VENTURE PHILANTHROPY

Impetus Trust, using a blend of private equity techniques, invests in UK charities to enable better performance. Five years into the project, impressive results are beginning to show. On the eve of Impetus' first exit, Philip Borel spoke to CEO Daniela Barone Soares about the story so far and the road ahead.

In June, at a glitzy ceremony in London, UK venture philanthropy group Impetus Trust came top in the “Grant-making” category of The Charity Awards 2008. Impetus was “especially deserving” of the accolade, the judges said, because of its pioneering work in combining strategic funding with operational expertise to enable charities “to turn more lives around”.

For Impetus, which was founded in 2003, collecting awards in recognition of its efforts already must be pleasing. However, more rewarding still will be another milestone that the group is currently working towards and which it expects to complete later this summer: the first ever exit from the portfolio of charities it has assembled in the past five years.

“Exit” in venture philanthropy speak does not mean “sale”, and the success of investments will not be measured in financial terms. What happens instead is that Impetus as a source of funding and know-how to a charity will be replaced by other organisations – the point being for Impetus that the new partners would not have come on board without Impetus' transformational work with the charity in preparation for the exit. In other words, the hand-over is a reflection of Impetus' efforts to help the charity become more professional and effective – so much so that it now qualifies for support from other grant-making groups, for whom professionalism and effectiveness are necessary conditions for engagement.

“We look for groups aiming to put people on a path to economic independence. If that aim isn't there, the charity is not for us.”

The charity currently preparing to make this change is Speaking Up, a Cambridge-based group working with people with learning difficulties. Impetus invested in 2004 and has since helped Speaking Up achieve a 53 percent annual increase of total income, as well as a 150 percent increase in the number of people helped.

Details of the pending exit are not available, but according to Impetus chief executive Daniela Barone Soares, approximately £600,000 in core cost funding from new donors has been lined up. Impetus has also helped the charity win a £3.2 million grant from Britain's Department for Children, Schools and Families. “This is significant. It means Speaking Up can now stand on its own two feet,” Soares says.

THE IMPETUS PORTFOLIO

Speaking Up (Impetus first invested in 2004): provides training and support to people with learning difficulties, mental ill health or other disabilities. Camfed International (2007): dedicated to breaking the poverty trap in rural communities in Sub-Saharan Africa by educating girls.
St Giles Trust (2004): reduces re-offending through a range of projects focusing on education, training, employment and housing. The Fairtrade Foundation (2007): works to improve the lives of poor and marginalised farmers in developing countries by promoting fairer forms of trade.
Beat (2005): helps people with eating disorders, by campaigning for greater awareness and better services and by giving people with eating disorders help and support. IntoUniversity (2007): engages young people from deprived backgrounds to attain either a university place or another chosen aspiration.
Leap (2005): builds the skills of young people to prevent violence and better manage conflict in their lives, schools and communities. Acumen (2008): based in North East England; promotes social and economic regeneration through learning, enterprise and employment.
Naz Project London (2005): provides sexual health and HIV prevention and support services to culturally and linguistically distinct Black and Minority Ethnic communities. Street League (2008): runs a structured football and education programme to transform the lives of disadvantaged men and women in the UK using the power of sport.
Keyfund Federation (2006): works with marginalised young people to re-engage them in society and help them reach their potential.