Freemasons in England and Wales make enormous contributions to charitable causes. Some of these are “Masonic” in nature, i.e. offering help to Brethren that are in need or looking after the widows and children of deceased Brethren. However, many contributions are also made to general, non-Masonic charities with for example £2.5 million being donated to such causes in the year 2001-2002. Some of this money is in the form of large grants, for instance, £119,000 was recently donated to prostate cancer research. Many smaller sums are also dispersed to all sorts of deserving causes such as support for hospices. Our charitable institutions are also able to respond very rapidly in cases of disaster such as earthquakes or other emergencies. In 2001, £50,000 was sent to the Grand Lodge of New York State to help with emergency relief within 24 hours of the attack on the Twin Towers on 11th September.
How is money collected?
In many different ways: collections are made at all Lodge meetings and other functions; raffles are held; profits are made on social functions etc.
Most importantly, Brethren are expected to make individual donations on a regular basis. This can be done by making simple cash or cheque donations to the Lodge’s charity fund, by making similar one-off donations to what is known as “The Relief Chest” (see below), or by means of regular annual or monthly payments to the Relief Chest. The great advantage of payments to the Relief Chest is that they attract income-tax relief. If a donating Brother pays tax at standard rate or above the charity can reclaim money from the Inland Revenue. Thus every £100 donated miraculously turns into £127 at no extra cost to the donor!
Where do we keep our charitable funds?
Some money is kept by the Lodge Treasurer and is shown under a separate heading in the Lodge’s annual accounts. Most of it, however, is kept in a bank account which is operated centrally at London, and which is known as “The Relief Chest”. There are two advantages to keeping money here: (1) the administrative chore of reclaiming the tax from the Inland Revenue is carried out centrally and does not have to be done by each Charity Steward; and (2) by lumping the monies from all the Lodges together and investing it as one large sum a much better rate of interest can be obtained.
Although the account is run centrally it is important to realise that the money in the Relief Chest remains the property of the individual Lodges and is still under their direct control. However, because of the tax concession there is a restriction on how it is spent. It can only be used to contribute to properly registered charities or for the direct relief of the needy. If at any time a lodge wishes to contribute to a non-registered charity this must be done from the funds held locally by the Treasurer.
How is the money actually given to the charitable causes?
In Singleton Lodge No. 8399 the Worshipful Master is allowed to send the sum of £25 to a charity of his choosing every year. The Almoner has a small fund at his disposal for the relief of distress, for Christmas gifts to the Lodge’s widows, and for the provision of comforts (flowers etc) for sick Brethren and bereaved families. Such things tend to occur as a matter of urgency and so the Almoner has the authority to spend money for these purposes at his own discretion, when the need arises. His fund is topped up at regular intervals from the Lodge’s charity monies.
Apart from these two cases all charitable expenditure has to be approved by the Brethren. Normally, the Lodge Committee makes recommendations to the Lodge concerning which charities should be supported, but please note that it is open to any Brother to make suggestions, and such suggestions will be sympathetically considered by the Lodge Committee.
The Lodge can decide to make direct gifts to charitable organisations. In recent years we have sent donations to the Welsh Air Ambulance and to the Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospital fund. Our Province of South Wales has a Benevolent Fund which supports charitable causes within the Province. In past years we have made several donations to that fund. Most donations, however, are made centrally through several London-based institutions such as, the Grand Charity (which organises the payment of annuities to needy Masons, and also attends to the wider non-Masonic giving), the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution (which looks after homes for the elderly), the New Masonic Samaritan Fund (to provide medical assistance to sick and needy Freemasons and their dependents), and the Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys (which sees to the educational needs of the children of deceased Brethren and helps with the costs of higher education).
What are “Festivals”?
This term – which is not really self-explanatory – sometimes causes confusion in the minds of the younger Brethren.
From time to time a Masonic Province will decide to concentrate its charitable efforts upon one or other of the central institutions mentioned above for a period of seven years. Other charitable activity is, of course, not excluded, but the bulk of the money collected during this time will be donated to the chosen institution. The end of the period is marked by a major event and dinner, the actual “Festival”.
The last Festival in this Province came to its conclusion in 2010 and the sum of £4.1 million was donated on that occasion to The Grand Charity.
Singleton Lodge No. 8399