Fiona Halton, the former Comic Relief director is using the Olympics to equip small charities with vital business knowhow.
Much has changed since Fiona Halton began working with small charities 26 years ago. First, grants increasingly gave way to contracts and, now, as local authorities grapple with swingeing cuts, these are harder to come by, requiring expert bidding and a new understanding of competition and pricing.
“The landscape has changed immensely, even more in the last few years,” says Halton, chief executive of Pilotlight, which aims to arm small, grassroots community groups and social enterprises with business skills by teaming them with corporate figures.
“The sector became more reliant on public sector funding, and now there’s a change again, and charities are having to find ways of diversifying. There isn’t going to be a return to what it was. We’re seeing organisations come to us who just have the wish to be sustainable, let alone grow.”
Halton helped to launch the first Comic Relief, working alongside founders Jane Tewson and Four Weddings and a Funeral writer Richard Curtis. “One of our mantras was always to go for the best talent, never to settle for second best,” Halton says. “Great causes deserve great talent.”
She has applied the philosophy to Pilotlight, she says. Three years ago, she began tapping a new potential source of talent, signing up five Olympic Games sponsors – BP (which already worked with Pilotlight), Adidas, BT, Lloyds TSB Commercial Finance and Deloitte – to mentor nine charities in Pilotlight’s Legacy for London project. The charities were chosen because they were based in host Olympic boroughs, or because they had a link with children or sport.
“The Olympic motto – ‘faster, higher, stronger’ – played in my head, because I thought Pilotlight can help charities grow faster, higher, stronger. Look at all those Olympics partners, look at the skills,” says Halton.