The Fore and Sumerian Partners at London Funders’ Festival of Learning on how sharing due diligence can accelerate purpose-led organisations.
For leaders of early-stage social enterprises and charities, the possibility of scaling their ventures to serve a wider populace can seem remote. Their focus is on delivering impact on the ground and they often they lack the business and financial resources to contemplate a larger future. Innovating Minds, a Birmingham-based mental health startup and 2018 grantee of The Fore, is one example of an organisation who has successfully made this leap. The combination of talents that enabled its transformation has led to an innovative model of funder collaboration.
Mary Rose Gunn, founder and CEO of The Fore, and Chris West, Partner at Sumerian Partners, described this new collaboration model at the recent Festival of Learning. Hosted by London Funders, this annual gathering of civil society organisations, funders and community partners centers around the role funders play in supporting London’s communities for the longer term.
As Gunn and West explained, small charities and social enterprises are fighting for a decreasing share of the £3.5b philanthropic pie—a share that’s already a pittance by any standards. Small enterprises’ eye-level focus on impact and simultaneous search for funding often limits their potential for scaling: Gunn said. “It’s only when they learn a bit more and we get them involved in education and training and other support that they realise there is something like social investment out there that could help them get bigger much faster.”
At The Fore, we award unrestricted grants of up to £30k to small charities and social enterprises, while Sumerian steps in when an enterprise has reached a growth stage, investing up to £150k in a variety of financial instruments over a 7-to-12-year period. Despite these differences, we share a similar process of rigorous vetting and support organisations through follow-on skills training, and, in The Fore’s case, we also provide access to a network of pro bono professionals.
As funders, we realised there was enough overlap in our due diligence processes that by sharing conclusions, we could eliminate redundancies and save time better spent on making a real impact.
Innovating Minds proved to be a test case for our collaboration. The social enterprise trains teachers to recognise and support children and young people with emotional and mental health needs. The Fore awarded the startup an unrestricted grant in 2018, enabling its founder and CEO, Dr. Asha Patel, to hire her first member of staff, a relationship manager who doubled their number of client schools.
A year or so later, Patel realised that her organisation had reached a stage where, ideally, it would pivot to provide its service online to vastly expand its target market. But she lacked the business and financial know-how to make that possible. That’s when Gunn connected her to Sumerian’s Chris West. With the due diligence information that The Fore provided, West could immediately get to work helping Innovating Minds establish internal procedures around governance and finance while funding the development and eventual launch of its first digital product — an online training, networking, and information hub for primary and secondary school mental health leads.
Patel, who participated in the Festival of Learning session said the funder collaboration helped move her startup into the big leagues. “Unlike others who might pigeonhole you, The Fore and Sumerian get you to start thinking as if you’re a larger organisation, that your barriers and scaling problems are like every other organisation, which then allows you not to let the legal structure hold you back,” she said.
Gunn added, “Our partnership with Sumerian is about knowledge sharing and encouraging and platforming as many of our grantees as possible to other funders to help them find a more secure future.”