A good match

The Match Trading® Task Force has catalysed funder experimentation, learning and impact, while helping social enterprises become more sustainable.

Alastair Wilson
Chief Executive, School for Social Entrepreneurs

Match Trading grants: a simple but powerful innovation 

In 2017 the School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE) started providing Match Trading grants, following a pilot supported by Lloyds Banking Group, Power to Change and The National Lottery Community Fund. Developed through our work supporting social enterprises, a Match Trading grant is grant funding that pound-for-pound matches an increase in trading income. 

As an example, we might offer Julie’s Cafe a Match Trading grant of up to £20k. If Julie’s Cafe increased its trading revenue by £16k over the agreed timeframe, we would match that increase with a grant of £16k. If Julie’s Cafe increased trading revenue by £25k, we would give £20k - the maximum amount offered.

Seeing the relevance of Match Trading to grant-makers everywhere, we helped establish a Match Trading Task Force - akin to a steering group - of over 20 funders, the UK Government, corporates, research and advocacy partners. Our primary aim is to make Match Trading a permanent fixture in the finance market for social enterprises, community businesses and trading charities, supplementing traditional grants. 

We meet every quarter to discuss a specific Match Trading topic, typically alongside a talk or presentation. We also conduct and support Match Trading research, including a longitudinal study by the Marshall Institute, and undertake data analysis to understand how and when Match Trading works well. Around half of the Task Force organisations are involved in formal Match Trading experiments and collaborations, which help inform our research. Finally, we provide Match Trading training and a best-practice manual for grant-making staff. 

Trust has deepened like a good compost, and ultimately sustained the group for longer than I thought possible.

A portrait photo of the author
Alastair Wilson
Chief Executive, School for Social Entrepreneurs

Selling a no-brainer can be surprisingly tricky

We do all this because Match Trading can benefit funders and social enterprises. The broken finance market currently assumes that social enterprises need either 100% (traditional grants) or 0% (investment) subsidisation. But most social enterprises need something in between: they can cover a percentage of their operating costs through trading revenue, and can be incentivised to increase that percentage without risking pure investment or relying purely on grants. 

Thanks in part to the catalytic effect of the Task Force, the number of social enterprises supported and Match Trading grants issued have increased exponentially. Over 600 organisations have received a Match Trading grant. We are now seeing the benefits of Match Trading grants in action.

Between 2017 and 2020, Match Trading grant recipients we’ve worked with typically increased their trading revenue two and a half times more than traditional grant recipients. Higher trading revenue means more resilience and sustainability, and usually resonates with the founder’s vision: running a sustainable business, not spending time applying for grants.

Given these benefits, it is a head-scratcher as to why Match Trading isn’t higher on funders’ agendas. Because if Julie’s Cafe increases its trading revenue, a Match Trading grant means the funder can afford to redirect more money elsewhere, creating more impact overall. 

Although the concept is simple, implementing Match Trading grants and proving impact has been more complex. This is why collaboration has been extremely valuable - indeed, necessary. The Task Force has allowed funders to share the risks of experimentation, problem solve together, collectively build enough data to generate useful insights and join forces to exert more sector influence.

It hasn’t all been easy. The proliferation of Match Trading has been slower than we would have liked. Asking funders to focus on financial sustainability per se - versus specific social issues, or geographic areas - has been a challenge, and Covid-19 hasn’t helped. 

But generally the Task Force has operated smoothly, and has been vital to Match Trading’s development. Carol Mack, CEO of the Association of Charitable Foundations (ACF), chairs the Task Force, with the SSE as secretariat. Having a credible, independent chair with funders’ best interests at heart has been helpful. Involving beneficiaries - social enterprises in receipt of Match Trading grants - has also communicated openness and broadened the existing spirit of sharing and generosity between partners. These ingredients, plus time, mean trust has deepened like a good compost, and ultimately sustained the group for longer than I thought possible. Match Trading is a small topic that keeps on giving, and through collaboration can give a lot more.

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