Early Stage Ventures

ACT looks for organisations built around a big idea; an idea that has the potential to make real changes to the lives of poor and vulnerable people. We fund on the basis of:


ACT is looking for work which fits our two charitable objectives:

  • The advancement of the Christian religion, including the declaration of eternal life.
  • The alleviation of poverty, sickness or distress, as an expression of Christian love.

This means that we can support ideas that address a wide range of problems if they are especially promising and if they improve the lives of vulnerable people.

That said, we are currently focusing our search for innovations and new solutions to the following areas:

  • Reducing conflict and distrust in communities
  • Food Poverty
  • Disempowerment and disintegration of communities
  • Underemployment and low wages
  • Housing inequality
  • Vulnerable people in crisis
  • Isolation and poor life experiences for older people
  • Inequality
ACT is looking for inspirational ideas with the potential to change behaviors that understand people’s motivations and are backed by strong, passionate leadership.

We know that the best innovations are simple; a model that is complicated is difficult to scale.

Ideas also need to have been tested and shown to make a substantially better impact than other approaches.

The best organisations show a commitment to measuring impact as an integral part of what they do right from scratch.

ACT expects solutions to be cost-effective and to offer an attractive investment opportunity (either philanthropic or financial investment or both!).

Business models need to demonstrate that they are not too expensive and that they have a clear understanding of how the solution will be sustainable in the long term.

Sustainable organisations will have:

• Quality and ambition of leadership
• A credible and ambitious business plan that includes a promising strategy for impact at scale
• A demonstrable ability to raise or earn money
• An organizational chart that makes sense, with the right people in key positions
• Efficient financial and management systems

Five paths to scale have been identified and organisations that have a great idea also have to be clear about how their model fits into these paths:

– via the market, governments, growing a really big organization, co-opting other NGO’s, or
– viral spread of behavior change.

The organisation needs to be built on a clear understanding of how they fit in the wider world. This should include healthy partnerships and an open, collaborative approach to implementation of their idea that works at scale but also enables locally appropriate interpretation.

Following the instincts and passion of our founder, Cecil Jackson Cole, we work with early stage organisations which are looking to address critical gaps through innovation. We operate in a venture philanthropy approach supporting young organisations as the vehicles for change. We take risks but then roll our sleeves up to work alongside those we fund. With all of those that give time to working with us, our aim is to leave them in a better place than when we met. This means:

Our experience of taking unsolicited proposals has not been fun. In 2014, we rejected 99% of applications we received! To reduce the time and hassle for all concerned we have decided not to accept proposals. We will instead use our extensive network to feed us organisations that meet our very specific criteria.

When we do approach an organisation, we will initially ask for a simple 2-3 page summary  of the idea  and how it meets our objectives (we will provide a form for this). This will be shared with all our trustees and so it needs to clearly communicate the need, the idea and its potential. If this is of interest to us then we will arrange a time to meet. At this point, the due diligence documents we require are things that organisations should already have on hand, including a business or strategic plan, financials, organisation chart, donor/investor list, leadership and board member CVs.

ACT has always recognised that unrestricted funding is the most useful and that it delivers the most leverage for us. If we don’t think they know how to use the money better than we do, we shouldn’t give them any.
It is usual for ACT to have one of its trustees represented on the board of all organisations we fund – as trustees or as non-executive directors or advisors. In addition, the ACT Director will ask to attend your board meetings on a regular basis as an observer. This is because we know the importance of good governance, good strategy and good accountability. As a result of this high level of engagement, we find that the annual contract review is usually a process of confirming what we already know but then giving us a chance to reassess how to get the best value out of our relationship.
We always assess a potential partnership with a long term view. We might provide early, small grants if all the jigsaw pieces are not yet in place, but hope to establish longer term funding contracts (3-7 years) as long as we continue to see real impact and clear progress toward scale.
Our funding contracts are always negotiated to include clear milestones which set out the expectations on both sides. Milestones are usually a combination of scale and quality of delivery and programmes, elements of building a strong organisation and financial prudence. Milestones are set as progress markers for the contract period and are working towards achievement of key performance targets for the whole contract period. ACT will meet organisations quarterly and expects simple progress reports against these milestones for our board quarterly. We will also have annual reviews at which point the organisation will meet with trustees and the Director for a more in-depth examination of progress which also provides a formal opportunity to make changes to milestones for the coming year.
The last thing we want is to waste the time and energy of those who are trying to save the world. We gather the specific information that we need and hope that most of our information needs can be met from already existing material. Formal reporting is confined to the streamlined milestones process (see milestones).

We do not consider unsolicited applications but for organisations invited to apply assessment is likely to take place over 3-6 months.  Our grant making process is illustrated below:

We like honesty and conversations and we don’t like surprises. We visit organisations several times a year to work with the leadership and also regularly attend board meetings. We will also visit projects when possible to better understand the realities of implementation on the ground. We hope that all organisations that we support will approach us whenever they need help and we will try to find ways of ensuring that they get it.