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The ball goes on, but hedge fund charities start to feel the pinch


Date: Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Author: James Mackintosh, Hedge Funds Correspondent, FT.com

The riches-to-slightly-less-riches story of hedge funds in the past year is hitting philanthropy, with Europe's biggest charity fundraising event cutting back.

Absolute Return for Kids, which raised 25.5m at an extravagant 10,000-a-head ball in Greenwich's Old Royal Naval College last year, plans to hold a smaller event this year at Waterloo station, where it has hired the old Eurostar terminal.

Arki Busson, founder of Ark and chairman of EIM, which invests in hedge funds, said the party - a champagne-soaked celebration of excess that benefits the charity - would be "appropriate to the times we're in".

"We've got to take - a little bit - the glitz away," he said. "We're going to be saving money everywhere."

As well as costing less to run, the event will be smaller, reflecting the crisis that saw hedge funds record their worst year ever last year.

However, Mr Busson, who is engaged to actress Uma Thurman, insisted it would remain a great party - and said the best tables would still cost 10,000 a person.

"It is going to be mindbogglingly wow factor," he said of the five-platform Eurostar terminal, which closed in 2007 when the Paris and Brussels trains switched to St Pancras station. "My knees were shaking [when I saw the terminal], I was so excited."

The scaling back of the event is being repeated at several other hedge fund charities.

Saleem Siddiqi, who organises May-Fair, a performance by hedge fund bands that raises money for a charity specialising in providing prosthetic limbs to children, said this year he was aiming to slash ticket prices to reflect widespread industry job losses.

One philanthropic loser this year is likely to be the Children's Investment Fund Foundation, which had raised more than $1bn (711m) from Chris Hohn, founder of the Children's Investment Fund (TCI).

Mr Hohn is one of Britain's most generous charity donors, after he and partners at the fund gave 324m to the charity last year. But the Children's Investment Fund Foundation reinvested most of the money with TCI, which lost more than 40 per cent last year.

Mr Hohn also typically donates virtually all his fees to the charity but he will not receive a performance fee following last year's results.