Simon Blake, outgoing chair of Stewardship, shares his thoughts after almost 14 years of service.
How has Stewardship changed over your time as a trustee?
I am leaving a very different organisation to the one I joined. I have worked with three different chief executives, appointing the last two. We have changed culture from an Essex-based charity out in Debden to a vibrant London City-based organisation, a significant change for the existing staff but also one which gives us access to a much wider talent pool.
One pivotal moment came in 2017 when I realised that a clear focus on growth was the key factor in making us both sustainable and successful – I kind of threw my toys out of the pram, but it was then that we decided to challenge ourselves to achieve a target of £250 million gifts out within five years. And that became central to Stewardship’s business plan and vision for all of the staff.
Has this role changed or challenged your views about generosity and giving?
The role has transformed my own appreciation of generosity and its potential outside pure financial giving. After a weekend away with Stewardship and Generous Journey where we had expected to be focussed on money, my wife and I began to understand the wider aspects of generosity, and one surprising outcome was that we felt challenged to kickstart our application to become foster parents, which had otherwise taken a back seat in our family life.
What have been some of the highlights?
My passion is: how do we build God’s kingdom here on earth? One of my goals has been the challenge to move half of Stewardship’s investment portfolio from the general stocks and bonds into kingdom purpose investments. We are on our way to achieve this with social investment funds, a larger loan book for churches and charities and the acquisition of Kingdom Bank.
Kingdom purpose investments have more than simply financial impact, and the obvious place is Stewardship’s loan portfolio, which has grown from £5million to £26million over the 14 years, with dozens of new churches built along the way.
I have also been encouraging Stewardship to use its £200million balance sheet increasingly for kingdom investment. And we are making good progress. We place some of the balance sheet in cash for liquidity, some of it in church and Christian charity loans, social housing and other property or now the new facility with Cazenove Capital. Stewardship is also investing in a social impact invest fund which, working alongside charity partners, will deliver safe and affordable homes for vulnerable women who need them most.
In some ways I have been surprised that Stewardship’s balance sheet has always grown. During the financial crisis in 2008, during the pandemic, it seems when hard times hit, Christians seem to give more. Now we have a new challenge with huge increases in cost of living, and I think Stewardship needs to drive the teaching that now is not the time to reduce giving. If anything, mature discipleship means thinking about the challenges charities and churches will face with extra costs, and our giving should increase rather than decrease.
And equally, what have been the challenges?
Probably two things. There’s the ongoing challenge that Stewardship wants to do more and therefore spend more and frequently faces deficit budgets in order to invest in doing more good. But secondly there is always the challenge of managing people; it can be a lonely place but it is the job of the chair, albeit supported by some fantastic trustees past and present that I have had the joy of working with.
Are you leaving a different Stewardship to the one you started with?
I think so. It is three times as big and we are far more international now with our partnership with TrustBridge and Stewardship America. We are not just a Christian professional services organisation; we are much broader. Social media and the period we ran 40acts raised Stewardship’s profile in the Christian community and made us much better known. Our profile has meant we also have an increasing voice with national and charity leaders , especially with the conversations we had with the Government during lockdown.
What are you going to miss?
Definitely people! Stewardship has been a place where I have been able to use my financial skills for God and I am going to miss the challenge. Usually you use your business experience and skillset to help a charity, but it was the opposite from what I was expecting; my trustee experience has certainly enhanced my day job. I was only 35 when I became a trustee and it was an active decision to become a trustee at a relatively young age, not as a semi retiree.
What causes do you support and why?
Bible, Children and Youth and our church are the causes we support. I am a big believer in gospel first and I am passionate about bible translation. I am excited by the goal that the global fundraiser IllumiNations have set that by 2033 there is a bible in every single language, which means that 3,654 languages still need to have a bible translation.
Meanwhile, given our children are both adopted, Home for Good, which cares for vulnerable children in the UK, is a charity close to our hearts. In fact, I have just agreed to join their Board of Trustees as chair. With a son at university running the CU, UCCF is a fantastic ministry that I have also been asked to serve, and it has been a delight to get involved with Krish Kandiah in founding Sanctuary Foundation, which Stewardship incubated in the early weeks of the Ukraine crisis. We also support our local church in Cambridgeshire, where we attend as a family.