Earlier this week, Meghan Markle was announced patron of four organizations: the National Theatre, Mayhew, Smart Works, and the Association of Commonwealth Universities. They represent her existing passions (the arts, animal welfare, empowering women, and education, respectively), and serve as an indicator of what we can expect from the Duchess's philanthropic pursuits in the future.
But for those unfamiliar with the concept of patronages, the announcement raises the question: what does it actually mean to be royal patron of something?
"Patronages are quite a key part of being a member of the royal family," royal reporter Victoria Murphy tells Town & Country. She explained that it's essentially a figurehead for an organization and that a royal's support can do a great deal for a cause in terms of public exposure.
"Members of the royal family accumulate many organizations throughout their lives. They're lending their support to an organization and having an ongoing relationship," Murphy says.
"It allows them to transform in many ways the fortune of these charities and organizations by lending the profile that they have as members of the royal family. The attention can hopefully encourage things like increasing donations to charities and awareness of the causes."
While many patronages are charities, some are military associations, professional bodies, or public service groups, and generally speaking, they reflect the person's interests and life experiences. For example, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, is President of the National Osteoporosis Society, as several members of her family have suffered from brittle bone disease.
Per the royal family's website, more than 3,000 organizations have a working member of the royal family as their patron or president, and these include well-known institutions as well as grass-roots charities.
In Meghan's case, she received two patronages-the National Theatre and the Association of Commonwealth Universities-from the Queen. These are two groups that have had decades-long relationships with the royal family. But the other two charities in her purview, Mayhew and Smart Works, are new to the royal family's support and much smaller.
"The royal family sometimes affiliates themselves with big national institutions that are already well known and have a lot of clout," Murphy says. "But they also try to lend their support to much smaller organizations that might not get anywhere near the level of profile or support or awareness that they can with a royal patronage. For these organizations, a royal patronage can be completely transformative."
Patronages can also be taken on for different lengths of time. "Once it has been decided that the patronage will be taken on, the duration of the patronage must be decided. There is no set length," explains the royal family's website.
"Sometimes members of the Royal Family might take on a patronage relating to a specific campaign or event which only lasts a finite length of time. Other times patronages are for life."
Still curious about the royal family's charity work? Their official website features a searchable database of every organization they are involved with. Check that out here. Another page on the site more broadly highlights the family's philanthropic efforts, and includes information on how an organization can apply for a royal patronage.