Angel Investing and the Holy Alliance of Business and Philanthropy

The third sector in the UK is crying out for the support and involvement of professionals who do not wish to mark a distinction between business and charity

Private investing has been very much on Spear’s radar this week. The morning after the launch of the Clearly Social Angels network at the House of Commons, Beer and Partners' first investment fair of 2012 took place on St James’s Street.

Amid the usual buzz of Mark Mason’s Hall, packed with a typically eclectic range of fledgling businesses looking for funding, it was interesting to catch up with Beer’s chief executive Michael Weaver, who expressed a measured scepticism about the marriage of business and philanthropy that CSA are encouraging. His musings raise the interesting question of whether good causes benefit from a union of or distinction between the two.

As I wrote recently, the network will offer funding and support to social businesses and enterprises – in other words businesses that seek a social as well as a financial return on investment. The network will enable its angels, therefore, to fuse philanthropy with business. This is a union that Spear’s is also encouraging with its One Per Cent Campaign, which is urging Spear’s readers to use their cash and business acumen to address pressing social problems.

But Weaver says that, in his experience, HNWs tend to mark a separation between the two: ‘I think investors feel they are able to do their own charitable work, and want to keep their business concerns separate.'

While the separation of charitable activity and for-profit activity might work for some HNWs, and indeed increase their effectiveness in both spheres, the third sector in the UK is crying out for the support and involvement of professionals who do not wish to mark such a distinction, and who can bring the rigour of business and commerce to the country’s charities and social enterprises.

This is why, for example, Spear’s profiles Impetus in the current issue, a venture philanthropy organisation with a large pool of pro bono business experts, who are sent into charities they wish to support to boost their effectiveness. When I spoke to Stephen Dawson, co-founder of Impetus, some months ago, he attributed the success of the venture philanthropy model to the transferral of business acumen into the third sector.

Though the passion for their chosen causes cannot be doubted, said Dawson, the sector’s employees often fail to realise a couple of crucial facts: ‘If you think of a charity as having a core – doing good – around that there is basically a business. So charities face all the issues that businesses face.'

Suzanne Biegel, co-founder of the Clearly So investor network of which CSA is a part and a highly successful entrepreneur herself, suggests that Weaver describes a trend among HNWs – of distinction between business and philanthropy – that is rapidly dying out: ‘Whilst many HNWI's have in the past preferred to keep their philanthropic and straight investment interests separate, a new field and set of investors and investment opportunities has been emerging which represents a more nuanced spectrum.'

Besieged by funding and other resource cuts on all sides, it is to this more nuanced spectrum of business-minded philanthropists that the UK’s charities must turn in order to continue working on the social issues that need most attention.

Read more by Mark Nayler