As part of Trustees Week in November we held a fringe event at NCVO’s Trustee Conference to mark a year of running GET INFORMED: Social Investment for Boards. We wanted to give people a flavour of the campaign and the support on offer, from online resources to mentoring. It was a great session and we’ve shared the lively discussions through a podcast.
Jane Hobson (Head of Guidance and Practice at the Charity Commission) kicked off the session by outlining why the Commission is supporting GET INFORMED. It was positive to hear that the Charity Commission encourages innovation, including around new forms of finance in pursuit of delivering charities’ mission, but Jane also reminded us that social investment is not new, and there are examples from centuries ago of individuals and institutions investing for impact. And of course, she reminded us that the Charity Commission’s guidance around decision making provides a helpful framework to go back to key principles when trustees are considering whether social investment is the right thing for their organisation!
We then had a fantastic panel discussion and had some really pertinent questions on how to find aligned investors, understanding further the risks around repayable finance, and which models and approaches are more suitable for investment.
Some of the key points made in the discussion
Janet Thorne, CEO of Reach Volunteering emphasised the Board’s role as the “guardians of purpose”, and that in a challenging environment, it’s incumbent on trustees to look outwardly and understand different funding options. GET INFORMED can help with this, particularly through board members who have shared their experiences.
Danyal Sattar from Joseph Rowntree Foundation questioned whether “doing what we’ve always done” (i.e. investing for maximum financial return irrespective of impact) is the right way forward, and talked through how foundations can use social investment as a tool to deliver on its mission.
Kate Stewart, co-founder of We Make Places CIC, and one of the faces of GET INFORMED shared the story of a fantastic social enterprise creating change through neighbourhood projects in Liverpool. They went through a long journey to access social investment to provide capital for their Urban Workbench project. Her key insights:
- Social investment won’t be right for everything that your organisation does
- Taking on repayable finance involved an appropriate level of risk that was considered worth taking – in order to provide a long-term sustainable income stream.
- She wanted her Board members to scrutinise and challenge her proposals and recruited a finance expert to her Board to help.
- The case studies available through GET INFORMED were helpful in showing her Board that they weren’t the first to do this.
- Be brave and be in the driving seat when choosing which investors to go with.
William Makower from the National Funding Scheme (NFS), one of the first GET INFORMED mentees talked through how his mentoring relationship with our own Jo Heywood had acted as a catalyst to cast his net wider in finding the right investor for him. It was great to hear that NFS has since successfully secured soft loans from individuals. Top tip – to network through GET INFORMED and other events!
And finally Emma Patmore from Trustees Unlimited who have matched up our mentors shared how she has been inspired by the campaign, and the benefits of bringing a wealth of experience from those with social investment skills and experiences to share with individuals involved in running charities and social enterprises. It’s not that Boards don’t “want” to engage with social investment – it’s that they don’t want to do the wrong thing – the feedback we’ve had to date shows that the campaign has helped with this uncertainty for Boards and strengthen their understanding.
So where are we now?
A year into the campaign, we have more than 1,000 people signed up to receive information and support and 63 mentors are now providing informal 1:1 support to Board members or Executives around social investment – these have ranged from organisations for whom social investment will be some way off, to those with experience already who want to test their thinking. Interestingly, the recent Taken on Trust research on the support available to trustees showed that the most valued sources of support for trustees are fellow Board members and the Charity Commission – GET INFORMED offers the opportunity to get insights and knowledge from both.
Finally, we’d like to say a massive thank you to our partners, volunteer mentors, and above all the “faces” of GET INFORMED. The campaign is grounded in the experience of trustees & non-executive directors from charities and social enterprises across the country who have actively engaged with social investment – they are a diverse group, with varying perspectives, experiences and insights to offer. On top of their Board roles, they have been generous with their time and willingness to share their stories with their peers, in order to help make social investment accessible for the benefit of many more charities and social enterprises.