BLOG: Do yourself a service and find out about social investment

Working as a director in a busy charity, it’s easy to dismiss an idea like social investment as irrelevant to anyone outside of the circle of the CEO and finance team – conjuring up pictures of onerous financial analysis and due diligence. But this shouldn’t be the case. Social investment has potential relevance to all senior members of a charity leadership team, including one of the key members, the Services Director.

Why should it matter to a services director?

Whatever the charity’s mission, the Services Director is, in many ways, the driving force behind the organisation’s ability to increase its impact.

So why should they care about social investment? Well not only can it be a tool to help charities grow and scale-up their impact, it can also affect how it delivers services on the frontline. Being at the heart of how, where and for whom these services are running, you could be best placed to identify and drive ideas in your organisation that could benefit from social investment in order to achieve positive change as well as sustainability.

It’s all about the impact

So what can it offer? Quite simply, social investment can increase the impact of your charity. This could be through creating new programmes, supporting more people, or improving the method of service delivery. Real Lettings, for example, is a fund developed by the homeless charity St Mungo’s Broadway in partnership with Resonance, to build on an existing service where it was identified that the charity needed greater access to housing to support more homeless families and individuals who are ready for independent living but struggle to access private rented accommodation. It is a residential property fund which uses money from social investors to acquire one and two bedroom flats across Greater London, leasing them to St Mungo’s Broadway to make available through the social lettings agency. The delivery of the fund is very much shaped by the charity service leads – for example identifying properties in London that meet the criteria for supporting the nominated individuals and families in need.

Helping to scale innovation that works

As a Services Director, you’re likely to know what work in terms of impact down on the ground, and are therefore able to identify areas that should be built upon. Social investment can help, providing capital for a charity to scale up an already successful model to support a greater number of individuals. An example of this is the recently launched Macmillan Care and Wellbeing Fund, a £12 million partnership with Macmillan Cancer Support and Big Society Capital, managed by Social Finance. The fund will look to develop and scale community care services for people affected by cancer and those with long-term conditions. Macmillan has actively shaped the fund’s investment and impact strategy, based on the lessons learned from 100 years of supporting people affected by cancer. It is a fantastic example of a charity with the experience and understanding of cancer care, being a collaborative partner in a social investment deal that will scale up services that have been proven to help those most in need.

Demonstrating social value

There are also practical areas where your role can support your charity. Should a charity decide to seek social investment, the due diligence process will require someone who knows about the impact of the services and the way they’re being delivered. This is where your role becomes invaluable. For example, being able to demonstrate social value and quality of your services to commissioners, will also be relevant to social investors who will want to understand how their investment will deliver social outcomes.

Sometimes the service delivery model is the unique selling point of a charity, with social investment helping to scale these models. One example is HCT Group, a community bus company and social enterprise who earns its revenues from contracts won in the marketplace, and then reinvests profits back into services for the communities such as community transport and training options for long-term unemployed people. They took on social investment to help them scale up their services. Unlike other bus companies, their social mission is a core tenet of their business. Another unique feature of HCT is that the community it serves is involved in building the routes, meaning services are designed by them, for them. Find out more about their experience of social investment in this video.

Partnerships with others

New ways of supporting your service users may be being developed by others, and without expertise in some areas, sometimes taking partnership opportunities is the way to go. Unforgettable.com is an online platform providing products for people with Alzheimer’s and their families to address daily challenges and help enhance their lives. It was developed by a social entrepreneur with lived experience as a carer, used social investment to fund its development and the Alzheimer’s Society was the founding charity partner.

With such a diverse set of reasons to be interested, charity Services Directors should take the time to understand social investment. After all, it could have a transformative effect on their ability to impact individuals and communities they are working to support every day.

Geetha Rabindrakumar is head of social sector engagement at Big Society Capital

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