We caught up with Margaret Morton of the venture philanthropy organisation Inspiring Scotland to chat about its work, and about the benefits to pro bono supporters and not-for-profit organisations of pro bono support.
Can you tell us a bit about Inspiring Scotland and your philosophy?
Inspiring Scotland is an innovative venture philanthropy organisation designed in response to the needs of Scotland’s charities. We've developed a unique partnership amongst the private, public and not-for-profit sectors in Scotland, using the principles of venture philanthropy. We offer long-term support to charities, both financial and non-financial, typically over a 5 to 10 year period. We take the principles of venture capital – long term investment and tailored development support – and apply these to the not-for-profit sector. Instead of financial investment, we are working in social investment.
What role does pro bono play in the work you do with not-for-profit organisations?
Pro bono is a very big part of what we do. We've built a network of more than 180 private sector pro bono supporters whose expertise is available free of charge, or at a significantly reduced cost, in areas including financial management, employment law and human resource management amongst others. A recent external evaluation of our venture philanthropy model found the support provided by Inspiring Scotland’s Performance Advisors and pro bono supporters to be critical and powerful factors in our success.
Do the organisations you work with see a tangible benefit from this pro bono support or is the benefit harder to pin down?
The benefits are definitely tangible. For example, we've matched the Rural and Urban Training Scheme, a Scottish charity using motorcycle mechanics related skills to support young people, with a wide range of pro bono support including support from Cairn Energy PLC. One of their staff members has joined the RUTS board and given practical support in developing income and expenditure projections, cash flow projections and new financial systems. This pro bono support has helped RUTS to expand into six new geographical areas, drive the organisation forward in a focused and targeted way and, as a result, increase the number of young people supported by RUTS each year from 200 to 700.
Often, pro bono supporters who are board directors will simply ask questions or provide a unique perspective based on their own business experience that the not-for-profit organisation hadn't considered – giving advice on things like how to scale and replicate activities in other geographical areas, while keeping costs under control.
Inspiring Scotland often talks about the need for the not-for-profit ventures to operate as businesses. What do you mean by that, and why is it so important?
Now more than ever before, it is vitally important for charities to operate as businesses. Because of the recent long and deep recession, the external environment has never been so challenging. Charities are experiencing public-sector spending cuts; at the same time charitable giving is down by 20%, and the investment income of many of the trusts and foundations upon whom charities rely for grants has significantly decreased .
It is also more challenging for charities to generate income because they increasingly need to competitively tender for local authority contracts. Those charities who build their capacity via pro bono support and board memberships become more efficient and more effective. They can demonstrate that they will achieve social impact and deliver value for money and, therefore, have greater success in securing contracts for the delivery of social services.
What would you say to a senior business person who's not yet explored the idea of volunteering as a pro bono supporter or board member?
Until you've experienced it, there's really no way to realise quite how fulfilling it is to use your business skills and experience in a different context, for a cause you believe in. As a senior business person, you take for granted a wide range of skills and experience which could help some wonderful not-for-profit organisations make a positive difference in the community. So, why not give it a try?
Margaret Morton is the Head of Investor Relations with Inspiring Scotland.
The Pros of Pro Bono on 2 October is a networking event to connect charitable organisations with finance/business professionals from the Central Belt. The Edinburgh event is organised by iMultiply Resourcing and sponsored by Johnston Carmichael. For more information call Fiona Riding on 0131 603 7747.