When Scope embarked on its Early Years programme a year ago, targeting families with a child newly diagnosed with cerebral palsy, the charity was able to strike up a three-year funding relationship with the Department for Education and Skills (DfES). Scope's head of fundraising Aneesha Moreira believes this would not have been possible two years ago and that a much closer synchronisation between fundraising and operations made all the difference.
"The Early Years programme was a new piece of work for us. We hadn't previously focused as a priority on families with newly diagnosed children.
We knew that the DfES had an early years' unit so we immediately struck up a relationship with them. If we hadn't known very specifically what we wanted to achieve within three years we wouldn't have been able to convince them that we share the same vision."
However, it is a way of working that only came after painful soul-searching prompted by a funding crisis. The charity, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, was forced to cut spending by almost £4 million at the end of 2000, partly as a result of plummeting shop profits. Grants to individuals were cut, shops were closed and jobs were lost.
The ensuing review of activities homed in on four priority areas: the early years work; educational support for children and young people with cerebral palsy; help for disabled people in finding and keeping work; and support for disabled adults in daily living.
This "vision work
presented Moreira's 70-strong fundraising team with an opportunity to work differently, she says. Fundraising became just as central to the resulting five-year strategic plan as operations. "We were clear about the outcomes that we wanted. But then I had to sit down with my operational colleagues to make sure we had the funding plans to pay for it,
says Moreira. "It sounds like common sense, but in big charities the operational and marketing arms don't often work that closely together.
"The thing that is different about our fundraising now is that we have a very clear organisational vision,
explains Moreira. "Not only can we say how much money we need but also what type of funding each project is most likely to be able to attract. For some it might be government grants. For others we might be able to get European funding. Other work might be quite suitable for traditional direct marketing."
The funding crisis brought about by poorly performing shops in 2000 also brought home to Scope the danger of relying too heavily on particular income streams.
The drive now is for diversity as well as sustainable growth. One prong of that strategy is a much greater emphasis on high-value donors.
"The return on investment that we get from concentrating on high-value donors is simply much greater. And it's not just about the money; our high-value supporters can make a lot of difference in terms of employing disabled people in their businesses, or making their places of business more accessible."
Most notably in the search for new revenue streams, however, Scope is putting a lot of effort into the nascent area of venture funding (Third Sector, 15 May and 22 May). Venture philanthropy borrows the language and techniques of venture capitalism. It is another name for proactive, engaged grant giving, where the grant maker typically lends management expertise, business contacts and more. The big difference is that instead of high financial returns, venture philanthropists seek a definite, measurable social return.
Discussions have already started with a number of potential funders, says Moreira, including entrepreneurs and companies where corporate social responsibility is high on the agenda. "We are trying to persuade individuals who have built businesses to share their entrepreneurialism. Some are already major donors but have the potential to become more involved, and we are talking to them about taking more of a "venture philanthropist
role. In many cases it has never occurred to them that this is a possibility but there is real interest, a real light bulb going on.
"We will have some money on stream by the end of this financial year. It's a long process. The market doesn't exist; we're developing it as we go along. But we're willing to invest the time because of the potential that we believe is there."
One reservation that some experts have expressed is that venture funding is often more appropriate for small start-ups. But Moreira thinks they have missed the point. Nobody is going to invest in "big Scope", but they might get involved in individual projects. She believes that up to 25 per cent of Scope's work might have the potential for some kind of venture funding.
Perhaps more controversially, Moreira is also going after traditional commercial venture funding, where the funder would expect a financial return. "We are looking at mission-related businesses that have the potential to make a profit in the medium to long term. It is part of our mission to help disabled people to get and keep jobs, so businesses that are staffed and run by disabled people would make a lot of sense."
One aspect of venture funding, whether of the purely philanthropic or the commercial kind, that might put off some charities is the level of involvement by the funder that comes along with it. Moreira believes the benefits outweigh the loss of control. "If we really want involvement of this sort then we'll have to compromise. It's not dissimilar to co-opting big donors onto trustee boards. There are things we won't compromise on: our mission and values. But the path for getting to the outcome is certainly up for discussion."