What we think

A little bit of love and understanding

7th December 2014 Posted by: Rachael

We have been musing: are charities really in the right space when it comes to communicating with donors, particularly major donors? New Philanthropy Capital’s excellent report, Money for Good, explores what motivates donors to give to charity. You could be forgiven for thinking that major donors are all primarily driven by responding to ‘needs’ and that if only charities were to share that need: the stories of beneficiaries and their work, that our prospective friends would respond. But take a look at this report, and others like it, and they tell quite a different story …

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The truth is philanthropists are often persuaded by causes to which they have a personal connection or some link in terms of their own personal experience. What’s needed is less information and more understanding. Don’t just tell, ask; don’t speak, listen…

Philanthropy differs from mainstream giving, in that major donors are much more likely to say they define themselves through the act of giving. It makes sense that appealing to their own personal concerns and values will have more cut-through than simply emphasising there’s a problem to fix.

If you’re a reader, dip into Beth Breeze and Theresa Lloyd’s fascinating book, Richer Lives, Why Rich People Give. Take a look at a few of the great verbatims, and you’ll be wholly convinced of the need for greater love and understanding:

“You can only persuade people to give by appealing to an interest or a passion … the case for support has to be personal and powerful’ HNW donor

Although times are changing, charities largely operate a broadcast model, telling major donors what they’re doing, their aims and objectives.   This can lead to a breakdown in understanding, with the charity thinking “if only we tell them, give them more information…they’ll understand” and then the philanthropist’s response, “you really don’t understand ME!”

So comes the case for a little bit of love and understanding. Let’s think about major donors as individuals with their own preferences, experiences and passions. Profile them to get up close and personal: to understand not just what they do, but how they feel about things and why? Remember it’s less about you, and more about them … always!

Jane Thurlow



What came first, the impact or the profit?

18th December 2013 Posted by: Rachael

We have been exploring social value recently. Why? Because business needs to get better at analysing and communicating the value it adds to sustainable development. In conversation with international NGOs and multinational companies we are exploring the killer measures, the values they track to help make real decisions on their operations. There is a very constructive overlap between business and development measures. Just look at Bond’s Impact Builder and Anglo American’s Socio-Economic Assessment Toolbox (SEAT) to see the direction social impact measurement is moving.

Paul Polak is the author of’ “The Business Solution to Poverty.” He insists that we give far too little attention to achieving attractive bottom line profit and too much on detailed measures of impact. We asked him to identify the social value measures that help transform business, and this is what he said on Business Fights Poverty

Here’s my approach to impact measures:

1. What is the basic mission built into the DNA of the company, and to what extent is social impact inherent in the basic mission statement?

For example, if bringing electricty to customers without access to it at a price they find attractive and doing it at scale is built into your mission statement, and you are successful in accomplishing your mission, then the impact is built in. There is plenty of convincing information about the contribution REA made to development in the US south, for example, and it should be pretty easy to outline some related key measures of impact

But then the key challenge is making attractive profits, which requires applying all the principles of running an excellent business, and this is far tougher to do than measuring social impact.

2. From interviewing thousands of poor people, I am convinced that helping them increase their net annual income is the single most important social impact measure. From the perspective of poor people themselves, all the other impact variables, like improved quality of life, improved education, empowerment, education,and health, flow from impoved net income. So i put a major focus on measuring improved net income, compared with people who are not company customers.” PAUL POLAK

It is a powerful point. For those businesses with a mission to serve the base of the pyramid, profit and income are the two powerful measures. Of course, business profit and impact can get a bit chicken and egg, but let’s not talk about that now.


The three ‘N’s

6th October 2013 Posted by: Rachael

At a meeting with an international NGO last week I was asked for three trends for the ‘business of development’. Based on research we have been conducting over the past year, here are the three ‘N’s that rose to the top:

1. Measurement of NET impact. Business increasingly needs to monitor the impact it has, not just in terms of numbers of jobs and investment dollars. But what is the quality of impact, and the consequence of its actions that support the business development model? And can you measure that in an accessible way? Sounds like the challenge NGOs and governments have. So there’s an opportunity here for the development community to develop the measures that can be applied to the ‘business of development’, and monitor sustainable development.

2. The NEXUS of social and environmental challenges. Leading global business are working on a nexus of social and environmental issues that cut across stakeholder groups. Problems are far bigger than any single actor. Social and environmental NGOs are sensitive to each others’ issues and positions, but how can they respond to this nexus of issues most effectively?

3. NEW partnerships. Business partnerships, NGO and business collaborations, public private partnerships… The scale of the challenge requires the ‘management of impact’ rather than the ‘management of projects’. More transformative partnerships are needed and this will no doubt lead to a consolidation of ‘projects’ and a challenging process of negotiating multiple agency, scalable programmes. The effort required in forming and storming through such partnerships will be immense, but NECESSARY!

Our research, whether desk research, case-studies, stakeholder research or online listening is constantly stimulating issues and ideas. A top ten set of trends will need to emerge next.


Are you ready to partner?

30th October 2012 Posted by: Rachael

The role of business in development is maturing. Partnership is moving out of a position in philanthropy, firmly in to new business development, which in NGO language, means new models for development. This week, discussions about building a new global partnership with business, convened by Business Action for Africa, really delved in to the stuff of partnership. How refreshing. Here are some of the key insights from the discussions and their great report:

  1. Business now needs to measure its net impact. Shareholder returns in country, tax, sustainable terms with farmers and infrastructure are all part of this calculation, along with jobs. Business will need government and NGO input on this.
  2. Business delivers jobs, but not all jobs are the same and jobs alone do not necessarily reduce poverty! Look at the proportion of skilled, sustainable and more senior jobs created locally too.
  3. Social impact work needs steady direction from the post-2015 framework to enable investment, as it is inherently long-term return and risky. Financial institutions working with government can identify bankable investments to leverage risk capital.
  4. Business will seek to consolidate projects after exponential growth. NGOs went through a similar period of consolidation after their last phase of growth. Data will be increasingly important (see point 2!).
  5. Manufacturing is moving in to Africa and business will need to support effective policy making as well as governance and standards locally.

Alistair Fernie of DfID; Anne McCormick of Diageo Africa; Inci Yalman of Standard Chartered; and Duncan Learmouth of GSK were thoughtful and open. Their reflections on the challenges for business and government helped highlight the opportunities we have with the post 2015 agenda. Okay, so this is not the practical framework for partnership. But what it indicates is the direction this work is going, and highlights that readiness to partner is now business critical. Let’s tackle the practical partnership essentials in another blog.

For details on specific partnership case-studies, read this great report from Business Action for Africa, Harvard Kennedy School and The Partnering Initiative titled, ‘A New Global Partnership With Business.’