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From 20 Pence to Millions — Donations Flow to Diana's Fund

By Dan Balz
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, September 10, 1997

LONDON, Sept. 9 — The money comes from big businesses and small children, a torrent of telephone calls and envelopes piling up almost too fast to count. In less than a week, the memorial fund established in the name of Diana, Princess of Wales, is rapidly becoming one of the biggest charities in Britain.

One newspaper said the fund passed the 100 million pound ($160 million) mark early this week, barely four days after it was formally established. Other estimates have put the amount well above that. Organizers said they have no idea where that estimate came from and won't have a reliable figure for some time. But they acknowledge that the flood of tears that followed Diana's death has been matched by a tidal wave of cash.

Just how the money will be distributed remains unknown. The Diana Princess of Wales Fund is accumulating assets more rapidly than organizers can make basic decisions about what to do with it. Those decisions may not come for months.

"The procedures have been put in place to recruit more trustees," said Kate Knightley Day, a spokeswoman for the law firm Mishcon de Reya, which handled Princess Diana's legal work when she was alive. "The first job is to find trustees, second to recruit professional staff, depending on how big the fund is."

Few doubt that it will continue to grow, although Day said, "We're very keen to scotch the 'millions and millions' rumors. Not that they're not accurate, but there's no basis for them."

Over the weekend, volunteers were fielding 350 calls an hour with an average donation of about $32. Now there are automated lines that can handle up to 3,600 calls at a time. On Monday, nine mail bags arrived at Kensington Palace, Diana's residence, and were sent out for processing, which is going on in 12-hour shifts. Every donation is logged, according to organizers, "even if it is for 20 pence," about 32 cents.

The 20 pence came from a child, along with a handwritten note. The fund also has received a corporate check for $4.8 million. Interest in the fund is so overwhelming that when Day left her office for two hours one day this week, she returned to find 106 phone messages.

Because so few decisions have been made, it is not yet clear where the memorial fund will rank among British charities. According to Third Sector magazine, which covers the world of charitable giving, the largest charity in the country is the British Council, which funds the arts, with an annual income of about $675 million. The Oxfam relief group is another in the top 10 here, with an annual income of about $175 million. The British Red Cross ranks among the top 15 with an income of about $150 million.

Diana's memorial fund will benefit from the proceeds of the rewritten version of Elton John's song, "Candle in the Wind," which he performed at Saturday's funeral and which will be released as a single later this week. John said he hopes the record will earn more than $15 million for the memorial fund.

The Rolling Stones, Sting and Paul McCartney plan to produce an album in Diana's honor to be released before Christmas, according to an announcement this week by Richard Branson, owner of Virgin Atlantic Airlines and a friend of the princess.

Other groups have approached organizers with proposals to raise money for the fund, but there is no structure in place yet to handle those offers.

On the basis of the initial pace of contributions and the potential for other fund-raising ventures in the near future, the Diana fund appears likely to find itself among Britain's top 10 charities — although it may not be there yet. However, its financial impact will not be clear until organizers determine just how much money the memorial fund will disburse on an annual basis — and to whom.

Organizers say that issue remains wide open. It is possible that the fund will simply collect the money that is flowing in, redistribute it to existing charities with whom Diana was associated, and shut its doors.

More likely is something more permanent, given the overwhelming response in the first week, that will continue to engage in fund-raising and conceivably become an active grant-making agency. "To be honest, to ask me at this point is premature," Day said today.

Nigel Slater, director of fund-raising and publicity for the Leprosy Fund, said if trustees decide to make donations only from income earned, rather than from the fund's equity, it may be as long as a year before money begins to flow out of the fund. But he stressed that he was only speculating because he is not directly involved in the memorial.

At the time of her death, Diana had limited her involvement to six charities. In addition to the Leprosy Mission, they were: the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children, the English National Ballet, a homeless charity called Centrepoint, the Royal Marsden cancer hospital and the National AIDS Trust.

Those charities are likely to benefit from the new fund. But in Saturday's funeral, representatives of about 100 charities were in the procession that accompanied Diana's coffin from Kensington Palace to Westminster Abbey, the site of the funeral service. Those charities anticipate they will benefit as well.

With such enormous potential demands, the pressures on the organizers may be as overwhelming as the flood of contributions. One of the two trustees who have been appointed is Anthony Julius, a partner in Mishcon de Reya who was Diana's attorney during the complex and delicate negotiations over her divorce from Prince Charles. He is also the attorney for her estate. The other trustee named so far is Michael Gibbins, who was private secretary and comptroller to Diana.

They met today to begin the process of setting up the structure of the fund, with the top priority to name other trustees.

"We haven't heard anything about the makeup of the fund," said Yad Luthra of the British Red Cross, which is involved in the campaign to ban land mines that Diana championed. "There are obviously lots of things being sorted out. We'll just wait to hear."

There have been some reports that other charities with which Diana was associated have received a financial windfall since her death, but spokesmen for several of them said that was not the case.

Nigel Slater of the Leprosy Mission said, "From my experience, we are not receiving any substantial income in the last week."

Gavin Hart, a spokesman for the National AIDS Trust, said, "We have had an increase in donations, but not a huge amount. They are small, valuable donations, for which we are grateful. But it would seem most people are giving to the overall memorial fund for the princess."

Slater said he anticipates no slackening in the torrent of contributions to the Princess Diana fund. "It is proportionate to the response following the princess's death," he said. "I would assume it will continue to grow very rapidly."

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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