Captain Tom Moore, 99, who raised more than £14m for NHS charities © Peter Cziborra/Reuters

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It has been the feel-good story of the crisis. Captain Tom Moore, a 99-year-old veteran, has incredibly raised more than £14m and counting for NHS Charities Together this week by walking 100 lengths of his garden before his 100th birthday.

The success of his online fundraiser, which started with the aim of raising the modest sum of £1,000, shows how giving can make us feel good in troubled times. 

I highlight it here, because unfortunately there are plenty of charities that urgently need to feel the same level of generosity.

Not all are directly engaged in the battle against Covid-19, but this crisis is stretching their resources to breaking point and donations are falling (charity shops, a crucial source of revenue, remain shuttered under lockdown, and scores of sponsored events such as fun runs have been cancelled).

Many philanthropists and foundations are already responding by increasing their giving and being more flexible with grant-making — the Gates Foundation more than doubled its donation to the fight against the coronavirus pandemic this week. 

So what can we do? Judging by FT reader comments, philanthropy is central to many of you who agonise about how to give away your fortunes.

Do you create a focused foundation with targets and timescales, give it all to the offspring, or disinherit them for their own good?

If you happen to be one of the 200 ultra wealthy family foundations recently examined by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors and Campden Wealth, should you aim for measured giving-in-perpetuity or, more fashionably, spend down with a stated date by which the coffers should be empty? 

Encouragingly, this study found that philanthropy was highly prized by the “next generation” — over 80 per cent of whom reported involvement with their families’ philanthropic activities. 

My own philanthropic conundrums are more modest, given my homeopathic-sized disposable income.

An example of Jane Owen’s handmade ceramics © Jane Owen

My husband and I are raising money for Helen & Douglas House, a local hospice, and for Cancer Research which is looking at a 25 per cent drop in fundraising income on top of diverting some of its resources to the battle against Covid-19.

We are hoping to raise money by making ceramics to sell during Oxfordshire Art Week this May. It has not been going well.

My hands don’t work properly at the moment and I am an inexperienced potter. My husband is experienced and has good hands, but a recent kiln-full of objects, including many of the husband’s very saleable cups and bowls, overheated and turned to dust.

We are now in overdrive to catch up, but I doubt either charity is holding its breath. We’ll be lucky to raise as much as a couple of hundred pounds which is a poor return on months of painstaking and frustrating work.

Forget The Great Pottery Throw Down: potters on that show are anomalous geniuses who create the fantasy that potting is easy, apart from the occasional teeth-grinding moments which Channel 4 has introduced in order to maintain the tension and jeopardy required by most telly companies.

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In the aftermath of the kiln malfunction we sat in our freezing studio (the kiln lives elsewhere) and went through the figures. 

We work in porcelain which is extravagant at roughly £2 a kilo (stoneware is about half that). One of my big dishes costs 50p in clay, the glaze slightly less. I use transparent glaze alone given that I can barely cope with decisions about shapes for my hand-built (ahem) abstract forms.

Husband throws his cups, jugs and bowls on a wheel and uses all kinds of glazes and slips including Copper Blush, a copper-blue-with-rosy-tints glaze that he and a fellow potter invented. The total bill for the materials will probably come to less than £1 a pot.

The energy bill for the wretched kiln may come to about £1 an item with 100 kWh to cover 20 pots being fired twice (for bisque and then glaze).

So a very rough total for each piece comes to under £2 without factoring in the cost of studio space or equipment depreciation.

This brings us to the vexed question of pricing. Do we try to persuade potential buyers to fork out £30 a piece because of the wonderful and original quality of the craftsmanship? (This is very original in my case — albeit not always in a good way, as my pottery teacher once observed). Or should we instead aim to sell the lot along BOGOF lines bringing in, say, £3 per piece?

None of this takes into account the cost of our time. Some pieces take several days to make. Days of rage, frustration and in my case very bad language. How should we cost all this? My husband’s financial skills (he worked in the City) are in demand. My writing and garden design skills less so, but that is the lot of so-called creatives.

Get in touch

Jane Owen wants to hear about readers’ philanthropic ventures. Are you an advocate of giving in perpetuity, or spend down? How have you involved the next generation and, if you intend to leave a significant amount of your wealth charity, how do they feel about this? Readers can leave thoughts in the comments section below or email oldmoney@FT.com

The other cost was to have been the private view scheduled for May, which sadly has become another Covid-19 hole in the calendar. In any case, the PV figures were not encouraging. We were planning to invite around 100 friends, all of whom may well have felt obliged to fork out in order to save us the ignominy of selling nothing. In other words, we might well have been accused of bribing friends with a couple of glasses of wine and some ready-salted crisps, totalling around £250. 

Instead, in May, we will upload images of our work on the Oxfordshire Art Weeks website (look for David & Jane Gye) which is great, but lacks the touchy-feely sensuality of being able to examine the real things.

We would probably do better for our chosen charities by forgetting the ceramics and PV and dividing the money we would have spent on the ceramics, kiln, glaze, drinks and crisps between the two organisations.

From a purely financial point of view the lamentably small return for our charities makes the process look irrational. We give considerably more in our annual philanthropic budget. 

On the other hand, I will comfort myself with the belief that we will help raise awareness about these two excellent charities.

Jane Owen is the former deputy editor of FTWeekend

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