When ‘just writing cheques for charity’ began to pall, investment banker and private equity specialist Graham Clempson started to look for a more meaningful way to give and a way to add balance to his career.
In 2002, through his involvement with the City Giving Initiative, he met Fiona Halton, the CEO of Pilotlight, a then newly-launched mentoring charity that connects time-poor senior business leaders to support charities in a sustainable way.
At the time, Pilotlight had a small budget, a handful of volunteers and was working with five charities. Halton invited Clempson to meet some charities. He was at first unsure of what he might offer: “When I asked the people running the charity what they did or why they did it, they were articulate and full of passion. When I asked them how they measured their success, or how they planned to survive and grow they stumbled – I immediately saw that the everyday business skills that I took for granted could be extremely helpful for these charities; potentially more helpful than just giving them money. So I became a Pilotlighter and have not looked back.” As a Pilotlighter, Clempson gave a fixed donation and his time to mentor partner charities. It soon became clear to Clempson that Pilotlight needed to develop more standardised processes and procedures in order to build its own capacity to support more charities. Clempson funded the development of a “tactical toolkit” to frame the mentoring process, as the first iteration of what is now the Pilotlight programme.
In 2006 Clempson joined the Pilotlight board as a trustee and made a significant multi-year funding commitment providing the group with a strong and sustained financial base, attracting additional donor support. He also underwrote the salary of Pilotlight’s first evaluation manager being a firm believer in “what you can’t measure, you can’t manage”.
In 2013 Clempson agreed to take over as Chair – but not before Pilotlight had become fully sustainable. “I wanted to be sure Pilotlight could stand on its own two feet financially before becoming Chairman, as I didn’t want people to feel that we couldn’t have open debate at trustee meetings while I was a funder.” With Clempson’s involvement and leadership, Pilotlight has evolved into a national charity that has now worked with over 1000 senior business leaders, and 400 charitable organisations across the UK.
It works with hundreds of volunteers, has a large and diverse funding base, a strong and committed board and an annual operating budget of £1.3m per year. Pilotlight continues to grow with a full-time staff of more than 20 people and offices in London and Edinburgh. Clempson says of his journey with Pilotlight: “When I decided to give I thought I would be giving financially.
In fact, I started by giving time and skills and a small amount of money, and as confidence in what I was giving to increased, so did my financial donations.” Speaking of what he is most proud Clempson says: “Helping create a sustainable organisation that I know will be around for many years. It is also a wonderful accolade that some of the smartest brains in philanthropy, such as The Garfield Weston Foundation, are choosing to work with us and that we are helping people donate their skills at the start of their career through the RBS graduate programme.”
Gillian Murray, Pilotlight’s chief executive says: “Apart from being a resolute champion of Pilotlight, the best thing about Graham from my perspective is the business experience and focus he brings to his role as Chairman. He is supportive and challenging, never letting us forget that if we are to help make our partner charities thrive, we must work hard to demonstrate that Pilotlight itself is a model of sustainability.”
Text taken from 2015 Beacon Awards programme.Visit Beacon Awards to learn more.