Mixed reactions to Big Society Capital from stakeholders

Big Society Capital, the UK’s social investment wholesaler, is recognised by the majority of stakeholders interviewed as having had a positive impact so far. However, it’s also regarded by some as institutional, risk averse, too expensive and too influenced by commercial sector backgrounds.

These are some of the findings from Your Views, the Big Society Capital Stakeholder Survey report, which was published on 1 August.

Launching the report, Big Society Capital’s chief executive Cliff Prior, said that the survey had revealed both positive and negative aspects of Big Society Capital’s work: “This survey has not only thrown up some very positive results but also some key challenges. I’m encouraged that after only four years of being in existence we are seeing a good understanding of social investment and awareness of our role. But we have more work to do on areas such as taking appropriate risks and the affordability of social finance.

“Our job is now to work quickly on the most immediate points raised, and to research and analyse what can be improved on the more complex areas, as part of a wider strategy review around the turn of the year.”

Writing in the report, Prior states that one of the points of most concern was the disappointment expressed by social ventures concerning the raison d'être of the institution: "Most worrying, it is the charities and social enterprises which are least positive. In particular, they are dissatisfied with our progress in bringing more capital investment to them – at the core of our mission. "

So far, Big Society Capital has deployed more than £270m to around 300 frontline organisations via 50 wholesale investments.

The survey was commissioned from communications specialists Matter&Co as Big Society Capital reached its fourth birthday.

Big Society Capital was established in 2012, following recommendations made by the Social Investment Taskforce which existed between 2000 and 2010 and explored how the UK’s poorest communities could be improved using entrepreneurial approaches.

Big Society Capital receives funding from English dormant bank accounts (a total of £400m) and the UK’s four main high street banks (£200m). Its aims are to champion social investment and to provide capital to social investment intermediaries that in turn support charities and social enterprises.

The survey collated responses from 215 respondents which included charities, social enterprises, social investment intermediaries, foundations and others. In-depth interviews were also carried out with representatives of core stakeholder groups.

The research revealed that: 

•    80% of respondents had a good or excellent understanding of social investment.

•    70% of respondents said Big Society Capital’s impact had been either positive or very positive.

•    93% felt Big Society Capital’s role was extremely important or important in the future success of the UK social investment market.

•    The approachability, professionalism and openness of the Big Society Capital team were noted by several interviewees from charities and social enterprises.


•    4 out of 10 respondents that were charities and social enterprises only partly understood Big Society Capital’s vision and aims.

•    47% of respondents thought Big Society Capital’s relationship with charities and social enterprises was poor or very bad.

•    Some respondents remarked that Big Society Capital insisted on market terms and pricing in a market that cannot afford such terms.

•    Some respondents commented that Big Society Capital did not have a good enough understanding of frontline organisations or entrepreneurs.

•    Two recurring themes from the interviews were: “They are finance people, they don’t really understand what the sector needs”; and that the bureaucracy meant Big Society Capital was “working with one hand tied behind their back”.

The Matter&Co research and insight team commented: “This survey has drawn out a wide range of emotions – some of frustration and anger, many of warmth and respect…We would conclude that many of your stakeholders care deeply about your role in their future.” 

Big Society Capital has also published a number of key actions, including a look at the affordability of social finance, that it will focus on as a result of the findings of the survey.