Queen Elizabeth II was a steadfast global leader for generations, but her influence was also felt locally in the United Kingdom where she championed hundreds of homegrown charities.
The queen, who died Thursday at the age of 96 after 70 years on the throne, was a patron of more than 600 “charities, military associations, professional bodies, and public service organizations in the United Kingdom,” according to some counts. All senior members of the British royal family are patrons of charities; the role consists of promoting the charity by visiting the organization or by hosting events.
Queen Elizabeth II’s favorite causes
In keeping with the queen’s role as a bastion of British tradition, her patron charities tended to be “pretty safe and uncontroversial,” said Caroline Fiennes, director of Giving Evidence, a U.K.-based philanthropy advisory and research organization that conducted a 2020 analysis of royal charity patronages.
“The list of her patronages is very broad — one suspects deliberately so,” Fiennes told MarketWatch.
The queen’s patron charities included high-profile arts organizations such as the Royal Opera House and military-related groups like Blind Veterans UK, as well as organizations helping the elderly, children and animals.
Also on the list: London Catalyst, a group working to alleviate poverty and social inequality in London; Norwood, which serves children who have learning disabilities or autism; and Motability, a group supporting the transportation needs of people with disabilities, according to a 2019 list compiled by Giving Evidence.
In general, charities with royal patrons are concentrated geographically in areas where the royals have houses or titles, Fiennes said. They’re “disproportionately in London, the South East and South West of England — where the Royals’ main residences are — while more deprived regions seem under-represented,” Giving Evidence’s 2020 report found.
The royals also typically become patrons of large, well-funded organizations; their revenue is on average nearly 30 times larger than the average U.K. charity, according to the Giving Evidence analysis.
The newer generation of royals like Prince William and his wife Kate “seem like they might be willing to engage with slightly edgier causes” such as mental health, for example, which may reflect something of the influence of the late Diana, Princess of Wales, said Rhodri Davies, a U.K.-based philanthropy expert.
How much the royals donate to charity
Patronage doesn’t involve the royals donating their own money to the charity. It’s not clear whether the queen — who was worth an estimated $500 million according to Forbes — donated her own money to charities.
“We know very very little about charitable giving by HMQ,” Fiennes told MarketWatch. “I think I know of literally no gifts at all from her. That doesn’t mean there weren’t any, of course: Brits talk about money much less than some other countries do.”
Some research suggests that a royal patronage raises charities’ profiles and may help them raise money too. Some 8% of respondents in a 2022 U.K. survey said they were more likely to donate to a charity if it was supported by a royal, and 25% said they “think they have heard about charities and appeals they might not otherwise have known about because of Royal support,” the survey, by the Charities Aid Foundation, found.
“During 70 years of remarkable service, the queen demonstrated an unstinting passion for charities and ensured her patronage of hundreds of good causes was integral to her public duties,” said Neil Heslop OBE, chief executive of Charities Aid Foundation. ”Her Majesty provided inspiring support and encouragement to staff, volunteers and trustees throughout the charity sector. Her generosity, kindness and constancy are irreplaceable.”
‘Their philanthropic role has become central to their being’
By one count, the queen helped raise more than £ 1.4 billion for her patronage charities in her first 60 years on the throne, the Guardian reported in 2012.
However, Giving Evidence’s 2020 analysis of royal patronages couldn’t find a discernible effect on charities’ revenues from royal patronage. “Of course, revenue isn’t everything and Royal patronages may have effects on other things, eg., beneficiaries, staff morale,” Fiennes noted at the time.
“Queen Elizabeth undoubtedly had an influence on charitable giving in Britain, as she did on so many areas of British life over her remarkably long reign,” Davies said.
Davies noted that some observers, including the British historian Frank Prochaska, “argue that as the royal family’s active role in governing has diminished, their philanthropic role has become central to their being. To the extent that they are now effectively a ‘welfare monarchy,’ whose main function is to act as fundraisers and figureheads for charitable causes.”
As for research suggesting royal patronage doesn’t help charities’ bottom lines, Davies said: “This may be true, but for most charities with royal patrons the real value is not financial but symbolic. This was particularly the case with the queen, whose role as a figurehead and point of constancy in British life was so important for so many, that any endorsement by her was undoubtedly seen as hugely valuable by those charities fortunate enough to receive it.”
Donations poured in after Diana’s death
Will the queen’s patron charities see an influx of donations honoring the late monarch? That remains to be seen.
Charities that Diana, Princess of Wales, supported were inundated with donations averaging $260,000 a day in the days following her 1997 death, the New York Times reported then. Diana was a patron of 100 charities when she was married to Charles, Prince of Wales, but after their divorce she said she would focus primarily on six causes: “children’s hospitals, AIDS patients, the homeless, leprosy patients, cancer hospitals and the English National Ballet,” the Times reported in 1997.
“It’s hard to know how public reaction to the queen’s death will compare to that seen when Princess Diana died,” Davies said. “I suspect the context is quite different given their ages etc,. And certainly when it comes to charities the queen certainly wasn’t identified with particular causes or campaigns in the way Diana was, so any charitable giving response is likely to be much more diffuse I would think.”
‘The Queen, through her faith, leads by example’
Those included a patronage of Mothers’ Union, an international Christian group that supports families, that was passed down from Queen Victoria. The group posted a statement honoring the queen, and linked to a 2021 post about the queen’s role.
“More cynical individuals may ask what the queen actually does for them, since she wields no real power and her role for the most part is merely symbolic,” the post said. “Yet these people are perhaps missing an obvious point in that the queen, through her faith, leads by example. In carrying out her royal duties with grace and dignity she has been a symbol of inspiration for many both within the United Kingdom, across the Commonwealth and in many other countries.”