It’s Good Business Sense for Charities to be Sustainable – Commentary by Epidarex’s Sinclair Dunlop as Featured in The Times

The following article was published in The Times on December 26, 2018

Mention the word “charity” to most people and they’ll think of the grey-haired old lady with the sweet smile standing behind the second-hand shop counter. Yet today’s charities rarely fit into that clichéd image; the third sector is big business in Scotland, employing more than 100,000 workers and turning over £5.8 billion last year.

Charities deliver essential services, which is why it’s so important that society supports its charities and not just by putting our hands in our pockets to make donations. Equally important is the sustainability of charities as professional organisations, whether through improved financial management, strategic goal-setting or worker policies and protections.

This is at the heart of work by Inspiring Scotland, set up in 2008 to tackle the issues that cause poverty in Scotland. As well as managing £140 million of funds, Inspiring Scotland is a pioneer of “venture philanthropy”: in the same way venture capitalists play an active role in the management of the companies in which we invest, so venture philanthropy provides hands-on support to the charities we support.

Many of Inspiring’s advisers come from a financial services background or one of the professions, such as accountancy or law, so bring relevant expertise to the table. They are backed by more than 300 volunteers who provide free advice. That support has been invaluable in transforming essential charities into extraordinary charities.

Last year Angela Bedi, a consultant at Prime Fiscal in Glasgow, cast her eye over the accounts of Move On, which helps vulnerable young people and those affected by homelessness. The charity had asked for help with how it treats VAT on the activities of its Fareshare social enterprise. Ms Bedi soon realised that the charity had been overpaying VAT for years and helped it claim a £40,000 rebate.

Our 14:19 Fund, which comes to an end this month, has invested more than £50 million over ten years and secured a further £75.6 million in match funding. As of June, the fund had helped 33,000 young people into education, employment or training, including Toni Twigg, a volunteer with the Care Inspectorate. In September she was selected as Nicola Sturgeon’s next mentee under the “First Mentor” initiative, supporting the next generation of female leaders.

Our combination of investment and advice underpins venture philanthropy. That’s why it’s so important to support and sustain Scotland’s third-sector organisations, and to think beyond the charity shop.

Sinclair Dunlop is the chairman of Inspiring Scotland and managing partner of Epidarex Capital