Latest Posts Subscribe to this blog RSS

Successful social organisations who create huge social good need a social investment market to match

Nothing beats getting back out into the field to meet social organisations in their own space and listening to their description of their needs and their opportunities.  

Writing the report Making Good in Social Impact Investment has been a great chance to do just that over the last few months. Getting into the messy, diverse, concrete reality of the sector. In doing so we found that the UK is at a watershed moment.  

This country boasts a generation of brilliant social entrepreneurs who combine social motivations and values with business acumen, who manage risk every day and see the transformative power of social investment in their organisations. That’s important because from an investor’s point of view it’s people you invest in more than organisations.  

Entrepreneurs just want to be treated like any other SME and feel a bit patronised by worries about “investment readiness”. They want a broader, deeper social investment market, with more investors and more funding products, that rewards success, offers follow-on funding, allows more successful organisations to escape the “hamster wheel” of continual one-off funding and means that fewer of them have to confess, like one chief executive, that “we can’t be strategic because we just have to go where the money is”. Successful social organisations that create huge social good need a social investment market to match.
We also found a social investment asset class that is fit to be seen as an emerging market. It’s got a visible developing investment track record – of organisations servicing investments and achieving blended returns, of risk levels that are not low risk but are assessable risk, non-black hole risk, and with a growing number of success stories of leaders and their organisations. In risk-return terms, that’s a prospectus for investment.
Understanding it as an emerging market matters because it establishes what needs to be done to keep it emerging. Other emerging markets have emerged and we can follow their example: back successful leaders and their organisations with follow-on funding; more access to advice for them and their boards on using social investment; establish the value of existing social investments by a landmark transaction or two (a good role for Big Society Capital  – securitise or refinance an existing portfolio?); establish structures for collaboration as well as competition between social investors; and above all make sure that the statistics that make up the aggregate investment track record of this emerging asset class are collated, published and as transparent as possible.
My conclusion – the glass is half full and social investment has moved beyond the policy stage to execution. The way to take social investment forward now is by doing it. And it’s social investors not mainstream financial investors who’ve got to keep this going. More of us doing it –  growing the pool, mixing together social and financial backgrounds, experimenting, sharing experiences and always learning from experience. Building on the investment track record that will make social impact investing an emerged and not only emerging asset class.
Dr Rupert Evenett is a non-executive director of The Social Investment Business and co-author of Making Good in Social Impact Investing available to download free

Two days at the Tory conference



An early start today to get
up to Manchester for mid-morning. Mercifully the tube is a bit cooler than of
late and running smoothly. First time on a Pendolino – it’s fast and furious
(leaning into the corners like a motorbike). I feel a bit sick.


I wander up to the main
conference centre to soak up the atmosphere – it is strangely muted. I was expecting more of a protest
outside but it’s calm. The main conference centre’s a large space and feels a bit
like a hangar. I head off to check out a fringe event but the room is so hot I
dip out and meet up with the NCVO staff and the other NCVO bursary winners.


Straight off to The Palace Hotel for a fringe event on the
National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), organised by the planners body the Royal Town Planning Institute.
Chatting to two people sitting next to me, who agree the NPPF is ill-thought
through – turns out they’re both developers. Bob Neill the planning minister is
resilient on the NPPF, but accepts the need for a transition period to the new
system. Neill claims most criticism of the NPPF is “well wide of the


Off again for the NCVO
roundtable with Nick Hurd and NCVO chair Martyn Lewis. The minister is friendly
and agrees charities should be campaigning, give governments a hard time and
irritate them – this is all part of a democracy. I suggest Francis Maude
doesn’t agree, judging by his language in the Inpendent on Sunday. Bigger
charities like Cancer Research UK and Keep Britain Tidy also attend and question the
minister. It’s good natured but gets quite lively.


NFU event ostensibly about
sustainable farming. It has no surprises, though I have an entertaining
conversation with a couple of farmers who are at the core of Eric Pickles’
local party in Basildon. Jim Paice suggests badgers and bats have far too much
protection and a long-term wildlife management strategy is needed to get away
from the species by species approach. There is a small anti-badger cull



Miss out on the 8am fringe
events but spot that Boris Johnson is talking in the main arena at 10am. How could I miss
that? The arena is pretty full (though we are encouraged to fill up the seats
at the front for the cameras –  I demur). Jeremy Paxman slips in at the last
minute and sits next to me. Boris is typical – buffooning, ebullient,
declamatory, extolling his version of one nation Toryism (but the nation is
London, not the UK). He verges on demagoguery and plays the audience
effortlessly, even giving a roll call to places around the country that have
provided things for the Olympics (he calls for a snap Olympics – to get it
over and done with), including rhubarb used to stain some decking. He slightly
loses his thread as he doesn’t know where the rhubarb came from (the rhubarb
triangle presumably) or who the rhubarb rubbers are. Paxman snorts quietly – he
may be laughing or snorting derisively – it’s hard to tell. I suggest to him
afterwards the whole speech was a lot of rhubarb and he chuckles.


Have a nice catch up with
colleagues from Woodland Trust  –
they are experts in schmoozing MPs; I have public affairs envy.


The next fringe event is in
Manchester Town Hall. This event is a water All Party Parliamentary Group event on the water white
paper. The main point, though, is to catch Richard Benyon MP afterwards so I can ask
him some grassland questions.

Unexpectedly it turns out to
be an excellent fringe event. I asked my first conference question about water
companies paying farmers to manage their land more extensively, and how this
squared with sustainable intensification (ie it doesn’t). All the water company
chief execs agreed payment for catchment management should be universal, upland
and lowland. Benyon agreed but didn’t answer the sustainable intensification

I wandered back to the main
conference area with Benyon but he had to dash off for another meeting
so we then suggested to meet later to talk through my questions.


I bump into my old mate Ruth
Davis from Greenpeace. We meet Benyon at 3.45pm as agreed and I put my points
to him. He’s receptive and asks me to send more detail by email. Ruth also gets
her point across about Spanish crime families and illegal fishing. Benyon dashes off and Ruth is off to
meet Greg Barker, the climate change minister. I say hello to him and remind him of
his meeting with my chief exec next week about carbon storage in meadow soils.


The last fringe event for me is
the Daily Telegraph/National Trust event on the NPPF. This could be the high point of the
conference. Fiona Reynolds (NT) and Shaun Spiers (Campaign to Protect Rural England) vs Oliver Letwin and
Charles Moore. Turns out Moore and Letwin were at Trinity Cambridge together and are
a couple of heavyweight intellects. Geoffrey Lean is an allegedly neutral
chair. Just as the debate gets going I have to leave to get my train.

Overall I found the whole
experience very rewarding. The biggest benefit is having the opportunity to
talk to ministers without the intervention of civil servants – that was
extremely valuable. Also, fringe events can encourage vibrant and open debate
within a small group with key players and experts and even with ministers who
are listening.

Miles King, director of conservation, The Grasslands Trust

Race and criminal justice at the Labour conference

opportunity to attend my first party conference as a bursary winner with the NCVO
in my home town of Liverpool had enough pull factors. On the train to Liverpool
I was questioning not so much the importance of the first annual Labour conference in
Liverpool since 1925 as the so-called progress made by
Labour over 13 years in pole position. I heard lots of talk about the
significant investment made by Labour which transformed Liverpool. However,
coming from the inner-city district of Toxteth, I found this debatable, because if you look beyond a newly developed city centre, gross inequalities
and long-term unemployment remain. 

the advice of a previous NCVO bursary winner and partner organisation,
Federation of Irish Societies, I invested the time in exploring the range of
fringe events. The method was to contribute towards the development of a
particular policy area at my own organisations, Race on the Agenda (ROTA),
providing representation to Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities
who experience disadvantage and discrimination at the intersection of mental
health and criminal justice.

I attended a range of fringe events and roundtable discussions
where Hazel Blears, Jack Dromey and Roberta Blackman-Woods were present and
highlighted the large scale listening exercise Labour appears to have employed
over the past 16 months in opposition. However, it was the several speeches
where I heard the thoughts of Sadiq Khan which answered some of my questions,
raised concerns and, unsurprisingly, left me with more questions.

As shadow secretary of state for justice, it was not unusual to hear of concerns
surrounding government cuts to law and order and progress that was assumed to
have been made in reducing reported crime. Tony Blair’s phrase of  ‘tough on crime, tough on the
causes of crime’, with its emphasis on early intervention, is an area we at Race On The Agenda believe
deserves focus as a contributory factor to reducing crime. It was also encouraging to hear the support for restorative justice. But at the
same time there were calls for more  contracts based on payments by
results, which makes us uneasy, as a representative body of small BAME organisations, because of the poor viability of this system of working and the damage it has already

was interesting to hear some overarching concerns and a smidgen of honesty
which surrounded discussions about the higher numbers than ever before
in the prison system and reoffending soaring to more than 65 per cent. With questions
about road traffic accidents and job cuts, one issue that was not put on the
agenda or, worryingly, not alluded to by Khan, was that of disproportionality. At
almost every stage of the criminal justice system there exists a
disproportionate representation of BAME people. Yet it felt peculiar that there
was no mention of race, which seems to fit into a wider where there is racism
but no race – hence a detachment between policy and reality.

Salla, Policy Officer, Race on the Agenda

Maybe the Lib Dems really do believe in the politics of consensus

My interest in politics came late in life. I
always voted, but didn’t get personally involved until the Make Poverty History
rally in 2000. Since then I’ve been on a demo, done a couple of sleepouts in
solidarity with destitute asylum seekers, and joined the Lib Dems three years ago.
Within two weeks of my joining, there had been two major scandals involving senior Lib
Dem politicians, and I wondered what I had done. Now, aged 61, I’m enjoying my
first party conference, thanks to an NCVO bursary. 

I chose the word enjoying rather than just attending.
I haven’t heard all that much, and have only seen the main speeches on TV, but
despite the gloomy economic prognosis and the crises in Europe and beyond, I
have to say that I’m impressed so far – and for two main

Firstly, the MPs I have heard and seen so
far are a pretty good bunch. Tim Farron is a really passionate guy who speaks
his mind – very unusual for a party president, and definitely no ‘yes man’. I’ve
always liked Vince Cable, because he makes economics comprehensible to the
ignorant like me. What can you say about Paddy Ashdown, the elder statesman of
the party? He just keeps on going, still as measured and thoughtful as ever,
still wanting to make a difference to the world. And Lynn Featherstone did the
unthinkable yesterday, giving fulsome praise to Labour for a policy they
introduced in the last government.

That leads me on to my second point, and
one of the main reasons I joined the Lib Dems – a comparative absence of spin
and mudslinging. I know it’s all relative, but I hate politicians who
manipulate truth and rubbish opponents rather than talk policy. So far I
haven’t heard any cheap jokes and jibes at the expense of Labour and the
Tories. Maybe the Lib Dems really do believe in the politics of consensus.

Dave Smith, Director of the Boaz Trust, a Christian organisation serving destitute asylum seekers in
Greater Manchester.

Charity shops provide a lifeline on the high street in bleak financial times

The British Retail Consortium
warning last week that consumer confidence remains low, based on their retail
sales figures for July, will be no surprise to those on the high street.
Interestingly, charity shops continue to buck the trend.

I often hear stories from
our members of people relying on charity shops for basic necessities at times
when money is tight. This is ever more apparent as people feel less confident –
or are less able – to spend. In one recent case, one of our customers who had
been out of work for several months was able to get that all important suit for
his job interview at a fraction of the price it would cost him to buy it new.
For someone on out of work benefits, charity shops can provide a real lifeline
in difficult financial times.

New research shows that
nearly 60 per cent of people identified lower prices as a major reason for shopping in
charity shops, making it the top factor. This was particularly important for
those working in unskilled and manual jobs, and those who were unemployed. People
are also increasingly aware of the hard times others are facing. Half of people
donating to charity shops do so because they want to help other people that
can’t afford to buy new items, making it the biggest reason for donating.

On top of this there were
a range of reasons indicating that people are thinking more carefully about
where they want to spend their money. Charity shops provide an alternative to
cut price high street retailers because of their emphasis on recycling and
reuse, and a third of shoppers said that environmental reasons were a major
influence in both shopping in charity shops and donating to them. People also
said that they found the shopping experience positive and they enjoyed finding
unique items on sale that couldn’t be found on the commercial high street.

We all hope for the next
set of figures to show an improvement in consumer confidence. In the meantime,
however, this research demonstrates that charity shops continue to provide a
vital service to people on our high streets up and down the country. As real
incomes continue to fall, they offer the only opportunity for many people to
buy high quality goods without spending a fortune.

Warren Alexander is the
Chief Executive of the Charity Retail Association.

Does the colour of a charity’s branding really matter?

Breast cancer charities were last month warned that using pink in their advertising, communications and branding is counterproductive. It’s an interesting theory, from a response point of view as much as a creative one.

According to a report put together by none other than London Business School, Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University and international business school INSEAD, gender cues such as pink ribbons, backgrounds and images of women are counterproductive and ‘activate a defensive reaction’ in women that interferes with the objectives of breast cancer awareness campaigns.

Joining the dots

I missed the first Institute of Fundraising convention as I was
rather preoccupied in a Guildford maternity ward, but have been lucky to attend
many others since then. Each year the institute aims to provide a fantastic
reminder to fundraisers of why we do our job and how we can do it better. This
year was no exception, and now the dust has settled a tad, it’s as good a time
as any to take stock.

Each year inspiration comes from unexpected
places: there are great sessions packed full of useful tips, and other sessions
which are perhaps a bit thin on content. I call these my join the dots
sessions. We don’t have that much time to sit and stare (to misquote William
Henry Davies), so these sessions provide the time to think about a subject and
let your mind take a wander. All sorts of ideas bubble to the surface.

So what did I get from this year’s event?
For me, the main topic of interest was surely that new best friend for
fundraisers: the mobile phone.

Vodafone chief executive Guy Lawrence told
the convention that its SMS donation service JustTextGiving has signed up more
than 9,000 charities in less than two months. This is astonishing considering
it took the JustGiving website over a decade to get 8,000 charities to sign up
to its online sponsorship service.

The popularity of JustTextGiving is
apparent: SMS donation removes many of the barriers to giving. Donating via a
website requires a potential donor to find their wallet, fill in a long form
and confirm their details. With SMS donations, potential donors can now give a
small amount to a cause they feel strongly about both quickly and easily.

For campaigns such as the East Africa
Appeal, text giving is unquestionably a useful way to collect money quickly and
with the minimum of fuss. 

Of course, the downside to this speedy and
easy solution is that it doesn’t allow charities to build on one of their key
assets: data. JustTextGiving does not allow charities to collect the details of
those who donate. This means that while SMS giving is useful to collect money
quickly, it won’t help you build up a database of supporters in the long term.

Perhaps this could be a point of discussion
at next year’s IoF Convention.

Gail Cookson is strategy partner at Watson Phillips Norman

There are volunteers ready and waiting across the country, so why aren’t charities asking for their help?

One of the main issues that comes up again and again in the
world of volunteering is the need for better communication between volunteers
and those needing their services. This is typically provided by volunteer
brokerage organisations, such as ourselves here at iT4Communities, but there is a real difficulty in
linking the two groups.

We have a nationwide volunteer network of nearly 8,000 IT
professionals ready to donate their time for free in a wide range of specialist
areas. This sounds too good to be true, but not enough people take up the offer – 
which on the surface seems rather inexplicable.

Every year we provide around 250 charities with the expert
assistance they need but can rarely afford. Our volunteers are often
freelancers with some spare capacity, or contractors between contracts. The
matching process is carried out with the help of our project definers who,
while speaking in plain English to the client, can ensure that the correct
technical spec is used to describe the job to potential candidates. In this
way, the ideal applicant can be identified.

On average we have over 300 opportunities available at any
time. They range from quick fix tasks which might take only a couple of hours
to longer term projects which will be worked on over a period of months.

So why aren’t more not-for-profit organisations snapping up
the opportunity? There isn’t one clear answer to this question.

One point is that the label ‘volunteer’ is misleading. Most
charities depend to a greater or lesser extent on a number of volunteers who
offer their time and goodwill on a regular basis. The preparation and
organisation of this voluntary workforce involves a lot of input from
management in terms of training and development – an expensive allocation of
resource, time and effort.

All this means that charities tend not to think in terms of
highly-skilled volunteer workers. Our volunteers are consultants offering their
specialism ‘pro-bono’, which is a different notion altogether. They are
providing an invaluable and skilled service which, if outsourced commercially,
would often be completely out of the financial reach of the
charity in question.

We have also found that locally based, faced and resourced
charities are less likely to consult a national register such as ourselves.
They are used to finding the assistance they require through local networks, and
so iT4Communities is just not on their radar.

This is unfortunate because our volunteers are ready and
waiting right across the country and it is these very organisations that could
often most benefit from the help, while being the least likely to be able to
produce the finances required to acquire it.

– Anne Stafford is programme manager at iT4Communities 

We are starting to win the battle of social enterprises

Recently, Craig Dearden-Phillips and Rob Greenland, two of our
most respected social enterprise commentators, both wrote blogs that, taken together, shattered the illusion of a
consensus on the definition of social enterprise.

The part in particular that stood out for me was when Rob asked how
wages and loan interest are any different to paying dividends. A poll on the
issue was split down the middle.

Well, wages and interest count as costs, whereas dividends are
different as they come out of profits extracted from the bottom line. But
distributing profits is not necessarily any less ethical than repaying debts.
Equity can even be fairer than debt, as there is no obligation to repay and it
shares risks and rewards. And social entrepreneurs may need to share profits in
order to attract the capital they need to achieve the impact they seek to

But as our most popular definition of social enterprise says, it’s
first what you do with the majority of these profits that distinguishes you as
a social entrepreneur and second, in Rob’s words, that the “primary aim of the
business will be a social one.”

How can we test for this? Well, we might learn from the most
boring of places, the Office for National Statistics, which classifies whether
organisations sit on or outside the public accounts. They look at who controls
an organisation through owning more than half the voting shares or controlling
more than half the voting power, or through regulation.

So what would the ONS make of Circle Partnership, Europe’s largest healthcare partnership, for instance,
who call themselves a social enterprise? Do they have a social mission and how
is it controlled? Do remote investors own less than half the shares? Or more
than half as conflicting reports suggest?

For Craig, this control and the majority rights to the profits are
“often the fair reward for risk” and if his salary was the only reward he
received, then that wouldn’t reflect the risks he takes. While for others,
there is sufficient reward in the social impact they achieve, and, if you don’t get
off on that, then sure, a private business model makes perfect sense.

A ‘pure’ ownership model is no guarantee of social impact. Apple
or Boots may well deliver more net benefit than Network Rail or Eton College.
So Craig – and Circle – sit in this interesting space emerging “between the
private sector and just beyond the outer-edge of the social enterprise sector”.
But crucially, this is beyond social enterprise, in what we might call social
or ethical business.

For years, the biggest challenge for social enterprise has been
awareness and understanding out in the real world. We are starting to win. The
people on the street are starting to get it, newsreaders say it without
clarification, newspapers no longer include an explanation.

If Craig’s “progressive business sector” is delivering more and
more social impact then that’s a wonderful thing. As Rob says, we should be
“relaxed about people making money out of social business and a variety of
business models”. But can we all agree that this needs a different term? Social
business or ethical business, for example?

Please, Rob and Craig, don’t undo your own great work over the
years in promoting social enterprise by diluting and confusing it when others
have become attached to it – and just at the point where it’s starting to hit
the streets.

Dan Gregory is founder of Common Capital, a website about social enterprise

Charity archives: A hidden casualty of the cuts?

The history of charity is
perhaps a hotter topic today than it has ever been, so it is ironic that
voluntary organisations face greater challenges than ever before in preserving
their records and making these available to researchers.

The British Records Association and Charity Archives and Records Management Group (CHARM) have recently had to
cancel a training day on charity archives for of lack of registrations. There is mounting anecdotal evidence
that third sector organisations are struggling to hold on to their own archives
and publications, let alone plan for long-term storage and access.

Office moves, often
precipitated by funding cuts, are the most vulnerable time for charity
archives. That box of dusty minute books or stack of old pamphlets can all too
easily get left behind in a corner of the office or end up being shredded to
save storage costs. As a researcher of charity archives, I have become very
used to finding handwritten notes attached to documents: ‘rescued from the
skip – may be of some historical interest?’

One notable success story
is the transfer of the Volunteer England Collection to the LSE, as reported in
Third Sector in March
2011. This achievement required forward planning – up to
a year before the cuts to the Office for Civil Society’s strategic partnership
programme were announced – and the support of the charity’s chief executive,
Justin Davis Smith.

My colleague Anjelica Finnegan, a student volunteer
recruited to help catalogue the collection, and I were unfortunately not
able to stop the break-up of the organisation’s library, which contained books
donated by leading figures in the history of volunteering such as Alec Dickson,
founder of VSO and CSV.

However, there are now welcome
signs that historians and archivists are coming together to help stop more
records being lost and make third sector organisations aware that there are a
number of options.

A key problem is that the diverse network of archive
repositories makes it very tricky for charities easily to identify institutions
that might be interested in receiving their archives. The National Archives’ Archives Sector Development is
currently preparing some new guidance for small and medium organisations, much
of which will be particularly relevant for the third sector. 

Let us hope that we can work together
to ensure the survival of the vital records which tell the rich history of the
voluntary sector.

Read Brewis’ blog for more information

Georgina Brewis is a historian of voluntary action and education, currently based at the Institute of Education, University of London