Achieving impact as consultants in the third sector: learnings from Eden McCallum’s NGO Partnership

Discussion update, Eden McCallum NGO evening | 28 January 2015

In January, Eden McCallum hosted a round-table discussion bringing together our NGO partners from Save the Children and Impetus-PEF with a group of our consultants. The discussion focused on the impact of Eden McCallum’s work with our partners in the third sector, and on what we can learn from our successful partnership.
Some highlights of the discussion:
The NGO Partnership is going strong

Eden McCallum launched our NGO Partnership 7 years ago. Over that time, we have delivered 70 projects with our NGO partners: Save the Children, Impetus-PEF and Virgin Unite. We have worked with more than 30 charities, and over 40 consultants have donated a total of 2 and a half years of their time to this pro bono initiative. As Dena McCallum, Founding Partner of Eden McCallum, described in her introduction to the evening, we are immensely proud of its success.

Our work with our newest partner Save the Children

Jennifer Geary, acting COO of Save the Children, described Eden McCallum’s recent work with Save the Children as having a significant impact on their strategic decision making. We have worked together to analyse the financial impact of key structural changes in their market, and delivered insights which are now integral to Save the Children’s planning. In particular, she commented on how Eden McCallum’s “flexibility in working around Save the Children” is key to the success of our partnership, as is our specific, bespoke approach to each project. There is no standardised project structure; instead we customise our analysis and recommendations to Save the Children’s unique requirements to ensure real impact.

Jennifer also spoke warmly about her personal journey as a business woman working in the third sector. As a secondee from Barclays with no previous third sector experience, her secondment with Save the Children has allowed her to use her business skills in a different way. It is giving her the opportunity for “rejuvenation and a fresh perspective”. These will be invaluable assets for Barclays when she returns later this year. Interestingly, her words echo the experiences of many Eden McCallum consultants who have worked on NGO projects over the last 7 years.

Our work with longstanding partner Impetus-PEF

Chiku Bernardi, Investment Director at Impetus-PEF, provided us with some context as to how the merger of Impetus Trust and the Private Equity Foundation some 18 months ago inspired a strategic review of the new organisation. Its conclusion was twofold: to focus on charities which work to improve UK teenagers’ chances of success in education and employment; and, with those charities, to focus hard on driving successful outcomes. As a small organisation with limited resources, they hope in this way to achieve “long term, socially significant change”.

Impetus-PEF and EM have worked on over 40 projects together since 2007, and we are delighted by the success of our partnership. Chiku spoke of one skill in particular which Eden McCallum consultants bring to Impetus-PEF’s charities – that of “empathetic challenge”.

As expected of top tier strategy consultants, we bring rigour, challenge and structure to a project. However, Eden McCallum consultants have particular impact because we work alongside senior managers, trustees and frontline staff and combine those core business skills with empathy and understanding.

The “bottomless pit of opportunity” – and how strategy consultants can help

The roundtable discussion included an interesting debate around where consultants can add the most value in a charity – is it through resolving the “what” or the “how” of a strategic issue? The weight of opinion seemed to favour the “what” as it is often the knottier problem – and yet it was also clear that Eden McCallum’s collaborative, flexible and empathetic approach ensures significant impact in defining how to implement a new initiative. The discussion also confirmed that even if the NGO projects are, from experience, only an average of two weeks long, an enormous amount can be achieved in that time. Jennifer Geary described Save the Children’s work as a “bottomless pit of opportunity”. We are proud to be helping them and other NGOs to capture as much of that opportunity as possible.