Interview with Margaret Morton, solicitor turned head of investor relations in venture philanthropy organisation Inspiring Scotland, who seeks support for their programme to alter the "social landscape"

Pro bono work in the legal profession is a hot topic, as witness the Journal’s cover feature last month – and one of the big issues is how to make it work in a more co-ordinated way.

In one charitable sector at least, that question is being answered by a new organisation with big ambitions to make a long-term difference. It is keen to bring in new volunteers from all levels in the legal profession as part of its mission to bring a business-type approach not just to the running of its supported charities, but to the very nature of charitable giving.

“Venture philanthropy” is not a phrase to be found on the lips of most charity workers or supporters, but for Inspiring Scotland (IS) it is the essence of an approach that has seen it attract some serious money in the short period since its full launch early last year.

Although the name may sound like a Scottish Government agency, and it counts the Government among its supporters, IS was born in the voluntary sector and operates as a company limited by guarantee. Founded by its current chief executive Andrew Muirhead, who developed the idea while heading the grantmaking Lloyds TSB Foundation for Scotland, it boasts a multi-investor funding model covering public, private and voluntary sector sources – the “holy grail” combination, according to its head of investor relations Margaret Morton.

Happy hybrids

Morton, whose own career has metamorphosed from commercial property partner at a leading legal firm, takes up the story as we meet at IS’s office: “While traditional grantmaking is a lifeline for many charities in Scotland, Andrew and his trustees came to the view that there was a real need in the voluntary sector for more sustainable long- term funding and less fragmentation.

“We think we’re unique in Scotland, but venture philanthropy is well established in various countries, and essentially IS is a hybrid of organisations that Andrew had visited around the world, taking all the best bits and the ones that would be appropriate to Scotland and bringing them together.”

With a role that includes promoting involvement in the voluntary sector as a valuable career experience for lawyers at all levels, Morton is in the happy position of being able to describe her own job as the “perfect hybrid”, combining for her the best elements of her previous positions.

Having begun her career in Glasgow as a litigator with Levy & McRae, she moved to Tods Murray to further an interest in commercial property, spending some years there as a partner before deciding that she didn’t find the work personally fulfilling enough. Through voluntary work identifying potential beneficiaries for property industry charity Spifox, Morton got to know Barnardo’s Scotland, and when the opportunity arose to take up a development role there, it seemed a logical progression. Quickly becoming head of fundraising, she found her legal experience made her better equipped for the job than she would have expected.

“When you’re immersed in practice you don’t appreciate the range of diverse and very transferable skills that you have. What was surprising but very positive was that having been plucked from the private sector into the voluntary sector environment, you suddenly realise that you have a much wider range of skills than perhaps you had appreciated”, she comments. “You don’t realise that all the things you are doing as a partner of a law firm in terms of running the business are skills as well. They’re just what you do. But when you’re part of a charity or voluntary sector organisation and you’re one of the few people with a private sector, commercial background, you bring a very different perspective to that role and are able to contribute on a number of other levels.”

Investing in futures

One still regularly hears it said that lawyers need to be more business aware, but Morton believes there is much they can bring to the field in which she now works. “You are very externally, very client focused, they are the priority and it’s all about excellent service, and I think that’s something the voluntary sector can probably learn from the private sector. Some charities think the good cause is almost sufficient to attract support, whereas actually if you want to become competitive and sustainable as a business you have to approach any interactional relationship as a mutually beneficial business relationship. For prospective investors or supporters that means how you can both get something positive out of it.”

So how does venture philanthropy really work? By taking the principles of venture capital and private equity investment, and applying them to the voluntary sector. Investors – individuals, corporates, or trusts and foundations, though individuals probably have to be in the philanthropist bracket – are encouraged to commit to a three-year rolling programme of investment in charities which IS will be looking to help develop over a 5-10 year period.

Recipient charities have to tender for funding, presenting a business plan which is rigorously examined. They must commit to taking on board business support and advice which IS will provide through a pool of experts voluntarily offering legal, financial, marketing and other skills. Receiving ongoing supervision from one of IS’s performance advisers, they also have to undergo regular performance reviews. Reporting to investors on what their money has achieved is central to venture philanthropy, and for most it satisfies the desire to see a “return” on investment.

“Essentially when our investors invest with us they are in reality making a donation,” Morton explains, “but what we want to do is two things. We want to mirror a private equity investment experience and the quality of that experience, so they know that when they make an investment there is robust due diligence being carried out on the charities, the charities are being performance managed and they’re reporting on results.

“In terms of the return, depending on how someone invests, there are tax benefits at the point of investment, so that can be an incentive, but otherwise it’s a social return on investment. And what we’re able to do is to demonstrate to them and report on the actual outcomes achieved, so ultimately the impact of their investment.”

Youth and venture

IS claims to be unique in another important respect. “Most grantmaking bodies and venture philanthropy organisations are very reactive in nature, so they will respond to applications for funding”, says Morton. “Our vision or mission essentially is to achieve landscape change for vulnerable people in Scotland, real and lasting change, and to achieve that you need a different approach, you need to tackle major social issues head on and be proactive, so what we do is identify a social issue, commission or undertake baseline research to properly understand that issue, and set up a fund and attract investment to tackle it.”

Thus, its initial efforts since its launch have been targeted at the 32,000 young people in Scotland who currently struggle to make the transition from school to the adult world of work or further education and training. To achieve this, IS established the 14:19 fund, a 10-year project with a target of seeing 35,000 young people achieve a “positive destination” in that time, and a further 21,000 set on the road to doing so.

Ambitious numbers, but the money envisaged is even more so. “With 14:19, we seek to achieve a level of £50 million over the 10 years, and that’s from the public and private sectors. We can use that to leverage voluntary sector investment which should take us up to £100 million over that period.” She makes the figures sound quite normal. “Often that is through match funding or through unlocking EU funding, so we’re looking to achieve about £10 million a year.” And they did, in their first year, and won 100% renewal from their investors when they went back to them at the start of this year.

Organisations across Scotland have won a share. From 178 applications, 44 made it through a challenging first round and were provided with a consultant to help them present their best case; 24 were finally chosen. Each had to demonstrate a robust business plan (including “exit strategy” from IS support), a willingness to collaborate with other charities, perhaps offering different types of support, and a readiness to accept performance management from IS to help ensure delivery of outcomes.

Given the scale of the commitment, particularly in the present economic climate, it is not too surprising that plans for other funds are not far advanced as yet, though there is a shorter term “programme” called Go Play, directed at free play facilities for the 5-13 age group, which given a sufficient network of suitable charities may in time become a full fund; and a third initiative is on the drawing board.

Open to offers

The package of non-financial support offered is completed by a spread of pro bono or reduced fee services covering marketing, accountancy, HR, IT, provision of venues, and even planning, as well as legal work. Four legal firms, Lindsays, McGrigors, Burness and Dundas & Wilson, are listed on the IS website as supporters in this respect.

The solicitors’ profession is well represented even within IS. David Hardie, chairman of Dundas & Wilson, also serves as Head of Venture Philanthropy. Dr Kenneth Chrystie, consultant to McClure Naismith, sits on the board. Elaine McLelland, like Morton a former practising solicitor, is a performance adviser to the Go Play programme.

A solicitor from Shepherd and Wedderburn was on secondment for a year.

IS has recently launched a new Supporter initiative to encourage smaller one-off or regular donations – for more, as on IS generally, see .

Morton highlights, however, that there are various ways for firms and individuals to offer support. “It could be financial, it could be offering their professional skills, or how a lot of people help is by opening doors, making introductions, allowing us to reach their wider networks and raise our profile further. And for individuals, there is the ability to offer not just specific work: a lot of the charities we work with are looking to recruit new trustees with legal or financial skills. One of the things a performance adviser does is a skills audit of the board of each charity, and while there are exceptional, highly committed individuals, they don’t always have the right skills, so we’re helping charities to recruit to plug those skill gaps.”

The commitment required can vary with people’s personal circumstances, and IS tries to match individuals with charities so that there is a good fit of personalities as well as skills. “So as long as someone is quite clear about the time they have and what their skills are, that hopefully will enable us to find an opportunity where they will be able to add value”, Morton explains. Mentoring may require a reasonably regular couple of hours a month; a specific project may need a bigger time commitment, but over a shorter period.

It isn’t a replacement for a paid job – but whether you are in the unfortunate position of having lost your source of income and not yet found another, or are simply looking to broaden your hands-on experience, it could be a valuable addition to your CV.

And to those for whom the figure on the monthly pay slip is not the most important thing in their lives, there are careers to be had, not necessarily with IS, but elsewhere in the voluntary sector: one more avenue that many may overlook.

Well, one person at least has found her dream job in an unexpected place. Maybe more should take a second look.

Scotland-wide reach

These are just some of the 24 projects supported under the 14:19 project:

  • FARE is a community hub in Easterhouse, Glasgow, and young people and employment are a major focus of its work. 14:19 investment will provide new resources to implement proactive work with S3 and S4 pupils at three local high schools. This programme will focus on building life skills and resilience among the young people, preparing them for the transition from education to employment.
  • The Hot Chocolate Trust delivers city centre youth work in Dundee. Since its early days where it offered a chat and a hot drink to young people engaging in risky behaviour, it has adapted and grown to offer a range of support and opportunities using music, sport and the arts as ways of helping young people realise their potential. 14:19 funding will focus on developing skills including confidence, self knowledge and planning to support positive transitions into training, work experience and re-engagement with school.
  • Calman Trust Ltd provides support to around 200 young people each year who are, or are at risk of becoming, homeless in Easter Ross, Inverness and elsewhere in the Highland region. 14:19 investment will deliver a programme of individual support for young people referred by their school. Each will be supported until their agreed outcome is achieved.
  • Murton Wildlife Trust for Environmental Education, based near Forfar, runs an 80- acre nature reserve. Its work with at-risk young people involves introducing them to new opportunities in land management, wildlife, horticulture, natural heritage and the environment. 14:19 funding will expand these services, to develop an on-site farm and to pay for two staff members and running costs, supporting 75 to 100 young people each year.
  • 14:19 investment will allow Action for Children Scotland to develop its Pathways programme of training and personal development to offer a route into employment for young people. There are three stages: a programme to build confidence in school; the Challenge Programme which offers preparation for employment as young people leave school; and, finally, training in the workplace on waged status leading to a job.
  • RUTS has the exclusive aim of improving the life and career opportunities of young people at risk, using motorcycle mechanics to engage young people and increase their skills in a real-work environment. Operating in Edinburgh City, East Lothian and Midlothian, in the past year RUTS has worked with more than 250 young people, scoring significant pass rates on workshop based programmes and SQA accredited units. 14:19 Fund investment will develop and increase its capacity in Edinburgh, and expand it into Glasgow, Dundee and Clackmannanshire within three years.
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