Fiona Halton, the founder and CEO of Pilotlight, told Spear’s that the 820 people who have become Pilotlighters did so ‘because they want to give back but also because they want to learn’
There are no surprises in a new survey about why and how donors give to charity, but it does provide the moment to look at the charity behind the survey and its surprising growth.
Pilotlight, ten years old in 2013, connects senior business leaders with small charities so the former can help the latter to run more professionally and sustainably and so the latter can show the former a life beyond quarterly statements.
Fiona Halton, the founder and CEO of Pilotlight, told Spear’s that the 820 people who have become Pilotlighters did so ‘because they want to give back but also because they want to learn’. In experiencing a charity’s trials and tribulations, they can take back skills and lessons to their own lives and careers.
Colin Temple, the founder of shoe retailer Schuh, which was sold in June 2011 for £125 million, is on his third project with Pilotlight. ‘On a personal level [after the sale], I felt as if I had to give a little back – not just throw a few coppers in but to lever the career’s experience I’ve had in thirty-plus years in retail.’
Pictured left: Baillieston Community Care helps people in the communities of east Glasgow maintain their independence
One of Temple’s projects was with the Dunfermline Advocacy Initiative. He and other Pilotlighters with skills across a range of sectors went to help a charity which provides advocates for those moving out of a state home or with special needs – those without a family or responsible friend to speak up for them in claiming the correct benefits or sorting out problem neighbours.
There was ‘a whole cacophony of issues’ from managing the charity day-to-day to how the board worked. DAI needed ‘somebody that can see the wood for the trees’ and Temple and co could do just that, recommending, for example, ‘a bit of sobriety’ in a sector which often has quite emotional employer-employee relationships.
Equally, he took from working at DAI that ‘it’s nice for the private sector to see that it’s not all about “If you give me x, I’ll give you y.” It’s about having a commitment.’
‘WHAT COMES ACROSS,’ says Halton, ‘is a great hunger not just to learn more about the sector but to know about how charities and social enterprises work,’ part of which is taught in seminars and education sessions. Pilotlighters don’t start with baseline ignorance, however: executives need to understand how – if – a charity works before they’ll get involved.
The same thing is true with their charitable donations – ‘They’re givers when they understand what they’re giving to’ – which reinforces charities’ needs to explain their work and measure and demonstrate their results.
Pictured left: The Albert Kennedy Trust supports young people, homeless or living in a hostile environment because of their sexuality
Results are increasingly measured as a return-on-investment, especially for social enterprises: they have to show that money received has actual benefits. The Pilotlighters’ business experience militates towards this, even if not every charity can be measured in the same way.
One case study produced by Pilotlight shows how New Choices for Youth, which works with young people in East London, benefited from Pilotlight’s help:
‘In 2010 the charity’s chief executive, Marcia Samuels, faced a potential disaster. “We lost our local government contracts and turnover fell from £1.2m to £500,000 overnight – we weren’t sure what we were about any more – we’d lost our funding but we’d also lost our focus.”
‘NYC graduated from the Pilotlight process in April 2012. With the help of the Pilotlight business mentors, Marcia was able to start dealing with the funding problems. “The Pilotlighters have walked me through a very challenging journey: I now know how much each of our services costs; we have a full-cost recovery model in place; a business plan in the pipeline; and we are more streamlined and professional.
‘”There is no way I could have done this without them – there are so many day-to-day demands but the process let me step away. It’s like therapy for your organisation.”’
Pictured left: Simon Hall from Access Sport leaps over the charity’s team of Pilotlighters
The study talked to the beneficiaries too. One – Hannah- said: ‘I always wanted to work with children but falling pregnant changed it all. I was 16, had no confidence and couldn’t really cope. Eventually, my mum persuaded me to go on a course for teenage parents at NCY.
‘It’s been fantastic. I met others in the same position and we gave each other the support we needed and learnt to care for our babies. I’m now a volunteer here and my daughter is in the crèche. It’s a good feeling to pass on my experience to others.’
THE SURVEY SHOWED that ‘over 70 per cent of philanthropists and City executives said they were motivated to give because of a personal connection to a cause, while nearly 60 per cent said information on a charity’s impact was important.’
More interestingly, 40 per cent of Pilotlight volunteers subsequently gave more money to charity and 22 per cent gave more time to volunteering.
As important as the results, Fiona Halton said, was the response rate, at 60 per cent, which reflects the deep and continuing relationship executives have with Pilotlight – ‘the community’, Halton called it.
Pictured top: 6VT is a popular youth club, offering everything from fitness classes to cookery as well as family support services