Disability charity Scope has taken an adventurous course for its latest fund-raising initiative
Weil is globally renowned for our ground-breaking pro bono work. We believe this work is one of the most powerful contributions a law firm can make to its community and our policy includes the goal that all our lawyers perform 50 hours of pro bono work each year. We see pro bono work as a core professional obligation for our lawyers and also believe that it makes good business sense. One of my roles in the London office is to manage the pro bono programme and our relationships with key NGO and charity partners.
Over the last 10 years we have built up strong relationships with some of the leading global and domestic charities and NGOs, such as Oxfam, Plan International, NSPCC and Human Rights Watch. We aim to use our pro bono advice to support projects with a significant community impact. A good recent example of a project I helped organise involves the creation of a cutting-edge bond programme for Scope, the UK’s leading disability charity.
A Bond for charity
The Scope Note Programme is an innovative bond issue which enables Scope to access the capital markets and generate much-needed complementary funding of up to £20 million for its charitable activities, alongside its traditional sources of funding such as donations and grants. In June 2012, the first bond issue raised £2 million, following interest from a broad range of investors including Rathbones, NESTA, Esmée Fairbairn and Panapour – an incredible success for the charity.
My role was to be the initial contact for Scope and to figure out what advice the charity might need, then to introduce Weil’s capital markets and tax teams in London to the organization and support them in liaising with the client. We advised Scope as the issuer on a range of matters, including overcoming the challenges associated with listing a note programme for a charitable issuer on the Luxembourg Stock Exchange and ensuring the availability of UK exemptions from withholding tax. We also advised Scope’s board of trustees on the implications for the charity of entering into the note programme and provided advice on how Scope would market the issue to their existing donors.
As Scope’s Finance Director, Geetha Rabindrakumar, commented at the time of the bond issue, “Our collaboration with Weil allows both organisations to contribute their unique expertise to develop a ground-breaking financing model to increase the support we provide to disabled people which we hope will have wider applications across the whole charity sector.”
Charities get more adventurous in raising money
The Scope note programme reflects a growing desire among charities to become more adventurous in sourcing more sustainable funding streams in the current uncertain and difficult economic climate. It allows for the prospect that a liquid and reputable charity bond market may emerge which has the capacity to deliver the traditional benefits of capital markets funding to other charity sector organisations, thereby transforming the available options for charitable funding.
This is an excellent example of how we were able to use our exceptional contacts in the charity sector and strong pro bono reputation to create a project with a social impact of real scale and significance. Scope’s CEO, Richard Hawkes, said, “The major cash investment that we hope to generate through the Scope bond programme has the potential to transform the support we can provide to disabled people. This is a landmark development for Scope and could revolutionise the way we and other large charities raise finance for our work in the future.”
Corporate responsibility important at board level
We strongly believe that giving pro bono advice in support of the community is the right thing to do in order to provide access to justice and high quality legal advice to those who are in a vulnerable or disadvantaged position. It is hugely satisfying to be involved in providing our lawyers with opportunities to use their expertise in a community-focused and often inspirational way. Also, from a business perspective, corporate responsibility is now an important board-level issue. Many of our clients are demonstrating great leadership in this area and expect their lawyers to do the same. It is a very interesting challenge to ensure that the firm remains ideally positioned to participate in innovative pro bono projects with appropriate partners which can generate a meaningful social impact.
An interesting trend over the last decade has been how much more competition, admittedly friendly, there now is among the leading law firms to win the best pro bono work. I know my counterparts at other firms relish this challenge as much as I do because it is a privilege to be involved in the planning and delivery of our pro bono legal advice. Projects such as the Scope note programme reflect Weil’s belief that our most valuable asset – our people and their expertise – should be available to the community as a whole and I believe that making this a reality is vital to the continued success of our firm and the legal profession as a whole.