Strategy is key to social enterprise says Cause4 CEO Michelle Wright. Find out how her company helps charities and fundraising organisations become more entrepreneurial, while sustaining her own successful social enterprise.
It's no coincidence that Cause4 was founded in May 2009, just six months after the financial crash that devastated the global economy. “The timing is significant,” says Michelle Wright, the company's founder and CEO. “At the time, I was working in the City as Development Director of the London Symphony Orchestra. I realised the impact that the financial crash would have on the fundraising capabilities of charities and social enterprises and had an instinct that there would be a role for an organisation that could help them become more flexible and entrepreneurial. Our core purpose is to help charities and social enterprises grow in a rapidly changing world.” To date, Cause4 has raised more than £36 million for its clients, including almost £12 million raised in the five months since April 2014.
“I define Cause4 as a social enterprise on the US model,” says Michelle. “That means although we are not set up with the aim of making money, we have to run a profitable, sustainable business in order to do our work effectively – there has to be a market-demand for what we do.” At the same time, Michelle and her team never lose sight of their purpose and values. “I've talked to many charities that, when asked why they need more money, say they have to pay their staff. Or sports stars who set up philanthropic foundations that are badly managed. We're not afraid to challenge the status quo in the way that we do business or the solutions we offer, but we do it based on bringing the best practices of business and enterprise to the charitable sector.” So far, all profits have been reinvested in the company and specifically in our graduate talent development programmes. Going forward, the business model is to take no more than 50% of profits out of the budget, and to continue to reinvest profits in talent for the sector and creating employment.
“We have faced the same issues as any charity, including the difficulty of recruiting brilliant, savvy fundraising leaders. Our most successful graduate last year raised £4 million for charities" Michelle Wright, Founder and CEO of Cause4
Challenges and opportunities
Cause4 works in three main areas: strategy, fundraising and enterprise. “When we launched, charities understood that we could provide solutions around fundraising,” says Michelle. “However, we've often found that organisations want to achieve a step-change around income but don't want to change the way that they operate. Similarly, funders often talk the language of innovation but only fund what's ‘safe’. We work solely on projects where we can be at the heart of strategy because that's how we can help achieve the change and growth that can make a real difference.”
Cause4 also aims to create pioneering philanthropy programmes in partnership with other organisations. For example, the enterprise is currently working on global projects in malaria and water sanitation, where the skill is to bring the right people around the table to make change.
In 2010 Cause4 created the Entrepreneurship programme, which provides a fast-track training programme for 45 graduate trainees and apprentices, with partners and funding including Arts Council England and the Guildhall School of Music & Drama. “Our graduate training programme developed out of necessity,” explains Michelle. “We have faced the same issues as any charity, including the difficulty of recruiting brilliant, savvy fundraising leaders. Our most successful graduate last year raised £4 million for charities, which is amazing. It’s in this area of talent development that I’m most proud of Cause4. We wanted to create a culture where people could ‘make things happen’.”
Cause4 is now taking its work overseas, with work in development in New York and Amsterdam. Although not an original part of the organisation's business plan, Michelle is responding to worldwide changes in fundraising and philanthropy. “Understanding the work of major foundations in the States, such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative, has been essential for some of our development work with charities. I was also a part of the Santander Breakthrough International Trade Mission to New York that helped us grow our knowledge and networks in philanthropy. The Trade Mission gave us the opportunity to represent our clients in a new market and to see how our own work compared and translated in the United States. The results were hugely informative. We found a great appetite for the scope of our work, particularly our graduate schemes. We’re already looking at creating an affiliate programme with Columbia University and other institutions on the East Coast. I've also recently visited Silicon Valley and become aware of the huge possibilities in philanthropy that might be possible in conjunction with leading tech entrepreneurs.”
"I realised the impact that the financial crash would have on the fundraising capabilities of charities and social enterprises and had an instinct that there would be a role for an organisation that could help them become more flexible and entrepreneurial." Michelle Wright
“SMEs and social enterprises look at strategy all the time,” she adds. “Charities and arts organisations operate differently, as they've historically relied on significant public funding. As there is less public funding available, we can help them become more entrepreneurial in response to a much changed funding landscape.”
Looking to the future
As Cause4's reputation rises so too, does its ambition. Continued growth and investment will mean this exciting social enterprise can work on even more prestigious projects. “We're already working on major philanthropy projects,” says Michelle. “If the right people come together, there's the potential of solving some major issues internationally, as well as creating new programmes that can support people where they need help most. That's a goal we definitely want to be involved in.”
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