanuscripts/tag/cecil-jackson-cole/


[v]The Andrews Group website now contains a description of Jackson-Cole and his relationship to the company and its charitable work https://www.andrewsonline.co.uk/cecil-jackson-cole

[vi]Philanthrocapitalism: How the Rich Can save the World (2008), Matthew Bishop & Michael Green. Bloomsbury Press: London


[a]This is an edited version of the author’s article in Philanthropy Impact online, October 2018



Blue Plaque at the Oxfam Shop, Oxford – © Rob John

Cecil Jackson-Cole – part of a wider image of attendees at the Oxfam Summer Conference 1962, Oxfam Archive, Bodleian Libraries

First Oxfam Shop, Broad Street, Oxford – © Rob John


Posted in