Newsmaker: Impetus for success

Daniela Barone Soares, chief executive of the Impetus Trust, is applying the techniques of high finance to the voluntary sector.

Daniela Barone Soares. Photo: Newscast
Daniela Barone Soares. Photo: Newscast

Impressing Daniela Barone Soares is no easy task. A former private equity financier with a business masters degree from Harvard, Soares knows her subject and has a sharp eye for failure.

But these skills are vital in her position as chief executive of the Impetus Trust, a venture philanthropy group that helps charities and social enterprises grow by applying the techniques of high finance.

Unlike traditional grant makers, which tend to give short-term funding to tightly prescribed programmes, Impetus promises core funding and expert pro bono support to help voluntary organisations prepare themselves for operations at the next level.

The nine charity partners chosen so far have not had an easy ride, however. Soares admits that Impetus is "quite obsessed with impact" and has adopted the private sector's results-driven culture. "That is a key aspect of the private equity model that is applicable and successful," she says.

One element of the model that is less transparent, however, is the charity's funding. Like many organisations that rely on large donations from a select pool of wealthy individuals, Impetus is cagey about where the money comes from and the balance between one-off gifts and ongoing corporate sponsorships.

It's clear, though, that the money is being put to good use. According to the trust's first evaluation report, the first six charities to join the Impetus family - Speaking Up, the St Giles Trust, Beat, Leap Confronting Conflict, Naz Project London and the Keyfund Federation - have all increased their income by more than 20 per cent and improved their social impact by more than 50 per cent over the course of a year. The latest organisations to join - Camfed, the Fairtrade Foundation and IntoUniversity - have tough acts to follow.

It's also no easy ride for the specialist volunteers who are selected to give third sector groups the strategic help they need, and Soares is adamant that the scheme is not just an opportunity to let disgruntled high-flyers loose on new ideas. "Someone coming in who says 'I have experience in finance, but now I'd like to try doing some marketing for charities' is not going to be successful," says Soares. "We encourage people to learn, but not on something completely different."

She is also dismissive of potential volunteers who have a patronising approach. "We discourage anyone who thinks 'we're going to go and teach that charity'," Soares says. "We want people who say 'I know I have something to contribute, but I also have something to learn by applying my skills in a different environment'."

Impetus also pursues a strategy of moving away from traditional corporate responsibility initiatives. "A lot of corporations still want to have pet charities that they can call their own," says Soares. "That may sound like an exaggeration, but it's about ownership. Companies want to ring-fence projects and say 'this is what we've done'."

The trust's next step is to embark on a fundraising drive and develop its activities. "We are constantly evolving and striving for more," says Soares. She will not divulge specific plans, but admits that developing more charity partnerships would be a "natural evolution" and that Impetus could improve its involvement with the charities it supports.

At the core of this work is Soares' belief in dissolving traditional divisions. "The beauty of this is that it's blurring the boundaries between the private finance and voluntary sectors and trying to get the best from both," she says. "It's one society, and the homeless guy in the street affects every sector."

Soares CV

2006: Chief executive, Impetus Trust

2004: Head of institutional support, Save the Children

2003: Director for Europe, BrasilConnects, an education and sustainable development organisation in Brazil

1997: Assistant vice-president, private equity and venture capital, BancBoston Capital

1996: Summer associate for investment banking, Goldman Sachs & Co

1994: Relationship manager for financial institutions, Citibank.

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