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How to raise impact investment by July 2020

This post was written by Michelle Matthews, Senior Consultant at Fraser Consulting.

The short answer is: with much difficulty. But it’s not impossible.

The Centre for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship (CASE) at Duke University’s Managing Fundraising During COVID19 webinar, which took place on 16 April 2020, was one of the more insightful of the Zoom calls I’ve joined in on over the past few weeks. A few hundred other people from impact organisations (and some fund managers) were there too.

The video will be made available, but we all have Zoom fatigue, so here’s a quick round-up of the main points.*

THE CURRENT STATE OF RAISING WITH IMPACT INVESTORS

This was a pragmatic, straight-talking discussion between Cathy Clarke of Duke CASE, Caroline Bresson of the Open Road Alliance (introduced as the “emergency room” of development), and Anushka Ratnayake of MyAgro, which provides inputs to small-scale farmers in Africa.

Here’s a summary of the key take-outs:

  • Go for government relief funding first and quickly! Don’t worry about crafting your narrative for this – get together the paperwork and apply now.
  • The risk appetite in investing is low right now. Most impact investors are not taking on new investments. In this environment, what used to be a “maybe”, more quickly becomes a “no”. But there are ways to stand out.
  • Aligning with a fund’s mandate (and current priorities) and arranging a “warm introduction” (via your other funders or other organisations in their portfolio) are more important than ever, as funds are inundated with requests.
  • High net-worth individuals (who fund funds) have seen 20%-30% wiped off their portfolios – they’re wary right now. Those who are responding, are Covid-focussed.
  • What’s your Covid angle? For example, if you’re in edtech, speak about how you’re building more resilient school systems as a response.
  • The organisations that are making a good impression on investors are focussed on doing what they already do well, but in the new context. Don’t try and pivot to being a healthcare provider if you’re an agtech organisation.
  • Investors are going to want to know – what is your new, pressure-tested business model? Revisit your unit economics.
  • Be realistic about your Covid-impact scenarios, working back from a worst-case of 18-months of disruption. Investors are not going to be impressed by over-optimism.
  • It’s a buyer’s market. Keep your company alive, not your cap table intact.
  • Lean on your existing funders and partners now: leverage even small amounts of cash to attract more from others. If they can’t give you money, ask them to be advocates for you.
  • If you’re prospecting for new investors, let them know you’re still in business! A well-constructed, low-pressure monthly update email builds familiarity and confidence. Even in good times, investors like to watch organisations for a while before committing.
  • Most funders are going to take a little while to get their response strategies together. If you can hold off raising funding for three months, try wait it out until then. Obviously, if you’re in the health sector, put everything into it now!
  • It looks like some emergency response impact investor coalitions may be forming around issues that are not directly health-related, such as small-scale renewable energy, so keep an eye out for announcements over the next few months.
  • Out of this crisis, investors will not be looking not for unicorns or zebras, but for camels: organisations that can make it through tough times, that are built to be profitable from day one and don’t grow too fast. Growing slower – taking five to eight years to get to sustainable profitability — increases both gross margins and resilience.

WHAT MYAGRO HAS DONE TO RESPOND

Before Covid-19 lock-down restrictions struck, Senegal-based MyAgro was having their best sales week ever. Over three weeks, their sales plunged 70%. This is how Anushka Ratnayake and her team have responded to the Covid crisis, creating a survival roadmap to September 2021.

  • Removed all non-confirmed funding and revenue streams from their projections, even deals that were almost signed.
  • Made tough decisions about staff, reducing their global team (US-based) slightly to preserve local jobs.
  • Prioritised eight key initiatives that will deliver the most value.
  • Turned half of their 200 sales reps with great telephonic skills into “call centre agents”.
  • Reorganised the MyAgro executive team for survival focus: Half are focussing on how to get through the next four months and the other half on surviving longer-term by, for example, reducing costs. This helps create clarity on what ideas they’re going to say “no” to.
  • MyAgro is taking measures to double operating reserve to six months.
  • Innovating on new funding streams – for example, launching a campaign aimed at the diaspora, encouraging them to send money back home so that farmers can buy supplies.

ANY ADVICE FOR AFRICAN ORGANISATIONS?

A number of participants in the call were interested in practical tips for how African organisations should fundraise right now.

  • First look at what the government in your country is doing – most of the immediate response money is not from philanthropists or impact investors. Governments are offering tax breaks and employee benefits, and some countries are reducing import duties too.
  • Go to Covidcap.com, navigate to the spreadsheet and look under both ‘global’ and ‘Africa’ for information and relevant funds.

Thanks very much to the speakers for being frank, to-the-point and realistic, yet hopeful. May we all prove to be camels.

*Disclaimer: Any misinterpretations of what was said are my own.

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