By Nick Travis, partner at Smith & Williamson
This article was originally published in Smith & Williamson’s Enterprise magazine, a thought leadership publication for entrepreneurs and growth companies.
Tom Latchford was drawn to the charity sector after the early death of a close friend. He has made it his life’s work to mobilise global wealth to raise money for good causes.Raising IT was born out of tragedy. On a summer’s day in 2009, a successful young stockbroker climbed over the railing at a glamorous rooftop restaurant in the City and fell to his death. His friend Tom Latchford sought to honour his memory by raising £1 million for charity.
He was astonished at how difficult it was. He was running marathons and ultra-marathons, but it took years to gain real traction. Mastering digital was, he felt, key to helping charities unlock greater funding.
“Just Giving had had a great effect on fundraising, but what was next? I saw there was an opportunity to do something world-changing and world-class. The non- profit sector was huge but seemed to get little attention from credible technology companies. They tended to see charities as a thing on the side. I really thought there was an opportunity to use digital in a deeper way.”
Tom built a business designing good-looking and mobile- responsive websites for UK charities. These websites integrated donations, fundraising events and social media tools. From its launch in 2009 it became the largest provider of charity websites in the UK. In its early years, it was helped by £270,000-worth of funding from the Nominet Trust, which offered grants to charities to improve their websites through Raising IT.
At the time the market for impact investment was still very immature, but by 2014 this had changed.
Tom said: “We had proved there was an opportunity and we needed significant capital to scale up. We raised around £1.8 million from venture capitalists and angels to scale the business and prove the model. It was a great time to seek investment."
The venture capitalists wanted the business to grow very quickly. In hindsight, Tom believes they may have grown too quickly. “We focused on our business model and sales and didn’t raise any more money until 2018.” At that point they had a £5 million facility that they could use flexibly. To date, they have only drawn down around half of that.
Throughout the life of the company – which Tom eventually sold in 2019 – he kept his vision on the sustainable goals of the company. When recruiting, he would only bring in people who were driven by the charitable goals. Even if they were a great employee with the best CV, he said, they needed to be committed to the charity space.
For him personally, he found an energy and motivation none of his other ventures had given him.
“It was not just about creating a big business but about making the world a better place. There are thousands of fast-growing technology start-ups, but very few organisations that also have a social mission.”
He stayed involved with the company even after he had sold out. He had also been running Joyful, a website, marketing and fundraising software company for charities operating across the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. He sold this to the Access group in 2019 and remains a director there.
“I wanted to marry world class infrastructure with the world-changing link between business model and purpose. The more customers you can help, the more data you have to drive the success of non-profit. I’ve really been learning a lot through Access Group.”
Today, he has plenty of other interests. He is the chairman of a theatre company, the Belarus Free Theatre, a refugee-led theatre company based at the Young Vic. He is also part of Hubbub, an environmental organisation focused on creating campaigns that make environmental action desirable. “There are still hundreds more millions that could be raised. The landscape for philanthropy is changing a lot, bringing in different types of resources and connections. We aim to build on that.”
Looking forward, he says, he would never do anything except social purpose businesses. Within that, however, he is flexible: “It is whichever vehicle helps you go furthest and fastest. Social purpose business allows you to create an impact more quickly. I spend my life working out how to create more impact. I want to mobilise the world’s wealth to create greater social impact.”