Big Giver: Venture Partnership Foundation

David Brocklebank, the executive director of the foundation, says it aims to bring the principles of private equity and venture capital investment to the social sector

David Brocklebank
David Brocklebank

The Venture Partnership Foundation looks for entrepreneurs in the charitable sector with proven ideas that can work on a bigger scale.

Founded in 2005 by Mike Risman, managing partner at the private equity firm Vitruvian Partners, the grant-maker is financed by 85 members who give their time and money to the charities it supports.

David Brocklebank, the executive director of the foundation, says Risman's aim was to bring the principles of private equity and venture capital investment to the social sector.

The charities VPF supports receive unrestricted grants for a minimum of three years of between £25,000 and £35,000 each year, and pro bono support from members to help them grow.

"We look for entrepreneurism in the charitable sector - those organisations that have a model we believe, through rigorous due diligence, is very scalable and can have a much greater impact if helped in the right direction."

VPF has a funding pot of about £500,000 a year and is about to look for more charities and social enterprises to add to its portfolio. Brocklebank says organisations can contact the foundation if they think they meet its criteria, but most of the charities it supports come through referrals from existing grant recipients. It funds charities with incomes of between £500,000 and £2.5m, often where the chief executive is also the founder, although that is not mandatory.

Due diligence includes checks about whether an organisation meets the foundation's core criteria. Members visit and meet management teams to go through figures, plans and strategy in more detail. The process whittles down about 50 organisations to 10 that come in and present to the board. Two or three charities are usually chosen to receive grants, but last time none made it past the board's scrutiny, Brocklebank says.

Promoting Equality in African Schools, which launches sustainable secondary schools that contribute to long-term poverty reduction in Uganda and Zambia, won support from VPF in 2010 when it had an income of £280,000, which grew to £1.6m in 2012. A VPF member who works for the management consultancy Oliver Wyman took six months off to help Peas develop a five-year strategic plan.

Since 2008, VPF has also supported Homeless International, which works with communities in the slums of Asia and Africa to develop new housing. Its income has increased from £2.5m to the £15m forecast this year. It also manages £12.5m in loans to its local partners for housing and infrastructure projects.

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