In total we have now received expressions of interest from 24 organisations and partnerships, with 16 having been invited to apply. The joint investment committee has continued to meet regularly and over the last few weeks has reviewed four applications.
As we continue to meet there are more patterns emerging about what makes for a strong application.
The JIC wants to really understand the social impact which the application is seeking to achieve. The best applications start by describing the social need which they are seeking to address through the use of the funds (some focus on single impact areas like Health and Social Care – but most applications cover multiple impact areas). They then describe the environment the sector is operating in and the link between the financial model of those charities and social enterprises, how borrowing will help them, and their ability to deliver that social impact.
While we don’t expect the applicant to know exactly who they are going to lend to, being clear about how you will make lending decisions based on the social impact being sought is critical. The JIC is interested in the process for this, but also the credibility and experience of the individuals making those decisions and why are they well placed to do this.
Linked to this is the need to be clear about what the applicant understands the demand for lending to be from the charities and social enterprise they want to work with, and how they will reach them. This can be demonstrated in a variety of ways but by far the most compelling is first-hand experience of having worked with potential borrowers already where possible. For example the applicant might have given that potential borrower a grant in the past, advised them, or had an application from them but been unable to support them because they wanted a smaller loan than was on offer.
It may be harder for applicants who are new to the social sector to evidence this and therefore it may make sense for them to partner with someone like an infrastructure organisation.
Obviously the other key dimension which the JIC wants to understand is the process by which loans will be made and managed.
For existing lenders we are keen to see an efficient, smooth and supportive journey for the charity or social enterprise.
For those with less lending experience, we are actively working on finding ways to help applicants to put the necessary systems and processes in place, including through brokering partnerships, to seeking a solution to outsource some of these processes where appropriate.
To build on our learning from the applications we have received to date, we have asked New Philanthropy Capital to undertake a piece of work for us to identify what more Access can do to help support organisations to apply for the Growth Fund. We hope to have some early findings in February.