Unusual ways to change the world: a quick look at some quirky charities.

Contrary to the public perception, not all charities appeal for donations. Only around a third of the money charities receive every year comes from donations and legacies from members of the public. I think a nice way of illustrating the sheer range of activities is to provide some quirkier examples from the register.

1. The estate agent.


Photo credit:digallager / flickr

Estate agents don't have the best reputation, but Andrews can is wholly owned by the Andrews Trust. They might still exaggerate how much sun a property gets in the afternoon, but 100% of their profits are used for charitable purposes.

Their founder Cecil Jackson-Cole had a remarkable track record of what would perhaps now be called "venture philanthropy" helping to found and scale up some of the UK's most successful charities including Oxfam, Action Aid, Help the Aged, and through them Anchor - the UK's largest housing association.

2. The architects

A similar set up sees the profits from Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners architects practice distributing their profits through the Thames Wharf Charity. The rationale for this is explained on the practice's social awareness page: "No individual owns any share in the value of the Practice. In this way, private trading and inheritance of shares is eliminated and any residual value is returned to society through the Charitable Trust.". This sits alongside a commitment not to produce work directly related to war or which contributes to the extensive pollution of the environment. Their most famous recently completed building is Heathrow Terminal 5

Charities control £97billion worth of assets - the Garfield Weston Foundation controls British Associated Foods Plc, and also owns the luxury department store Fortnum and Mason, while the Wellcome Trust alone controls £14.8bn of investments, and is a major player in the pharmaceutical industry.

3. The competitive ploughers

The World Ploughing Organisation takes the old adage of turning swords into ploughshares seriously - I love the fact that this charity exists, and I love the idealism reflected in its aims. urban nerd , seeking through competitive ploughing, " to encourage fellowship and understanding amongst the peoples of all races, nationalities and of different affiliation." Operates on a relatively small scale, but as far as I am concerned, there is something brilliant about a sport which had the potential to bring together the people of Lithuania and Lincolnshire, even if a list of past events reveals that there were no forays behind the Iron Curtain.

Since the Charities Act 2005, the promotion of amateur sport has in itself been a charitable purpose. I'm hoping that Third Sector will eventually recognize this by introducing a sports section, that could perhaps bring competitive ploughing to a wider audience. They've got exactly one year until the 59th World Ploughing Contest in Croatia to make this happen

All figures come from the NCVO's UK Civil Society Almanac 2010 - they are a little out of date, but we are beavering away on the next one

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