Frontline: Pilotlight

Helen Warrell

What it is: A charity that offers free business consultancy to other, smaller charities based in London.

What it does: Sets up partnerships between private sector volunteers and charities that have a turnover of up to £5m per year

How it's funded: With donations from members and grants. Individual Pilotlighters are asked for a minimum donation of £1,000 each year

In a posh office building in Lincoln's Inn Fields, a group of management consultants sit around a large polished table discussing financial strategy.

But this is no ordinary consultancy meeting - these professionals are working for free, advising a small charity on its business plan.

The meeting is organised by the charity Pilotlight, which links growing charities with private sector consultants. Through a series of meetings chaired by a Pilotlight representative, the business volunteers - known as 'Pilotlighters' - work with their assigned charity to address its management weaknesses and help it grow.

Jo Ousterhout, one of four Pilotlighters that work with the charity Children Law UK, approached Pilotlight in 2004. "I liked the fact that Pilotlight did a lot of the administration - matched charities up with volunteers, set up the meetings, took the notes, did all the things that have to get done which, frankly, not many people want to do themselves," she says.

Glyn Farrow, director of Children Law UK, says: "We couldn't afford to pay for consultancy. If we had gone for a different resource, we might have got specific advice on fundraising or governance, but we wouldn't have had the breadth of skills we've had from this group."

Pilotlight prides itself on sustainability - once a charity is involved, it can rely on long-term support from its volunteer consultants. Belinda Harding, chair of trustees for Children Law UK, says: "The feeling that they're going to be there for a while is reassuring because in the future we might need to discuss a fundraising application or an issue of failing to meet a target we hoped to meet. It's so much better if there's still an outside team which can advise us."

Objective guidance from business leaders is an enticing prospect, but not always easy. "It was tense at some points", admits Harding, "but the world is our oyster now."

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