Working with Pro Bono Economics: Wendy Jones

Wendy Jones sits on the board of Trustees for National Numeracy, which is an independent charity established in 2012 to help raise low levels of numeracy among both adults and children and to promote the importance of everyday maths skills. 

How did you first hear about Pro Bono Economics?

Through one of our trustees, Belinda Vernon (now the chair of National Numeracy). This was in 2014.

Before that time, we often cited a piece of work prepared by KPMG regarding the costs to society of children not being numerate when leaving school. We wanted to do something ourselves of that ilk but broader, looking at the consequences of poor levels of adult numeracy.  

We felt that such evidence was essential for illustrating to our funders and potential funders the overall costs of poor numeracy – but that the work required would be prohibitively expensive for us as a charity.

It was quite a revelation therefore to find an organisation that would do it, for free, and to a professional standard.

What did you want from your partnership with us?

Up until then we relied on the KPMG work and on other disparate pieces of evidence on the costs to individuals, business and society of poor numeracy. We wanted a robust analysis that would collate the available data and give us a reliable overall figure that we could use in the media and with other stakeholders. We wanted results that would have a wide impact.

What was your experience of working with Pro Bono Economics?

From the outset, we knew we were working with a highly professional team who understood our needs and were realistic about what could be achieved. They were clear about what they wanted from us and agreed with us the various data areas and the overall scope of the research.

We were working to a deadline too, as we ideally wanted the PBE report to be ready for the launch of a new service, the National Numeracy Challenge. We were aware that this was a big ask. However the team really did work hard, above and beyond the call of duty, to ensure we met the deadline. 

What did the final report achieve in terms of media coverage?

The coverage was excellent – from the Sun to the FT, as well as TV, radio, online and more specialist outlets. There was widespread interest in what the report revealed and the headline figure that it produced – the £20 billion cost to the UK economy.

Five years on, we still use the £20bn figure­ and it is widely quoted by other commentators too.

Has the report been useful from a fundraising perspective? 

Every fundraising bid we have submitted since the report’s publication has featured its findings; it’s been great for our financial sustainability. As a numeracy charity, we cannot afford to get the figures wrong.  We need to be sure the data we use is reliable and robust. Working with PBE gave us that confidence.

How would you sum up the project?

It has delivered one of the most influential pieces of evidence National Numeracy now has.  

Would you recommend Pro Bono Economics to other charities? 

Absolutely – we had every confidence in the team and they were very straightforward to work with. If something is going to be difficult they will say so. They live in the real world. I suspect many charities would be amazed to find that there is an organisation out there offering a service like this – pro bono.


To read our report with National Numeracy, click here.