Access commissions and co-funds research to support the learning of the social investment sector.

Twitter ButtonGoogle+ ButtonFacebook Button

We are pleased to have worked with partners to support the following research:

Emergency Lending Evaluation


The Emergency Lending Programme was set up as an immediate response to the challenges faced by some charities and social enterprises navigating the early stages of the Pandemic. The aim was to ensure that more of those that could utilise repayable finance as part of their response could access it, even if their future income streams were damaged or uncertain. The programme was delivered in partnership with five social investors (GMCVO, CAF Venturesome, Northstar Ventures, Resonance and RRLF) whom we would like to thank for their involvement. As well as Curiosity Society for their contribution to the evaluation. The findings of this evaluation are presented in this summary overview and in the full report.

Growth Fund Evaluation

The second report from the independent evaluation of the Growth Fund has now been published by The National Lottery Community Fund. The report, written by Ecorys and ATQ consultants, examines the progress and impact of the programme up to the end of 2020. The report finds that the Growth Fund has succeeded in making social investment accessible to smaller organisations requiring smaller levels of finance.

Evaluation – Impact Management Programme

This evaluation was undertaken for Access by Curiosity Society.

The Impact Management Programme (IMP) ran from 2016 to 2018 and offered support for charities and social enterprises seeking to “increase their ability to quantify, report on, increase and ‘get paid for’ their impact”. Access funded this largely to provide support to those charities and social enterprises seeking to raise investments or contracts and whose impact management capabilities were a barrier to them being able to do so. It was delivered for Access by a partnership led by New Philanthropy Capital (NPC) and it was co-designed by the sector to ensure it was user friendly and reflected organisations’ needs. During its life it became part of the wider Inspiring Impact programme which ran between 2011-2021. An evaluation of that programme was undertaken in 2021. The findings of this evaluation are presented in this executive summary and in the full report.

Independent evaluation of the Reach Fund 

The Reach fund enables the provision of small, flexible grants to support resilience and investment readiness.  Common support needs include business planning support and financial modelling and forecasting.

The evaluation explores several important themes including how the schemes offer value for money, how it compares to other similar programmes and how the Reach Fund approach gives charities and social enterprises significant agency as to how the funding is used. The evaluation also suggests a need for a renewed focus on marginalised groups – given lower uptake from women-led organisations and a lower application success rate for black and minority community-led organisations, LGBTQ+ and disability organisations. 

Read the full report here and or the Executive Summary report here.

Reach Fund Small Grants Trial

Access’ Learning Partner, The Curiosity Society, share the lessons learned from a 2019 experiment. In this trial, three social investors (who are Access Points in the Reach Fund programme) were given discretion to award small investment ready grants. Here we discuss the opportunities and challenges of such an approach. 

Lessons Learned from the Use of Subsidy in Growth Fund

The independent evaluators of the Growth Fund (Ecorys and ATQ Consultants), have undertaken research into how the Growth Fund is blending grants and loans to provide affordable finance to the voluntary sector. Read their thematic report here. 

Enterprise Development Programme: Interim Review

Access’s learning partners, The Ti Group, have conducted an interim evaluation of the pilot year our Enterprise Development Programme (from 2018-2019). The Enterprise Development Programme aims to help charities and social enterprises in England to become more financially resilient by developing new enterprise models, or by growing existing ones. The purpose of this interim review was to inform the design and delivery of the 2nd year of the Programme. The report is available here and explains how learnings from the pilot year have informed subsequent delivery.

Review of Local Access Programme: Place Selection Process

This report outlines some of the process design choices and the impact of those decisions on the Local Access programme and place participants to date. It also outlines some recommendations for those looking to support the charity & social enterprise sector using a place-based approach.

Growth Fund: Use of Subsidy in Social Investment

This report presents summary data and analysis from the 16 Growth Fund investment funds at the time of each fund’s initial establishment (between 2016 and 2018) and discusses the intended use of subsidy within the funds. The report also includes a summary of our processes and timelines from when the funds were established, and an overview of the portfolio’s early investment activity. Click here to read the full report or to download the short visual summary.

Growth Fund Evaluation

The first two reports from the independent evaluation of the Growth Fund have been published. Written by Ecorys and ATQ consultants, the reports focus on early lessons learnt from the programme, one from the set-up of the overall programme, and the other on evidence of delivery of loans from social investors to charities and social enterprises.

The report paints a positive picture of what the Growth Fund is achieving. Loans are reaching the right organisations (more than half turn over less than £250k); at the right sizes (median investment size is £50k); for the right purposes (to support the development of trading activity). At the time of writing, 166 charities and social enterprises had been supported with loans (this figure is now over 250).    

Learning from the Reach Fund

This learning report distils the key findings from the first pilot phase of the Reach Fund, from October 2016 to October 2018. Undertaken and written by the TI Group, our learning partners, the report reflects the views of all the key actors involved in the programmes: almost 100 of the grantees, the social investor Access Points and perspectives from advisory providers and SIB, the programme manager.

The findings paint a broadly positive picture. The Reach Fund is supporting a broader range of charities and social enterprises to be able to access social investment, in particular smaller organisations. Grants seem to be providing good value for money and are addressing the key barriers to raising investment. Crucially charities and social enterprises report being in control of their investment readiness plans. At the time of the research, 70 of the 224 organisations who had received a grant had raised investment with a 6 to 1 leverage ratio.

Prosper business support programme

We are a co-funder of Prosper, a business support programme for the arts, museums and libraries delivered by Creative United and partners. Our funding is focussed on research and evaluation activities for the programme, to develop a better understanding of the business support and investment readiness needs of charities and social enterprises in the arts and culture sector.

The programme was launched in March 2017. You can find out more on the Prosper website and in this article by Ed Anderton, our former Strategy and Policy Manager, for Arts Professional in October 2017. 

Use of subsidy in the social investment market to date

In addition to evaluating and sharing learning from our own programmes and funds, we are keen to build upon and fully utilise learning from a range of previous initiatives within the sector which have used grant subsidy or blended finance to achieve their goals. We hope that consolidating this evidence base will also be useful for other providers of subsidy when designing future programmes. David Floyd of Social Spider has written a series of blogs on the topic for Access. 

Impact Readiness Fund 

by Adrian Hornsby published July 2017

The Impact Readiness Fund  (IRF) ran from 2014-16 and provided grants to support charities and social enterprises with building their impact measurement capability so that they could raise investment or secure contracts. Access and Big Society Capital co-funded a piece of research to answer the following questions:

  1. What has been the impact of the IRF on building the capability of charities and social enterprises to define, measure and manage their social impact?
  2. Has the support provided by the IRF enabled charities to progress towards winning investment or contracts?
  3. What additional impact has been delivered by charities and social enterprises as a result of receiving support from the IRF?

You can read the full report here

On September 11 2017 the Impact Management Programme hosted a learning event in London following the publication of the report. You can read Adrian’s write up of that event here and the blog on the Impact Management Programme website here

Social Shares – Risk Finance for Social Enterprises and Charities

by Flip Finance published February 2017

We funded this Flip Finance research to establish the extent to which risk finance (quasi equity) is being used in social investment, to investigate the experiences of those who had used it and to determine whether there is a need for greater availability within the sector, as well as to consider alternative models of risk-finance which could be tested. 

The research found that:

  • Very few social investments to date have made use of any quasi equity (QE) (roughly 1-2%)
  • There is some evidence of demand, and of the suitability of QE for the needs of a range of charities and social enterprises
  • Investors perceive QE as complicated and expensive, potential investees are either unaware of such products, or find them confusing.

and developed five alternative models which are outlined in the report. 

We are utilising this research with regard to our Growth Fund to consider if/ how QE could be used to meet demand within this programme under our New Approaches theme (more information on our Growth Fund and its themes can be found here). 

Click here to download the full report

Data Evolution Project

by DataKind UK and Data Orchard published January 2017

This research looked at the journey towards data maturity and where social sector organisations were along the way, creating a framework and tool for measuring data maturity in the social sector and sharing methodology.

The research found the most crucial factor in an organisation’s data maturity to be people. It identified significant variation in what is understood by the term ‘data’ both between and within organisations and identified a number of ‘barriers’ to data maturity for organisations of different types and maturity. 

You can find out more about the project on its website or click to read the full report or summary report. You can also download the data maturity framework which was created as part of this research to help you to understand your organisation’s current position in terms of its data use and to consider your next steps. 

Initial observations on blending debt and grant from the Growth Fund

by Seb Elsworth and Helena Tuxworth, Access, published January 2017

Summary data and analysis from 13 live Growth Fund applications, as of 1 December 2016. 

Click here to download the report

Access Learning Report

by Margaret Bolton, published December 2016

We commissioned this report to log our progress in achieving our mission and the lessons we learned along the way. The report explains how we adapted our approach to the Growth Fund in its early days based on initial research and feedback and emerging learning. It also describes how the design of our capacity building programmes builds on extensive consultation together with our assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of previous initiatives. It also sets out how we developed and implemented our ‘total impact approach’ to investing our endowment.

Click here to download the full report or here to read the summary blog

Small Charities and Social Investment 

by the Institute for Voluntary Action Research (IVAR) published November 2016

This report takes a close look at the ‘social investment journey’ of 25 small charities, providing in-depth insights into their motivation, experience of the process, challenges encountered, the support they received and factors that might improve the journey.

While there are some very positive experiences of moving through the investment process, many of these organisations were stretched, busy, service delivery charities handling social investment ‘off the side of the desk’ with little or no prior knowledge and experience. In many cases the experience was unfamiliar, opaque and confusing, made difficult not just by inexperience but by the information and support provided by lenders. The findings help to identify what is important to small organisations and lead to suggestions on actions which could be taken to improve the journey.

The report highlights opportunities to develop blended finance products. It also focuses on the need for charities to explain their assets and strengths during the application process rather than focusing on deficits and gaps. Lenders interested in supporting charities to deliver on their mission need to be willing to see charity survival as a legitimate form of social impact.

IVAR proposes that ‘the aim of all social investments should be to leave an organisation in a stronger position, not only financially but also in relation to its ability to pursue its mission’, and identifies a number of clear ways in which lenders can strengthen their practice.

Click here to download the full report

Building the Pipeline for the Growth Fund

by NPC published March 2016

This report provides an assessment of the potential pipeline for the Growth Fund. We commissioned this research to inform outreach and support work for the fund, which we launched in May 2015.

The report identified the capabilities needed to be a Growth Fund social investor, mapped the potential providers landscape and identified gaps and potential partnership structures. 

It identified the opportunities available and the barriers and issues facing both potential loan providers and social enterprises and charities and developed recommendations to overcome these, which were incorporated into the programme’s design. 

Click here to download the full report

Prospecting the Future: Social Enterprise and Finance Data from 2011 – 2015

by Social Enterprise UK published January 2016

The report provided a snapshot of social enterprises operating in the UK and their finances. We funded this research in order increase understanding of this of and for the sector and to increase the accessibility of the data.

The research provided an in-depth analysis of a large existing dataset from in-depth surveys, looking longitudinally over a number of years and incorporating factors such as scale and geography in determining which organisations had taken on social investment and had done so successfully. It also considered how grants and loans were related within the sector, which was of obvious interest to us in the early design of our programmes. 

The report found that social enterprises are increasingly in need of working capital to finance their operations and deliver contracts, as cash flow was a key issue for many. It highlighted a number of needs for consideration, such as the demand for smaller, ‘riskier’ amounts of capital and the importance of grant as ‘a part of the mix’, which were key elements in the design of our Growth Fund. 

Click here to download the full report